It isn’t just surf rock, and it isn’t just music inspired by spaghetti westerns either. It isn’t only tropical or bluegrass or gypsy jazz. But, while Mar Caribe’s music may incorporate elements of some or all of those genres, the band’s founders, Tom McGettrick and Tom Santiago, don’t consider their style of music to be a case of genre melding. “I think it’s just taking elements of each of those things that we like,” McGettrick says. “The words that I would think of are minor keys, well used dissonance, kind of janky rhythms and tremolo. Those are the things that drive it for us.”
The two began playing music as roommates at Loyola in their sophomore years. At the time, both were becoming interested in surf rock and both had a love for spaghetti-western films. But according to Santiago, the music has evolved over time to where it is now. “Originally, we thought we were going to go in a happier direction. We were thinking of paradise and beaches.” Then the band wrote a song called “Bad Joo Joo.” “It was a particular song that was darker sounding and kind of reminded us of Voodoo and we liked that a lot, so we started doing more things similar to that,” Santiago says.
Since then, the Caribbean has had a major influence on Mar Caribe. The band’s name even translates to Caribbean Sea. “I remember when I saw it in a storm and I just love how black the water looked and how crazy the waves were over the reefs,” says McGettrick. “I think about how dangerous the Caribbean Sea has been and I think about slave trade and all of that stuff. It has a beautiful side and it has a really dark side.”
As a kid, Santiago took many trips to Haiti with his mother, who was a missionary there. “Haiti is an extremely impoverished country and as a kid it was very affecting imagery that I remember seeing. So, I feel like I can really identify with that kind of dark imagery of the Caribbean. It’s purely an artistic childhood image.”
Singing is one element that the band has consciously decided not to include in its music, which is built around acoustic guitar, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, trumpet, clarinet, upright bass and drums. There are a few reasons why, but most interesting is that the band doesn’t want to use vocals as a crutch. Instead, they work to create and arrange songs that don’t rely on words to captivate an audience. “I don’t want to be that band that’s throwing out some crap lyrics just to have singing,” says McGettrick.
Mar Caribe is planning on heading into the studio later in September to record and is playing some shows during September and October, but in November, Jason Eckerson, who plays mandolin and clarinet with the band, is moving to Massachusetts to attend graduate school. “We don’t know what’s going to happen,” says McGettrick. “Things are going to change possibly radically or possibly not that much. That’s what’s been cool about this band. Every time we’ve added a member, it’s forced us to change.” (Todd Miller)
September 9 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, (773)525-2508, 9pm. $12.