Dante Elephante has changed.
The Santa Barbara band—led by Ruben Zarate—has fully shed its surf-rock roots, opting for disco-inflected synth-pop on their forthcoming Paul Cherry-produced album, out in January. Today the band drops the album’s funky third single “90 Days,” and, as its title suggests, it was inspired by the TLC show “90 Day Fiancé.”
“Sundays at my house are pretty routine,” Zarate tells American Songwriter of the track, which premieres below. “I wake up around 9am, my girlfriend Jeni is already awake playing animal crossing. By 10am we head to a coffee shop to get her some coffee. I don’t drink coffee so I get a pressed juice or smoothie. We’ll drive around Santa Barbara for a few hours, looking at houses, listening to music or a podcast until about 1:25pm when the Dallas Cowboys come on TV. The game usually lasts until about 5pm. During that time my girlfriend’s eyes never leave her Nintendo Switch while my dad and I yell at the television. After that we’ll make dinner and dinner can be anything from homemade pasta, veggie sushi, or a recipe from a youtube video that I’ve been wanting to try.”
“Now it’s 8pm,” Zarate continues, “and our favorite show comes on. It’s called ‘90 Day Fiancé.’ ‘90 Day Fiancé’ is an American reality television series on TLC that follows couples who have applied for or received a K-1 visa (available uniquely to foreign fiancés of U.S. citizens) and therefore have 90 days to marry each other. We are absolutely obsessed with the show and we watch it every Sunday.”
“90 Days” finds Dante Elephante locking into a smooth, slinking groove, with Zarate joined by Joey McDermott on drums, Joe Farey on bass synth, Cherry on synths, and Jacob Cole on guitar. Zachary Wallace delivers a spaced out keyboard solo in the track, which follows Dante Elephante’s latest singles “E-Motion” and “Jeni.”
“90 Days” also arrives with a sunny Super 8 flick. “My friend Patrick Mattes reached out to me earlier this year about profiling me for his web series on creators,” says Zarate. “Unfortunately it was in March when the pandemic started and I couldn’t go to LA to shoot, so when it came time to think about music videos I had him in mind. I loved that he uses Super 8mm and thought the intimacy of the film would complement the warmer, moodier, tones on this track. So I drove down to LA and we went to several locations around the city where we wouldn’t be near anyone and that was outside in the sun to be extra safe.”
Like “E-Motion” and “Jeni,” “90 Days” attests to Zarate’s musical evolution over the last decade. The fare on Dante Elephante’s forthcoming Mid-Century Modern Romance is a far cry from the hook-filled garage rock of the band’s 2013 debut, German Aquatics. (Back then, Zarate was literally hand-distributing his music around Santa Barbara—I still have an unlabeled German Aquatics CD that he gave me after a particularly sweaty set at a neighborhood block party. “Sorry if this is sticky” he said as he handed the discs out.)
“My next record is an homage to my family, Santa Barbara, and the music I grew up listening to,” Zarate says of Mid-Century. “I grew up listening to Electro-Funk, Disco, Post-Disco, and Boogie music with my parents. This is the first time I’ve finally been able to fully commit to this style. My last record, Rare Attractions, had more of a yacht rock element and Anglo-Saxon Summer was jangle pop, C86, think The Pastels, Teenage Fanclub, or Big Star sort of thing. In 2016, I went through a big transition with the band where Dante Elephante finally became a solo project vs. a traditional band, which was scary but also liberating.”
That decision would ultimately give Zarate the freedom to explore different styles and approaches. “I now have the ability to play whatever genre I want, I can have whoever I want to play on the records,” he says. “This time around with Paul Cherry, I took a step back and wanted to try it a different way where I just sang the songs and had the best musicians around me [to] perfect the parts I loosely wrote on the demo, and to build on top of that.”
Zarate credits Noisey with putting Cherry on his radar in the first place. “We played SXSW in 2018 and I was staring at my phone when I saw a Noisey article post about Paul Cherry’s new album,” he recalls. “I had no idea who he was but the headline compared him to Paul McCartney. I thought ‘Sweet, I gotta check this album out when I get home.’ And then when we got back from tour I finally listened to Flavour and was blown away! I immediately bought it on vinyl and started DJ’ing around Santa Barbara and tagging him in my Instagram stories.”
“A few months after that,” Zarate continues, “I noticed that he announced a West Coast tour and I saw an open date between SF/LA and I emailed his booking agent and booked him at a bike shop in Santa Barbara and became friends that way. Towards the end of the year I DM’d him on Instagram and asked him if he wanted to produce my next album and he said yes, so we flew him out and in April of 2019 we spent ten days in LA and did basic tracking. I went on a summer tour in July/August and felt like I needed to re-record some vocals, add more horns, roto tom, and real strings. So we finished the session officially towards the end of 2019.”
Check out a groovy glimpse of the final product below.