By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
The group peaked in popularity during Fuácata, its Thursday-night residency at Hoy Como Ayer. "The Eighth Street gig, that was when we got all this hype," says Spam. With encouragement from the club's owners, he expanded the trio into a sprawling symphony of percussionists, horn players, vocalists, and whoever else happened to drop by. While the band partied onstage, the club would fill to capacity every week, turning the concerts into steamy, near-ritualistic experiences fueled by salsa, cumbia, Miami bass, hip-hop, mojitos, water, and sweat.
In 2002 Spam recorded several concerts, picked out the best performances, and put the results onto a self-released CD, Fuácata Live! It was nominated for a 2003 Latin Grammy for best pop instrumental recording. He worried, though, that Fuácata was in danger of becoming a hoary, tradition-bound institution. "So many good things came out of that gig. It was where a lot of people first heard about us," he says. "But we ran it for two years straight. It became one of those things, like, well, what are we going to do here? Is it going to become less and less? Is it just going to peter off? Or is it going to become a parody of itself after a while?"
Then suddenly the residency ended from a "snap decision," the result of a disastrous second-anniversary performance. Spam was bedeviled by problems all night -- from Hoy Como Ayer employees messing around with his carefully arranged sound equipment to the trouble his brother and sister encountered when they tried to enter the packed nightclub. The breaking point came when he got into a shouting match with a bouncer who tried to throw his sister out after the band's first set. "I never lose my temper, man, I really don't. It takes a lot. But I just blew it," he says, adding that he's still friends with the club's owners.
"I just left that night feeling so upset about everything," he continues. "I/O was about to open, I had spoken to [I/O manager] Aramis Lorie that same week, and I had seen the space. I said, 'Fuck it. I don't want to be leaving a gig feeling like this.'"
In the past year Spam has had to contend with gossip that he is about to sign with a major and take his sound to mainstream America, a result of the adulation his fans have for him: He's so good, they say, that he should be a superstar on a big record label.
Spam says the rumors are mostly unfounded. "At [Hoy Como Ayer] there'd always be people coming at you with scenarios," he says of the shady record executives who often approached him with contract offers. "You'd have some random guy with liquor on his breath, up in your face, talking shit, and it's nothing that you'd really want to be a part of. In terms of the labels that are here in Miami, most of them are asshole labels. Why would you want to fuck with them?"
For now Spam plans to release Contra Los Roboticos Mutanteson his own Spamusica label, selling it at shows and on his Website, www.spamallstars.com. He does admit, however, that he has developed a casual relationship with Sony Latin over the past several months. "If we do anything, they'll release the album outside the states in South America," he says. That doesn't mean, he clarifies, that the group will be signing with the corporation anytime soon.
In addition there are the jam sessions Spam Allstars held with Phish keyboardist Page McConnell's side project, Vida Blue, in spring 2003; they resulted in Vida Blue's The Illustrated Band. The groups toured together in the fall, which finally took the Allstars to previously unexplored regions around the country. But Spam is wary of the nuts-and-berries jam sound that Phish is associated with, even though the multiple self-sufficient bands in that scene offer lessons on how to sell CDs independently and with no media exposure.
"I'd like to keep it building the way it's been building," he says. "Each record we've done has done a little bit better than the last one. If we can maintain that, then I'll be happy." Those eagerly hoping for the Spam Allstars to blow up will just have to wait.