The icemen cometh

Cato Salsa Experience brings cool Norwegian rock to Chico

OUR WAY OR NORWAY <br> They sound like the MC5, but members of the hard-rocking Cato Salsa Experience get paid by their government in Norway instead of sprayed down with fire hoses.

They sound like the MC5, but members of the hard-rocking Cato Salsa Experience get paid by their government in Norway instead of sprayed down with fire hoses.

There’s an old Norwegian saying that goes, “A thousand Swedes ran through the weeds, chased by one Norwegian.” That adage can easily be applied to today’s musical climate, particularly in reference to the current crop of Scandinavian imports. While the general public has been focusing its attention on the much-hyped Swedish garage rock invasion, a lone Norwegian band has been noisily creeping through the proverbial weeds, stealing away a good chunk of the Swedish-dominated limelight.

Oslo-based quartet the Cato Salsa Experience is that band.

Thanks to the bristling, fuzz-drenched, ragged funkiness of its debut album, A Good Tip for a Good Time, the band has alternately been labeled “the most happening band in Norway” and “the best band in Norway.” On the surface these statements appear bold and brash, but just remember that popular music isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Norway. Let’s face it, how many Norwegian bands can you actually think of? Exactly.

Now, while Norway certainly seems an unlikely point of origin for the next hip rock-'n'-roll movement, the Cato Salsa Experience is doing its damnedest to make that happen. “Earlier there weren’t that many good Norwegian bands, and it was pretty depressing,” comments Cato Thomassen, front man and guitarist for the group. “I mean you could get every type of foreign music, you know, American and English bands, but the self-esteem wasn’t there in the Norwegian bands, so they couldn’t do that much. But now the scene is better than it’s ever been. It’s interesting now, with bands all over the lines, different styles and people doing their own thing. But what they aren’t good at is getting out of the country. They just stay in Norway.”

Touring outside Norway lacks the ease with which American bands tour the States or British bands tour Europe. Plus it’s not cheap for a Norwegian band to get to the States in the first place. “Yeah, but if you can sell some records here, then it will make up for it, I think,” laughs Thomassen. “You have to try it.”

That type of “just do it” exuberance is what rock ‘n’ roll used to be all about. Given their retro ideology, have Cato and the rest of the band always entertained notions of becoming rock stars in America? “No, not at all,” he says emphatically. “We didn’t think in particular about America. We always thought it’s so hard over there and the music business is so cynical. But when we got a call from Emperor Norton Records, we were like, ‘Wow, cool.’

“We’re pretty lucky. We haven’t been struggling to get a record deal and stuff like that. If somebody hadn’t wanted to release our album, we would have done it ourselves. We just try to take it easy and have fun with it. We’re not desperate to be huge rock stars. We just want to play music.”

Lack of delusions of grandeur aside, Cato and the band have yet to succumb to the inevitable burden of being deemed the best band in Norway. “We try not to, but some part of your mind probably thinks, ‘OK, we have to be serious now,'” says Thomassen. “But we want to keep that playfulness and that impulsiveness kind of thing that we have going all the time. So we try not to put that much pressure on ourselves. It’s about the fun part. That’s why I play in a band in a way, you know? Because I love music that much and it’s fun to play.”

One of the ways Cato and company keep things fun is by not having to worry too much about making ends meet. And that’s where the Norwegian government has the goods on America. “In Norway the good thing is that you can apply to the government for support,” explains Thomassen. “We have gotten it a couple of times. That’s the good thing about being Norwegian, actually.”

What Thomassen is talking about are grants, the kind usually reserved for scholars and "serious" artists here in the States, not rock musicians. For the Cato Salsa Experience, scoring a grant was pretty easy because the band members are viewed as cultural emissaries. "For us, we are one of the few Norwegian bands that go to the United States, so it makes it easier [to get a grant]," states Thomassen. "It’s like [the government says], ‘OK, here we have an export possibility.' Then they’ll give you money for sure."