GORDO GRINGO IS FAT WITH THE FUNKY POP BY RAFER GUZMAN NEW YORK NEWSDAY July 18, 2003 You may know Phil Jimenez from the Long Island band Wheatus: He was the hyperactive nutcase whose main job was to dance around the stage, work up the crowd and play the occasional banjo. What you may not know is that the 28-year-old Jimenez also helped produce Wheatus' 2000 debut album, including the hit single 'Teenage Dirtbag,' which racked up gold and platinum sales throughout Europe. Further proof there's a method to Jimenez's madness: He's now fronting his own band, Gordo Gringo, and it's not what you might expect. Instead of Wheatus' guitar-based rock and roll, Jimenez creates quirky pop with funky bass lines, hooks you can hum on the very first listen and lyrics funny enough to merit at least a few punches of the rewind button. And if you never thought a banjo could rock, check out 'Never Thought,' from the band's new self-titled EP. Gordo Gringo has already drawn attention for it's multiracial lineup. Sitting around with some cold beers on a recent summer day in Jimenez's home recording studio in Huntington, the five-piece band looks like a scruffy Benetton ad: Aside from the part-Cuban, part- American Indian Jimenez on vocals and guitar, there's a Haitian percussionist named Bendji Allonce and a dreadlocked bassist named Orlando. Drummer Jim Mansfield and guitarist Dom Dorman could almost be called the token white folks. It turns out that even while touring the globe with Wheatus for two and a half years, Jimenez was listening to avant-garde composers and world music artists. 'I can't pronounce most of the names,' Jimenez says. 'It wasn't about the artists for me, it was just the newness of the sounds.' At the same time, he became addicted to performing live in front of large audiences. Wheatus 'played tons of festivals all over the world, and that got me really pumped up,' Jimenez says. 'So the idea was for the music to be very immediate, but at the same time, have a lot of layers. Something that, upon first hearing the tune, had some impact.' Home from touring, Jimenez split from Wheatus (amicably, that is: Wheatus front man Brendan B. Brown sings backup on the Gordo track 'Fire'). Late last year, he nailed down the Gordo Gringo lineup, and in February, the band released it's debut EP. The disc's four songs aren't just radio-friendly, they sound like instant hits. The two-chord ditty 'Taking All My Time' matches Lou Reed to Barenaked Ladies; 'Found Love' is a multicolored pop song that could give Lou Bega's 'Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit Of ... )' a run for it's money. As for a deal with one of the major labels, that may be a ways off. 'They're still a little hard to get in touch with,' Jimenez admits. 'It's a very nerve-wracking time for anyone on the money end. But I think it's an exciting time for people on the artistic end. It's a more creative time, and there's a lot more opportunity to do things yourself.'