Just the two of us

Cuadrillas is Hosh McCray’s other amazing musical duo

Once you declare your instruments official band members, they start hogging the promo photos.

Once you declare your instruments official band members, they start hogging the promo photos.

CD-release show; 8 p.m. Friday, July 29; at Luna’s Cafe, 1414 16th Street; with OX and the B-Sexuals.

Watching Cuadrillas play is like sitting in on the live recording of a Gothic Western movie soundtrack. Pistoleros rove a deserted street, women of the night lean against 1950s cars, and black-clad villains from the Appalachians smoke hand-rolled cigarettes under a blood-red moon.

Deeply atmospheric instrumental music with an independent-label rock sensibility has its proponents in well-known bands like the Dirty Three and Calexico. Cuadrillas is in the same vein but mines its own post-jazz territory with strains of blues, country and folk.

Cuadrillas is a Spanish word meaning roughly “gang of four.” Don’t be misled; not only does Cuadrillas sound absolutely nothing like the British band Gang of Four, but it also doesn’t even have four members.

“Four … meaning the two of us, me and Delaney, and our instruments,” said Hosh McCray, leaning forward on the table over a pint. A heavily tattooed, tanned man with dark, close-cropped hair and glasses, McCray is the guitarist in the duo. The other half of Cuadrillas, Delaney Fritz, plays the drums. The two have been playing together for more than five years and formed Cuadrillas last year.

Both musicians grew up in Sacramento. Fritz’s skilled and nuanced drumming has been developed over long years of playing. Fritz, who went to Sacramento High School, is one of the founders of the Urban Jazz Workshop, which takes place every Wednesday night at the Fox & Goose. Most weeks, he still can be found there, improvising and practicing his technique.

McCray has taken a more circuitous path to Cuadrillas. He started playing saxophone in elementary school. After high school, he played bass or banjo in local bands such as Delectable Ripple Trees with Jon Mack, now of Las Pesadillas.

McCray took a hiatus from musical collaborations when he left California to study horticulture in Pennsylvania. He traveled across the East Coast doing biodynamic and organic farming for several years. He carried his banjo with him and continued to play and write songs. Eventually, McCray left the farming life and came back to California to play music.

“I think Sacramento has some of the greatest musicians I’ve ever encountered,” he said, mentioning Nevada Backwards among other locals he holds in high regard.

When asked about music he is influenced by, he grew impatient. “I don’t listen to that much music,” he said. “I still haven’t heard every Beatles song.”

In other words, Cuadrillas is not interested in following trends. The folk element in the band’s music is prominent—it’s acoustic, earthy and non-electric. The sound hinges on flexible, loose playing that mixes live improvisation with written songs. McCray’s hypnotic, finger-picked classical guitar melds with Fritz’s syncopated, intricate drumming in warm tones that build tension and release it masterfully.

McCray’s unique approach to the guitar, which he picked up a few years ago, has everything to do with his love of the banjo. “Ruben from Mothspy bought me a guitar, a paracho, from Mexico. He got it from a flea market on Folsom Boulevard,” McCray said, shrugging. “So, I tuned it like a banjo and started playing.”

Mothspy is McCray’s other project, a collaboration with electronic-music artist Ruben Revelles. Mothspy’s music combines McCray’s banjo, vibraphone, trumpet, guitar and vocals with Revelles’ electronic techniques—which he uses to mutate, compose and shape the music.

Unlike the work of Mothspy, Cuadrillas’ forthcoming release is devoid of electronic effects and studio manipulation. Stripped down and minimal but full-sounding production gives the band’s six-song CD the feel of an inspired live show.

Cuadrillas recently traveled to Portland, Ore., to record. McCray emphasized that this was not a pilgrimage to a slick studio, but an effort to get away from distractions and support an independent producer they trust. “Supporting local isn’t about where you’re from; it’s about where you are,” McCray said. The album will be available at Cuadrillas’ upcoming shows, starting with its CD-release show at Luna’s later this month.

“We want to create original music people can’t classify,” McCray concluded. So far, the duo is doing exactly that.