Anthony Catalano, singer-guitarist of blues-rock duo Little Hurricane, might have a proclivity to putting himself in dangerous situations. When he and drummer (and wife) Celeste Spina were shooting the photography to accompany their newest album, April’s Same Sun Same Moon, the two trekked to the stalagmite-like calcium deposit formations of Mono Lake.
Dressed in formalwear, they ventured into ankle-deep water to pose, and Catalano was promptly sucked in by quicksand, with mud climbing past his boots and onto his suit. That was the second of two incidents, and the first one was much more serious—and inexplicable.
While writing and recording near San Diego one night, he was propelled to hike to the top of a nearby mountain, shoeless, without food or water. That particular night, temperatures dipped into the lower 30s. He was gone for 17 hours, and returned with kidney failure and frostbite. He spent the next month bed-ridden.
Catalano said the hike was not substance-induced, and he remembers every aspect of it clearly. It was like second nature, a decision to step outside of the house where the duo was recording and start walking.
“I can’t really explain it. It’s something inside of you calls you … to do something,” he said. “Something about this mountain called to me to climb it, and I did it, and it was traumatizing in the end. I needed shoes, but at the moment I wasn’t thinking about that.”
Afterward, he began to research what could have compelled him. He found that the land the two were on was Native American land, and that it was not uncommon in some of those cultures to go on a vision quest, which is how the two now see his trip.
The near-death experience brought on a time of realizations for both Catalano and Spina. In their own lives, the two realized they were in love. They would get married soon after. For their band, the long walk gave Catalano a renewed purpose as a songwriter.
Where the duo’s first two records, 2011’s Homewrecker and 2014’s Gold Fever had no unifying theme running through them, Same Sun Same Moon is a call to bring people together. While Little Hurricane already had much of the lyrics written, the duo didn’t necessary connect them them on a primal level.
“Sometimes lyrics come to you, and it sounds good, or it feels right, and you don’t know where they’re coming from,” Catalano said. “After this whole [mountain climbing] experience, a lot of them made sense and a lot of them were about unity. That was kind of when we realized the purpose of this album is using music as more than just a tool of entertainment and more of like a universal language—how it can speak to people in different ways.
“Touring around the world, we see people [but] we can’t talk to them in their language. They can’t talk to us in our language, but we’re all there because of music.”
Spina, a former Chicago restaurant cook and bartender, met Catalano in 2010 after he placed an online ad seeking a drummer. Catalano grew up in Santa Cruz, playing in various punk bands. He had also worked as a studio engineer with artists like Foo Fighters, John Paul Jones and Gwen Stefani. He moved to San Diego for a previous band; the bassist lived there. After their van got towed and auctioned off, and the band broke up, his decision to relocate was looking like a bad one.
“But then I stayed down there because I liked it,” he said. “Santa Cruz has changed a lot. It’s very crowded now. It’s much too expensive for musicians to live there.”
Catalano eventually gave up his studio work.
“It was not as creatively fulfilling as I wanted it to be,” he said. “I was always writing music but not sharing it with people. Eventually I had to make that switch, personally. That’s when I reached out to find a drummer.”
After connecting with Spina, the two realized they lived in the same neighborhood. They had other shared interests of vintage equipment and blues-rock and jazz. Seven years later, neither regrets the decision.
While their first two albums are both lyrically and musically dark, sad and noir-like, Same Sun Same Moon is full of uplifting themes. That was, of course, due to the understanding Catalano was able to glean from his mountain hike. It also reflects his and Spina’s lives.
“It’s been a really happy period of time,” Spina said. “I think we really wanted to write something with more purpose this time, and that purpose was hopefully to inspire people to recognize that we’re all sharing one planet and that we all are connected.”
The title track reflects just that. “OTL,” which is an acronym for “one true love,” is a Motown keys-driven track, rather than the sticky, swampy blues that stuck to Little Hurricane’s earlier material.
That being said, the Spina and Catalano wrote a lot of songs in the Same Sun Same Moon sessions, and many of the ones they cut were darker.
“So when the B-sides come out, you’ll have the opposite feeling,” Spina joked.