by Dan Williams
From Luca to Torino to San Francisco to Delaware to South Philly. If you want a wide variety of influences, follow Italian-American Jacopo Di Nicola and his band the Late Saints from gig to gig. If you think kazoos can be cool, even better!
Di Nicola is founder and front man of this marvelous and quirky trio. Each song is meticulously crafted with lyrics in both English and Italian and always with a fun vibe. The band is rounded out by Micah Hebbel on percussion and Mike Huff on bass. They are the foundation, but at any given time you will find guest players sitting in with a wide range of instruments and backup singing.
Take their September 18th CD release show at Bourbon & Branch for Presto! In America. A virtual who’s who of Tri-State musicians came out to join the band. There were cellos, guitars, an accordion, horns, keyboards and at least five percussionists crowding the stage to give the Saints a proper show. And kazoos. Yes, kazoos play a key role in the sound of The Late Saints.
Why kazoos? Di Nicola explains, “In 2004 during my first studio recording in San Francisco, I envisioned a trumpet sound. I was on a very limited budget. I couldn’t afford to hire a trumpet player. The engineer suggested a kazoo. I gave it a try, liked the sound and have used it ever since.”
I consider the kazoo an instrument. If you listen to jazz music from the ‘30s to the ‘50s, there were kazoos. It’s a Proletarian instrument. For two bucks, if you can hear a melody in your head, you can play it. Also, it brings out the kid in people.”
He likes how disarming the kazoo is: “Just because we break out the kazoo, it doesn’t mean our music is less important. In fact when people first hear it, they might think ‘ these guys are not serious.’ But after a song or two, they really like what they hear.”
The Late Saints bill themselves as “The Kazoo-Driven Gypsy Rock Trio from Philadelphia.” Asked to define the term “Gypsy Rock,” Di Nicola explains that the Saints are “Music Travelers, adopting different genres, we are musical shape shifters.”
He developed this sound after moving from Italy to San Francisco during a stint in singer-songwriter showcases. Calling upon his roots, his guitar playing has a clear similarity to Eastern European Gypsy music. Growing up in the far northern reaches of Italy, he was close to France and within easy drives of other European countries. His home town is Turin, an industrial town the size of Philadelphia. “Turin is where Fiat cars are made. It’s a down to earth, blue collar city … normal everyday life. It is filled with beautiful buildings and horrible factories.”
He likes to label his style as “Nomadic Music.” That the band brings influences from Italy, Northern Africa, South America, San Francisco and stirs it all together here in South Philly. They adapt to the city in which they live.
The new nine-song CD is their first official release and worth the wait. It is a fabulous sampler with personal tunes and observations of folks met along the way. With titles like “Bitter,” “Douchebag” and “South Philly Blue,” you’ll get the idea.
The Late Saints is out of the ordinary, unique and a journey worth joining. Catch them at the Puck in Doylestown this Friday and keep an eye on tour dates via Facebook.