When musicians Anthony “Tone” Catalano and Celeste “C.C.” Spina decided to form Little Hurricane in 2010, the San Diego-based duo never could have predicted the big trouble that would soon follow.
They’ve survived some extreme weather conditions over the years, including dust storms in New Mexico and sub-zero temperatures in Canada during the polar vortex.
Yet the most frightening time of their musical lives was in October 2012, when Superstorm Sandy, what’s been called the second-costliest hurricane in America’s history, chased them along the East Coast.
“It was literally following our touring path,” Spina said in late June, calling on the phone with Catalano from Lake Tahoe, where they were in the middle of recording their third studio album. “We played in Manhattan the night that it hit. Well, we played that night and it hit at 4 in the morning. So we played our set and just had to book it west to Pennsylvania. That was kind of a grueling experience just because we didn’t know if we were gonna get hit by an actual hurricane.”
Through thick and thin, the name stuck, though, and so has the pair of singer-songwriter-performers, who will be one of the first acts on the main stage when The Ride Festival officially kicks off its fifth yearly event July 9 in Telluride, Colorado.
“We wanted something that would kind of encase what we’re all about,” Catalano added about the band’s origin story. “Small, there’s only two of us, but wild, powerful. … There’s a phrase that I’ve been using: No one likes a big hurricane but a little hurricane is more of a party, a good time.”
Little Hurricane have been kicking up a storm since Catalano, then playing electric drums, answered Spina’s Craigslist ad for a guitar player in 2009, four years after she left her hometown, the Windy City of Chicago. She knew someone would apply after previously replying to a want ad for a bartender and showing up for the job — along with 400 other applicants.
Living only a few blocks away from each other in San Diego, Spina and Catalano hit if off right away, quit their regular jobs, kept their relationship strictly on a professional basis and became two-for-the-road warriors.
“For us, it’s just been easier to keep some balance in our life; just kind of focus on the music,” Spina said about not mixing business with pleasure.
“We decided to keep (the group) at two people since we liked the way everything was sounding and it was easy to turn the bass up on the guitar and, traveling to gigs, everything was easier,” offered Catalano, a native of Santa Cruz, Calif., who previously was an audio engineer and worked with artists ranging from Gwen Stefani to John Paul Jones, the former Led Zeppelin bass player.
Recording demos while touring, they self-released Homewrecker in 2011, then Gold Fever in 2014. They have been billed as a rootsy blues-rock band but some Southwestern influence also creeps in, sonically touching territory explored by other prominent duos such as Escondido, a 2013 Ride participant, and HoneyHoney, a ballsy band that will open NightRide’s series performances July 8 at the Sheridan Opera House.
As producer of Gold Fever, Catalano, Little Hurricane’s principal singer who accompanies his gritty voice with rich and moody tones from an electric guitar, added string and brass players to complement their already full sound.
Their songwriting approach varies, depending on “whose feelings we’re focusing on,” said Spina, who sticks mostly to drums but occasionally plays mandolin, ukulele and harmonica. Her story about her brother’s struggle with addiction supplies the emotionally charged themes in “Sorry Son,” probably the album’s strongest track.
Allowing that their yet-untitled third album will be released in “roughly January or February,” Catalano teases that he and Spina are “kind of pushing the boundaries as to what to categorize our sound as. … Some of the songs on the new album, there’s no guitar. I’m either playing keyboards or mandolin or … so it’s interesting on my part just to switch up. … But I think our overall sound will remain constant.”
Whether the winds of change ever arrive, expect to be blown away by Little Hurricane.
ON THE ROAD TO THE RIDE: LITTLE HURRICANE
Though Little Hurricane will make their debut at the Ride Festival, which this year includes headliners Pearl Jam (July 9) and Cage the Elephant (July 10), this isn’t the first time Catalano and Spina have performed in the southwest Colorado town of Telluride.
In 2012, they played the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. “The B-52s headlined, which was kind of awesome,” said Spina, who teamed up with Catalano to open the 19th annual event with a Thursday night show at the Sheridan Opera House.
In honor of their upcoming appearance, Little Hurricane offered opinions about the Ride, the road and the town known for peak performances.
Other first impressions of Telluride:
C.C.: “I think for me it was the most beautiful venue and environment we’ve every played in. It’s just so gorgeous to be on that stage and looking out at the mountains. Definitely a magical place.”
Tone: “We did a music video (‘Trouble Ahead’) on that gondola (between the town and the Mountain Village). It’s on YouTube somewhere.”
C.C.: “Yeah, and one at the very top of the mountain (‘Get By’). I think it was for Paste magazine, actually.”
On performing at high altitude:
C.C.: “Oxygen tanks were waiting for us backstage. … I think since we’ve been recording up here in Tahoe, the elevation is like 7,500 feet, so we’ll be a little more prepared this time.”
Tone: “I do remember turning around a few times onstage. We had a two-hour set, and taking some really deep breaths. So it’s always getting behind on the breathing, you’re pushing a lot of air out but there’s not a whole lot of time to take the air in. So that was the tough part for me. But I’m sure drums were more … “
C.C.: “Actually, looking back, my lesson learned would be I’m not gonna wear too tight of a dress. My dress was tight and it was hot. So I’ll take that wisdom and apply it.”
What crowds can expect from Little Hurricane at the Ride, with a set on the main stage Saturday afternoon (1:30-2:30 p.m. July 9) and the Sunday NightRide show (10:30 p.m. July 10) at the Moon at O’Bannon’s:
Tone: “I’m sure the Sunday night run will be longer, so we’ll get into more of the deep cuts, I guess. More cover songs and stuff. The one during the day we’ll probably keep the energy up, keep the people going. … We’ll play some of the new songs probably if not at the festival then at the after-show on Sunday.”
Little Hurricane’s go-to cover song:
Tone: “We used to cycle through them but there was one that stood out. We got a lot of requests for it, so Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine.’ “
C.C.: “But we do have a full record of covers that’s online, too (Stay Classy, available for free download at bandcamp.com). Ten songs, with artists varying from Fiona Apple to Aerosmith. It just kind of runs the whole gamut.”
Since this festival is called the Ride, what has been the ride of your life?
C.C.: “Well, for me, it’s definitely been Little Hurricane that has been the ride of my life. Last year we went to 11 countries; we go to all sorts of amazing places. You never know what’s gonna be next. In August, we are going to St. Bart’s in the Caribbean. … Some places I still can’t pronounce that we visited in Europe.”
Tone: “Maybe I was taking the question too literally. We did a festival up in Norway (Parkenfestivalen in August 2015). As part of the package for the artists, they had this activity where you jump off a cliff with a parachute, paragliding. We were like, ‘All right, we’ll do it.’ So that was a crazy ride. Running off a cliff hoping that the parachute is gonna hold you. And it did.”
C.C.: “He did it far better than I. I crashed my landing because I didn’t know how to run properly. (laughs) He landed pretty well.”
Most memorable road trip together as Little Hurricane:
Tone: “We’ve seen some crazy weather, I will say that, touring around. Dust storms in New Mexico nearly blowing our van over. Ice storms up in Toronto, minus-12 degrees.”
Act you would climb a mountain to see:
C.C.: “I just saw that Van Morrison is touring and it’s almost all sold out. I would love to see Van Morrison. Tone has seen him several times but that would be for me a huge one I would love to see perform.”
Tone: “I think it would be cool to see Pearl Jam (who headline at 7 p.m. July 9). I’ve never seen them perform. And we’re gonna be in the same place.”
Favorite road song:
C.C.: ” ‘Turn the Page,’ Bob Seger. That’s my go-to on-the-road song.”
Tone: “Lately, we’ve been listening to this Nathaniel Rateliff album (Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats).”
First in a three-part series. Little Hurricane publicity photo courtesy of the Ride Festival.