The Iguanas made their reputation filling dance floors with Tex-Mex and Latin grooves, but they’ve broadened their musical reach over the last 20 years.
Latin elements are still part of their sound, but the band’s new “Juarez” album also includes nods to garage rock, R&B and soundtrack music, all with soul and in a signature way.
All those influences were brought by the band members to the Iguanas in the early 1990s when Joe Cabral, Rod Hodges, Rene Coman and Doug Garrison got together, but time has been liberating for the group that plays Friday at 5:40 p.m. on the Jazz and Heritage Stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
“When bands are first starting out, everything seems like it’s do or die,” Coman said from the band room in Cabral’s home near the Lakefront. “Every decision is so important because this could make all the difference whether this becomes huge or disaster.
“As you live life, you look in retrospect and realize it probably didn’t make a bit of difference.”
When Cabral and Hodges moved to New Orleans in the late ’80s, they were young men inspired by the city’s R&B heroes, including Earl King, Snooks Eaglin and Johnny Adams.
“As long as I could be around those guys and play with them, I’d reached my goal in life,” Hodges said. “I didn’t plan on making records.”
Coman was born here, and Garrison moved from Memphis to New Orleans to join the band. By the time they got together, they were all in their 30s.
“None of us were looking to become rock stars, even back then,” Hodges said. When the band signed to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Records, it was pursued by the label.
“We never looked for a recording contract or sent out a demo,” Hodges said.
The Iguanas cut three albums for Margaritaville and its parent company, MCA, then albums on a handful of other labels, some bigger and more invested than others.
“The music business was fairly regimented, machine-like,” Coman said. “Now the machine has collapsed and it’s very amorphous … I don’t know how that left me feeling.”
The band’s answer has been to do what it does, and “Juarez” presents the Iguanas being very familiar but subtly adventurous.
Hodges’ delicate ballad “When the Weather Breaks” is beautiful and lonely; Coman’s “Wedding of Chicken and Snake” lays distorted spoken parts in Spanish over a groove, much like a sample.
These tracks make the album seem classic and current at the same time, but as natural as the songs sound, they wouldn’t exist if the band didn’t give itself a deadline.
They decided to go in the studio not because they were ready, but because they were confident that the fragments of ideas they’d meant to work on and collected over the years would come together into fully developed musical ideas in time.
“I can’t pull it together unless I’ve got a reason to do it,” Hodges said. “I’ve got plenty of other stuff to do during the day.”
The title track came together in the studio, while the barroom rocker “Soul Kiss” was held over from a previous session. “We first recorded ‘Soul Kiss’ in 2008 but didn’t think it fit on that album,” called “If You Should Ever Fall on Hard Times,” Cabral said.
Over the years, members of the band have also had musical lives outside of the Iguanas.
Garrison has been active drumming with improvised music groups, and Cabral has been part of the local rock steady group 007.
Last year at Jazz Fest, Coman and Garrison anchored an all-star tribute to the late Alex Chilton, with whom they used to play.
“Besides being musicians in this band, we’re musicians all day long, and, schedule permitting, we get involved in other things,” Coman said.
“Twenty years ago, our schedule didn’t permit much,” Cabral said. “Now we have some free time so we all want to work.”
“If all we ever did was the Iguanas, it might start to feel stale,” said Coman.