Katastro formed back in 2007 and released their first EP in 2008, presenting an eclectic sound that pulls from all sorts of genres, including rap, hip hop, funk and rock ‘n’ roll. From that first record on, the group has released a steady flow of full-length albums, EPs, mixtapes and acoustic covers of their music. On July 16, the band released their latest record, Sucker, a mature, fun record with funk and hip hop stylings front and center. Read on for our interview with bassist Ryan Weddle, where we explore the group’s songwriting process and break down the new record.
Looking back to the band’s start, what initially drew everyone together and inspired you guys to pursue a career in music?
Ryan Weddle: The other three members of the band all went to the same high school. I had known Andy, the lead singer, growing up. We didn’t talk to each other for 12 years, and then I got a call saying that their bassist and guitarist had left after six months of starting the band, and I joined up. The other guys started out—our singer was rapping and he wanted to be a rapper. They wanted to do a live band with a rapping lead. It started as a live hip-hop backup for him. Once we all got together and we started making music and we all had such different backgrounds—the drummer was really into thrash punk; I was into jazz; our guitarist was straight classic rock; our singer was a rapper—we all meshed our sounds together and formed this weird, funky thing that fit itself into the reggae scene pretty well. And we just kind of went from there.
It’s been fun. At one end, you don’t fit into one specific genre, but on another, we can fit a lot of places. If we’re playing a rap show, we’ll go heavier on the beats. If we’re playing more rock, we can do a rock set. It’s fun.
With the group pulling on so many genre influences, what does Katastro’s songwriting process look like when you decide to put an album together?
Weddle: This year was completely different for this album. Usually, we don’t have much time because we’re on tour all the time. Generally, we’ll get a cabin or a house just out of town and we’ll go out there for two weeks. We’ll write, write, write, and whatever we write is that album. We sleep there; it’s fully immersive. It has usually worked for us. We’re really fast writers. This time, we had a full year-and-a-half off. We took over a recording studio and we’ve had that for the last six months. We took our time and weeded out all the songs we didn’t think fit. It proved very beneficial for us.
As far as specific roles, a lot of the time, it starts with bass. I’ll come up with the general bones of a chord progression, or our drummer will do a quick drum loop. We do lyrics and vocals last.
Do you prefer the method of a rapid-fire writing session, or did you enjoy the process of really taking your time with a record?
Weddle: Yes and no. Beforehand, we worked where if we didn’t have a deadline, we wouldn’t get anything done. Nothing would come through. But if we’re saying “we have to have an album done next week,” we did it. That’s how we did Washed, we did Washed in eight days, I think. We did Tropical Heartbreak in two weeks. With Sucker, we wrote the first single—”100 Rips”—and we knew the vibe of what the album was gonna be like, and we had a year to get it over with. We would go in there for two or three weeks and we would still write like we normally do, really fast, but then we say “I don’t like that song, it doesn’t fit,” and then we’d take a couple weeks off and go back and do it again. There was no pressure. It was indefinite. It opened us up to take a bunch of risks and rework everything and really sit on the songs. Some of the songs on the album are over a year old and some are four months. We were really happy with how it all fit together.
Between all the full-length records, mixtapes, acoustic records, and EPs over the years—does the process of making an album ever get old for you, or is it always an exciting challenge?
Weddle: To me, that’s the most fun. We love touring and obviously we miss touring a lot, but it’s so much fun. It’s not hard work, it’s just fun. We go to a cabin and bring a ton of food and liquor and we just wake up and start writing; we’re drinking coffee and writing all day. It’s super comfortable and it’s really the only time that we’re just hanging out. The feeling when you make that song that you know is gonna be the single, everyone’s jumping around, super hyped. It’s the most fun time for us. I love it, absolutely.
Is there a theme or throughline that ties Sucker together?
Weddle: We got asked to do a cover of a Sublime song. We covered “Scarlet Begonias,” which is Sublime’s version of the Grateful Dead song. We brought some of that Deadhead vibe to it. We loved that vibe. Once we started writing music, we’re like “it could be cool to have some more of that feel.” It still has some of the reggae, but it has that jam-bandy a little bit in there but we still keep our hip hop roots. When we made “100 Rips,” we were like “oh, this is it. That’s how it’s all gonna fit.” It still has that hip hop edge, it still has some rock ‘n’ roll, guitar solos; it fit together really well. Once we had “100 Rips” it was very clear where we were headed. The new album is definitely a little bit in that reggae vibe—we do have the upstrokes on some things that give it that more fun, chill vibe to it than previous stuff before.
In our older writing, when we were writing lyrics, especially for Washed, we got really deep and open about drug use and things that were going on in our lives. Washed was this awakening of “we’re just gonna spill it all out there.” The album after that was all dark, too. Once Covid hit, everything around us felt super dark, and we wanted to switch it up and put something out that made people feel good.
Moving from the heaviness of Washed and Tropical Heartbreak, do you now prefer creating a record that is more light-hearted and fun?
Weddle: I think that there’s a place for both. I like that we have this now that we can bring up our set when it’s all feeling super heavy and dark. Even the music is all minor, in the past. That’s what we’re used to. When we started challenging ourselves to come up with more major writing, musically something that feels upbeat and fun, it was so challenging. I think that ended up being a good thing for us; we’re exploring a whole new soundscape for us in the grand scheme of the album. I think it’s gonna be more fun in the shows to take people from really high highs to really low lows all at the same time.
Is that new, more upbeat soundscape one that the band might pursue re-exploring on your next record?
Weddle: Who knows? We don’t really know. We decide what the album’s gonna be once we start writing it. This album is definitely my favorite album that we ever made. I could definitely see us going more in this direction in the future. It’s hard to tell—we always want to switch it up and do something different. We’ll see. We have no idea. We’re just focusing on the now.
Coming out of this long quarantine break, how excited are you to get back on the road and start performing the new songs?
Weddle: It’s gonna be so awesome. It’s a super exciting time for us right now. We just played the halftime show for the Phoenix Suns rally, for the NBA finals, that was a couple nights ago. After the whole year of not knowing when we’re gonna perform, playing at that halftime show was the first time we’ve been in front of people. It was such an amazing feeling. We do have dates coming up in August and the end of July.
I feel like the NBA halftime show is a much different venue than where you would normally play.
Weddle: Oh, it was so weird. It was definitely the weirdest thing. It’s this team that we all grew up with, ever since we were kids. We got to go in there and they let us on the court. We performed in the arena there and it was so much fun. So many people. It was a quick set, so we got to dip our toes back into it. A surreal feeling, being up there for sure.
This last year marked the first and longest break you’ve ever had from being on tour—was it a good break, to be away from touring, or were you anxious to get back out there?
Weddle: It differs between each of us. It’s hard. At first, when we got the break from touring, it was kind of nice. I got to see my family more than I’d ever seen them. I got to go to two of my friends’ weddings. All these experiences you don’t realize you’ve always been sacrificing to go tour, we had access to them again. Rebuilding friendships, experiencing being home. It was so nice at first, but after the first month, I’m going crazy. I never had to be home that long. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves. The album gave us more of a purpose again, and we became comfortable with being at home and still having something to focus on. It was definitely scary. If you have no music out and no shows, it feels like nothing’s happening, and that’s when it gets pretty dark for a group of musicians. But it all worked out super well for us.
You can listen to Sucker here.