A Man with Many Bands, John Dufilho Leads a Group of Drummers in Cantina

Cantina is a drummer-intensive group.EXPAND
Cantina is a drummer-intensive group.
Karlo X. Ramos

For those waiting to hear new music from John Dufilho, the second half of 2016 will be as loud and busy as the first half of this year was quiet and still. For a guy with as many musical connections as Dufilho, such a distinction is odd. But the lead singer of beloved Dallas indie band Deathray Davies will be all over as many as four different releases that are supposed to hit the streets late in the summer.

Punk, psych rock and possibly a movie soundtrack are filling up Dufilho’s days, but the most unusual of the upcoming offerings the new record from the acoustic and folk-flavored Cantina. Cantina is a band full of drummers. It's also, essentially, the renamed I Love Math, the Deathray Davies spin-off that’s been kicking around for many years and has already released a couple of albums, though the last one was all the way back in 2008.

As many irons as Dufilho has in the fire, he likes that he can record as many albums as he wants with whomever he wants, and under which ever name he wants. “There wasn’t any real reason we picked the name Cantina to replace I Love Math,” he says. “I just thought that name was confusing because people thought we were some math rock band and the name Cantina just kind of hit me one day.”

While he may not put too much thought into changing a band name, Dufilho, who scores movies and writes songs for television shows for a living, puts a great deal of thought into where any of the many songs he writes will end up. But only after the song has taken some sort of shape.  

“When you take into account the songs I write for work,” he says. “I really just write a lot of songs that go into different directions. I don’t sit down and plan to write a song for a specific band. I just start writing and figure it out as I go. 

Even an abbreviated telling of the Cantina story rolls out like a wild game of Six Degrees of Deep Ellum Separation. Along with Dufilho, who has played drums for revered Denver-based indie group Apples in Stereo for many years, Philip Peeples of the Old 97’s – who actually handles the drums in Cantina — and fellow Deathray Davies member and Polyphonic Spree drummer Jason Garner join non-drummers such as Andy Lester, also of the Deathray Davies, and banjo player Marcus Hollar, formerly of Boston's beloved punk act Street Dogs.

For the local music-loving public the record will be new, but for Cantina, the songs aren’t so much. About two years ago, the busy members all found themselves with a few days here in Dallas and not out on the road touring. For a few days, the group huddled in Salim Nourallah’s local studio and handled most of the heavy lifting, leaving Dufilho to finish some of the finer points afterwards.

A Sea of Keys will be released in July, but even before then, the killer debut record from CLIFFFS, Dufilho’s punk project, will hit the streets in June. Bill, You’re Only Human is full of what Dufilho describes as “minimalist punk rock inspired songs with only three or four chords.” Later in the year, probably late fall, Dufilho will release what he considers to be the follow up to his fine 2012 John Singer Sargeant album, but it will be under the name Corner Suns and will consist of psych-rock tunes with former Earlies singer Brandon Carr handling lead vocals. So, pretty eventful.

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Oh, and Dufilho’s sitting on a group of 40 recorded Deathray Davies songs, some of which will probably be released as a sort of “lost album” one of these days. Not in 2016, though — or so we think. While many artists have a tough time juggling life in one band, Dufilho doesn’t struggle with the many he has. In fact, he enjoys the freedom that will be on display for some time to come.

“It’s not like there are rules for this kind of thing, so I write songs the way I like," he says. "I take advantage of that more than I should, probably.”


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