We call them "buttons" and "deadrolls" — and, less cryptically, "breaks" — but most NPR listeners know them as the interstitial music spots that pepper NPR's newsmagazines. They add shading, mood, energy and other nonverbal context to our stories.
On All Things Considered, as on other NPR shows, that music is chosen by each episode's respective director — former show director Bob Boilen actually launched the program All Songs Considered as a way of highlighting his most intriguing selections — and is usually word-free, at least in the passages used on air. But until Wednesday, we've never had a band perform a show's interstitial music live; countless musicians have performed on our newsmagazines, but never as a house band.
Enter Los Straitjackets, whose members have been performing upbeat instrumental surf-rock jams for nearly a quarter of a century, all while clad in their signature Mexican wrestling masks. Not long after releasing their 12th album, this year's Jet Set, Los Straitjackets approached All Things Considered about sitting in for an episode — spending a day hanging out at NPR's Washington, D.C., headquarters, and helping to provide the show's soundtrack.
Though Los Straitjackets' playful but evocative music has frequently appeared in movies and on TV shows, the group has never composed music specifically to suit the mood and tone of a given scene. But for just one day, it's giving the news a soundtrack, talking to All Things Considered host Melissa Block and toasting the late jazzman Dave Brubeck with a brief rendition of his best-known tune, "Take Five."
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
We've been hearing the band Los Straitjackets all through the show. They've been playing all our break music today here in our studios. Los Straitjackets are Eddie Angel and Greg Townson on guitars, Pete Curry on bass and Chris Sprague back there on drums. They're set up here in our performance studio. Thanks so much for coming in you guys. It sounds fantastic.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you.
Thank you for having us.
BLOCK: And, Eddie Angel, you're going to be the spokesman for the band. You were one of the founders way back in 1994. One of the things our listeners cannot tell right now is that you are all wearing tight-fitting masks, glittery masks.
EDDIE ANGEL: Yes. They're wrestling masks from Mexico.
BLOCK: Wrestling masks...
BLOCK: ...from Mexico. It's been part of the band since the beginning, right?
ANGEL: Yeah. From day one. Because Danny Amis, the other original guitar player, is a big fan of Mexican culture. And when we started the band, he had a box of wrestling masks, and we all thought they looked cool, so we put them on.
BLOCK: And what do you think it lends to the band...
BLOCK: ...in glittery wrestling masks from Mexico?
ANGEL: Well, I think it conveys a sense of fun that we'll be fun and entertaining.
BLOCK: You also have - you've got three matching guitars here. They're shiny. They're gold and yellow. You match. You look great.
ANGEL: Yeah. Well, we're fans of vintage entertainment, so we thought what bands should look - should have matching outfits and matching guitars, so that's our philosophy.
BLOCK: Well, there you go. Well, Eddie, talk a little bit about the process of tailoring the songs you played today to the show because we've had everything from, gosh, Syria to Dave Brubeck dying to Tommy Chong talking about legalizing pot.
ANGEL: Well, it was a lot of fun. I mean, we have, you know, we have - we all like different kinds of music and - but the one thing that we found - a lot of times when we write a song that they're slow and then we turn them into fast songs, today was the opposite. We had fast songs. We had to turn into slow songs.
ANGEL: So that's...
BLOCK: And yeah. The little - we heard a little riff on "Take Five" earlier for Dave Brubeck.
ANGEL: Oh, yeah. We're big fans of Dave Brubeck, and it's a pretty sad day for that.
BLOCK: We should mention, and you mentioned him earlier, the co-founder of Los Straitjackets, Danny Amis, who's not with you today here.
ANGEL: Right. Yeah. Danny is - well, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma two years ago and - but he's doing much better right now. And he contributed a lot to our new record, "Jet Set." He wrote a lot of the good - of good songs, and he recorded with us. And in September, he was on the road with us. He did some select dates, but he doesn't want to tour all the time and he - so...
BLOCK: Yeah. Well, we hope he's listening out there.
ANGEL: I'm sure he is.
BLOCK: Give him a shout-out right now. I had never...
BLOCK: I have to say it's disconcerting to talk to you with...
BLOCK: ...with the masks. It's a little...
BLOCK: ...off-putting, I have to say, but I like the look. We might need to incorporate it more often on the program. I don't know.
GREG TOWNSON: We would feel more comfortable if you had a mask (unintelligible).
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: That's right.
BLOCK: Maybe that would have equalized things. Thank you for that suggestion, Greg. Well, it's been fantastic to have you here. Thank you so much. Los Straitjackets: Eddie Angel, Greg Townson, Pete Curry, Chris Sprague and Danny Amis here in spirit. Thanks so much to you guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, thank you.
Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: And why don't you take us out with a song? What do you want to play, Eddie?
ANGEL: OK. Well, this is off of our new record, "Jet Set," and it's kind of a nod to my favorite band. The title is "Yeah Yeah Yeah."
BLOCK: OK. Great.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YEAH YEAH YEAH")
BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.