For Diego’s Umbrella, defining the band’s music has always been a frustrating and painful chore.
There’s the onslaught of borderline-nonsense hybrid terms – urban gringo mariachi, pirate polka – and descriptions of the band’s typically wild live show, but Diego’s Umbrella is the sort of band you have to see to believe.
“Our go-to is that we play gypsy rock,” says drummer Jake Wood. “We have our slower polkas, we have our punk rock, we have our flamenco sessions, we even have a couple cumbia beats now. It’s all over the map. We’re very greedy eaters of all the different styles of music that are out there. I wouldn’t say we’re capturing things and playing them authentically, it’s more reconstitution it or mangling it with the Diego’s Umbrella blender.”
Since forming in 2001, the San Francisco quintet has drawn comparisons to MarchFourth Marching Band, DeVotchKa and Gogol Bordello.
“We all get excited about different styles of music,” Wood says. “I’m somebody who when I hear something new I can’t wait to learn how to play that, whatever it is, and I want to throw it into whatever I’m working on.”
With the recent addition of guitarist Kevin Gautschi, new songs started coming out of the woodwork. Gautschi joins Wood, bassist Red Cup, Jason Kleinberg on violin and Vaughn Lindstrom on vocals and guitar.
“I think everybody in the band feels really blessed to have (Gautschi) on board. He’s our new secret weapon. He’s really talented both as a guitar player and when he sings the skies open up a little bit and a lighting bolt comes down. It hits hard,” Wood says.
With the new lineup in place, Diego’s Umbrella recorded with a new focus on Songs for the Juerga, an EP released this month to coincide with a summer tour through the West.
“Our songwriting has evolved,” Wood says. “There’s a little less humor in this batch of recordings than we’ve done in the past. We’re going less for the joke and more for the solid melody that we really want. (Songs for the Juerga) is our best recorded work to date.”
With five new tunes, the album retains the flamenco aspect of the band’s music – fitting for the title (juerga is Spanish slang for an impromptu party or jam session.) But even though it’s been since 2012’s Proper Cowboy, the next phase for Diego’s Umbrella is right around the corner.
“I feel slightly robbed because we had to get this out. It’s been so long since we had anything come out and we all know the time is right,” Wood says. “But we just started working a new batch of songs and as they started rolling in I was busy mixing all this stuff we just recorded. I kept thinking I wanted to record the new ones right now. I’m excited about them. We all found what we were really inspired by and we just went to town on them. We took them out on the road and immediately after we got back started recording.”
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For now, though, the focus is the tour and continuing the Diego’s Umbrella reputation for putting on electrifying shows, a combination of unhinged showmanship and the musical tightness of a veteran band.
“We strive to put it all out on the line when we get out on stage. We all really value seeing bands that do that,” Wood says. “We don’t have any stilt walkers or dancers, but we try to up our game however we can. It feels like the stage is our playground.”
Diego’s Umbrella is scheduled to perform Wednesday, July 29 at Last Exit Live.