LA story

Little Joy's journey starts at home
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  June 16, 2009

BUMPER TO BUMPER: Binki Shapiro and Fabrizio Moretti (here with, left, Rodrigo Amarante) found themselves creeping down the interstate, couched in hours of Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes, and Gilberto Gil — and it sunk in pretty hard.

Ask people around here why they'd never move to LA and "the traffic" will reliably top the list. That sure sounds reasonable, but check it out: by not languishing in belching cars and rotting the sky for hours at a time, by not submitting to the forced downtime imposed by cities like Los Angeles, and by considering such dull stretches in our frantic daily lives as heinous infractions of our free time, we're missing out on a ton of good music.

When Fabrizio Moretti (of Strokes-drumming notoriety) first moved to LA from NYC — as his ladyfriend and Little Joy co-vocalist Binki Shapiro remembers it — "He was like 'Let's go! Let's go!' all the time. After meals, he'd be out on the porch smoking and waiting for us all to go out." Shapiro and Moretti found themselves both falling in love and creeping down the interstate, couched in hours of Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes, and Gilberto Gil — and it sunk in pretty hard.

Little Joy's homonymous debut came out last November, so you may recall a sentence fragment like "Strokes drummer's Brazilian side project" or something equally destructive to the point. Although Little Joy's songs were conceived in show-me-yours/show-you-mine secrecy between Shapiro and Moretti ("I decided to grow a pair and play what I had," says Shapiro), and though the recording was done in a shared hive in Echo Park, with housemates popping in to do backing vocals in between episodes of Ellen, and though the whole thing, on paper, smacks of some sort of hipster-inner-circle shit, it's hard to put into words just how familiar, fresh, and enjoyable this record is.

The core trio of Little Joy — whose name comes from a Latin gay bar co-opted by Echo Park's hip, young, and leggy — is completed by erstwhile member of revered Rio de Janeiro four-piece Los Hermanos, Rodrigo Amarante. After Amarante had met Moretti in Lisbon during a festival, and at Shapiro's encouragement, the informal chatter of collaboration was urged into a short-term relocation. Amarante almost crashed with Devendra Banhart, with whom he had previously collaborated in LA (the two even bounded out on stage with Gil at the Hollywood Bowl last June), but instead the band (who come to Café 939 this Saturday) opted to shack up together.

"We didn't know if we'd have him for two weeks or a year," says Shapiro, "so we utilized every moment we could." As such, the songs sound both doted over and partied upon. "Every piece of furniture in the house became an instrument," Shapiro recalls. Much of the Latin rattle comes courtesy of household thingies — salt shakers, chair legs, and tabletops — but the rest, says Shapiro, comes from Fab, countering the assumption that Amarante imported their sound from home. Shapiro actually credits Amarante with the album's more American stripes: Dylanesque organ squalls, quick dashes to Graceland, and its distinctive surf-noir texture. Its Veloso is generously draped in its Velvet.

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Related: WFNX's top 101 songs of the decade, Stroke of genius, 5 for '10, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Los Angeles, Devendra Banhart, The Strokes,  More more >
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