20th September 2018
Music, melodies and mixology with Tico Raymar
Violet Jive frontman Steve Spall spills the beans on his Latin-laced alter ego
With their retro sound, danceable swing and ‘spy-esque’ riffs, The Violet Jive have become one of Kent’s most toe-tappingly popular bands in recent years. Now, frontman and self-confessed ‘musical mixologist’ Steve Spall has developed his own solo venture and alias: As Tico Raymar, he fuses his love of all things vintage with ‘a keen thirst for fresh ideas and genre-blending flavours’.
“Part of it is a cinema called The Raymar in West Malling, where I grew up,” he says of the project’s name and genesis. “Movies are such a huge influence for me, and it sounds like a cinema name from the ‘50s.”
Like The Violet Jive, Tico’s exotic rhythms, Latino vibes and lush grooves are combined with Spanish and gypsy-swing licks to produce hula-infused love songs with a dark, alternative rock edge. Indeed, his is a heady cocktail that embraces a variety of genres and influences, while also adding its own unique style and identity to the mix.
“It’s much more alternative and Latin, and a bit more guitar-driven,” he explains. “There are some really mellow moments, but it’s also quite dark, with lots of Tarantino-esque guitar. There’s a bit of The Violet Jive in there, but hopefully also enough that makes it separate and distinct.”
With standout tracks including Red Eyes at Dawn and Mariposa Sueno, there’s a haunting, seductive atmosphere to Tico’s debut EP, Down in Tahiti. He’s even taken things one step further by producing Flowers of the Yucutan, a body of songs from the past decade, including electronica/exotica remixes. Writer’s block evidently isn’t an issue for the prolific musician.
“There’s almost a back-catalogue that I’m trying to clear and get out,” he reveals. “Rather than having one or two songs to work on, I’ve got a couple of albums’ worth, so it’s like having to choose your favourite child. It’s difficult because they’re all so different, so I decided not to choose and release them all.”
Of course, Tico’s still making plenty of time for The Violet Jive, gigging at favourite venues like The Grey Lady in Tunbridge Wells, as well as annual festivals such as Jazz on The Pantiles and Local & Live. But while he remains grateful for the area’s nurturing musical community, he’s also keen to spread his wings and venture further afield.
“It’s lovely to be part of the local scene, but if you’re really passionate and serious about your music, you need to take it out to other places and play to crowds that you don’t know, so that you can tell if the tunes are working,” he declares. “If you’re getting a reaction from different people, you know you’re doing something right.”
For all the Rye Jazz Festivals and out-of-town shows, however, Tunbridge Wells and the surrounding area is still very much Tico’s spiritual home. Along with Violet Jive bandmates Matt Wilson and Paulo Beeching, he’s honed his craft by championing good old-fashioned rock and roll, jamming with likeminded players at grassroots venues, and building a loyal following and fanbase in the process.
“Without venues like The Grey Lady and The Forum in Tunbridge Wells, there are a lot of great musicians and bands that wouldn’t have had a platform for their original ideas,” he insists. “It’s nice when it’s more organic and you’re all jamming together and having a laugh. It has more energy that way, and it’s really nice to find that again – it makes me feel like I’m back to being 17 and rocking out!”
Now 39, Tico’s certainly showing no signs of slowing down, and retains the same effortless cool energy and charismatic charm as always. Whether he’s piecing together his next track in the studio, or belting out his band’s biggest hits onstage, he’s keen to continue shaking things up and creating his own distinctive sound, while staying selective about what he does next.
“We’re not straight-edge jazz or rock and roll, so whenever we play to a new audience, they’re not too sure what to make of it, because it’s a bit different,” he concludes. “I couldn’t do it if I was just in a function or covers band.
“When you’re younger, you just want to gig all the time, but I’m getting a bit older now, so I have to be careful that I don’t burn out. Rather than just doing a gig for the sake of it, I’d much rather focus on creating some nice tracks and getting them out there, and if people want to see them played live and create a demand for it, I’ll put on a show.”