The last time the Georgia Straight interviewed Joe Rotundo was 16 years ago, but luckily for local fans of instrumental cowboy-surf, some things never change. From his Kits apartment the Modelos member explains that his band is still at it, and with the same lineup as well: he and Mike Kenney on guitars, Bradley Ferguson on bass, and Geoff Hicks on drums. Instro-rock devotees can check out the combo when it plays a free jazz festival gig at David Lam Park next month.
"We've just been playing a lot, doing what we do," says Rotundo. "We didn't do much over the lockdown, obviously, but we just did a gig where we backed up Rich Hope recently at the Brackendale Art Gallery. And we played last week at Guilt and Company. So we're stayin' active."
Back in 2006 the Straight was raving about the 11 tracks on the Modelos' then-new self-titled debut album. "It sports precision-picked Shadows-type ditties and rollicking high-desert odes with titles like 'Down the Dusty Trail', 'Blood on the Saddle', and 'Curse of the Cowboy', and there's nary a cover in the bunch," wrote yours truly, mightily impressed. The group followed that up in 2008 with the 13-track Saddle Justice, and three years back rolled out the E.P. Barrel Fever.
"We released it at the end of November, 2019," Rotundo explains, "and we had a full Western Canadian tour booked for the spring of 2020, but we all know what happened there. So unfortunately the tour got canceled because of COVID, but the vinyl's been goin' pretty good. We've sold a bunch online, and I bring them to the gigs and we sell them there."
Recorded at John Raham's Afterlife Studios--an analog recording studio located within the legendary walls of the former Mushroom Studios--Barrel Fever features five Rotundo/Kenney originals, three of which sport the trumpet stylings of Terry Townson, a former Vancouverite who recorded the brass bits at his current digs in Mexico. Rotundo was psyched about the infusion of trumpet into the Modelos' instro mix.
"I've always been sort of obsessed with [Italian soundtrack maestro] Ennio Morricone," notes the 51-year-old picker. "We've had trumpet on every one of our records now, from the first one to Saddle Justice there's some trumpet. With surf instrumentals I just love the trumpet over saxophone or anything. I think it blends in well with the tunes we write."
The longest song on Barrel Fever, opener "Monkey Paw", clocks in at just over two-and-a-half minutes, which is about as long as Rotundo likes to go. He prefers the succinct approach of bands like Canadian instro greats Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, and he was thrilled to hear their best-known song, "Having An Average Weekend"--the 54-second theme song for TV's Kids in the Hall--back in vogue with the recent return of that show on Amazon Prime.
"Brian Connelly is the man," says Rotundo of the Shadowy Men guitarist. "It's funny, I just recently started playing that at gigs just because the show's back on and it gets a fun response. It's a great song, so I sneak that in there every once in a while."
The Modelos might just pull out that reverb-laced ditty when they play their outdoor jazz fest gig. They go on after soul singer Tonye Aganaba and before Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker's DJ set, and Rotundo--who studied jazz at Toronto's Humber College back in the '90s when he was "just a young kid trying to figure out how to play guitar"--is ready to immerse himself in all the festival has to offer.
"I'm planning to go to a bunch of shows," he says, "for sure. I was just talking to my wife, and we were really looking forward to that whole weekend, and hanging around the city. We haven't decided who we're gonna go see yet, but we're gonna make a list of musicians to go check out."
The Modelos perform at David Lam Park on July 3 at 7 p.m. as part of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.