- Surf Music
Help us meet our monthly goal:
The new album of THE RAZORBLADES, Germany's wildest surf band
NEW SONGS FOR THE WEIRD PEOPLE is out now!
17 songs, 12'' Vinyl or CD and digital
or download on iTunes or stream on Spotify!
Tour is in full flight, check all the dates here:
Check out this great feature on Will Glover of the legendary 60's surf band The Pyramids in the Long Beach Post.
Thanks to Danny Snyder for alerting us to this article.
Tsar Wars, Never Forgotten
There are those events in life in which you remember each and every detail; the sunlight coming through the window, the smell of the stale July heat, and the disheveled bed that you hastily threw that package on as you couldn’t wait to rip into. You see, in that packaged contained both the vinyl and CD of The Space Cossacks’ Interstellar Stomp of which I had been wearing out the Real Player samples of on the Space Cossacks', then, cutting edge website. While Interstellar Stomp would be the jewel of most any other package this package also contained the brand new Cossacks album, Tsar Wars. From that album I had heard The Defector, and immediately thought, “This is no Red Sunrise”. This was not the only mistake I was to make as a 16-year-old. This mistake is a common one, playing music outside of the context of which it was intended. You see, Tsar Wars is no mere album. It isn’t an experience, it isn’t even a journey. It is an adventure.
Tsar Wars was released under hurried conditions by MuSick Recordings, with the Cossacks heading to California for a 3-date tour in March of 2000. On March 26th, at the Rendezvous Ballroom Reunion, the first copies of Tsar Wars were sold by the band. The LP, a gorgeous purple marble with silver labels, and the CD, an interactive CD, both contain cover art by Shag and illustrations by Steve Blickenstaff. On that CD, a novella written by Jamie Miles with illustrations by Blickenstaff. The novella, follows the trajectory of the album through a classic story of a man and his car, a classic surf music trope. The difference, is the car is a spaceship and he is relentlessly pursued by an evil alien species and it is up to him to save the day.
One could have an album consisting of number 1 hits, and still have a so-so album. The true power and beauty of the ‘album’ lies in the tracklisting. A perfect album, like Tsar Wars, has a unique feel, tells a story, and causes the world to disappear as you listen to it. Tsar Wars is truly compelling, it’s first track setting the tone of the album. On this track we know something serious is happening as the reversed audio leads to frantic drums and fragile double-picking that resolves to pummeled double-picking only to bring forth a beautiful melody to break the tension before returning to whence it came. As we progress from that perfect opening track the album moves hearts with The Jewel of Duende, creates euphoria with Escape from Gulag 17, and causes us to celebrate with ¡Fiesta Del Cossacapulco! This is an uncertain time, an era of unease, this is Tsar Wars. It is heavy, it is dark, it is triumphant, this is Tsar Wars.
To the author, Tsar Wars went where no surf music had gone before. Arpeggios, double-stops, reverse audio, acoustic guitar, texture, and dynamics to die for. I never had the Shadows or the Atlantics growing up, but I had the Space Cossacks. This is why I am not alone in celebrating the 15th anniversary of Tsar Wars.
Please keep reading for a modern review by our very own Noel and reviews from circa 2000 as well as an interview with Art B of MuSick Recordings.
And be sure to share your thoughts on the forum threads: LINK TO FORUM THREAD
The Elements of a Surf Song
Greetings surf music comrades! I initially wrote this articleout as a mental exercise to gather my thoughts for a talk I was going to give at The Sierra Surf Music Camp. It turned out that I didn't give the talk, but I think this can still be useful for the newbies out there just discovering our little genre. What I'm referring to as the 'elements' are the basic components that together, or at least when several of them are grouped together, you have a song we can label as a surf song. Many of you may be thinking that you've listened to surf music for years, these elements should be obvious, and many of them are, but as musicians we can go a little deeper and try to tease out some of the more subtle ones.
First off, the term "surf music" has been a challenge in and of itself as a description for what it is we're doing. Historically, it's been often equated with The Beach boys. Now that has been debated endlessly, and I personally am willing to call it a draw. But when I try to describe what I do to the uninitiated, they invariably ask "like the beach boys" and I can't bring myself to say yes. Granted, The Beach Boys sang about surfing, so it makes sense that people ask do that. In fact, here's what happened to me the other day.
I've started going to a physical therapist because my neck and arm have been really hurting lately due to overuse as a contractor. I'm explaining to my therapist about how I play surf music, totally expecting to hear her ask "like the Beach Boys?" but she doesn't ask that. She asks, "Surf music.... is that with an E or a U?" Now that's one question I've never had before. I answer, it's with a U, like the ocean. "ooooh, you mean like the Beach Boys?" .... Turns out she was a classical music major and may have thought this was some kind of ancient music style played by serfs of the kindgom or whatnot. Also, I'd put her around 30 years old, at this point, even too young for the whole 90's pulp fiction fueled resurgence.
I've also found on craigslist and soundcloud and other musician's sites that a lot of vocal bands are referring to themselves as 'surf bands" or 'surfy". I'm not 100% sure at what they're getting at. My suspicion is they have a lot of reverb on their guitars and have a relatively clean guitar sound, which are 2 elements I'll discuss, but that alone isn't enough to warrant being a surf band by our standards. Not that they care.... but we do!
Here's my list of elements and then I'll go over each one in some detail.
You'll notice several of those elements are about the gear rather than the music. Unlike most genres, gear plays a big role in creating the surf sound. Perhaps it's a bigger factor than the music itself? Hard to say. I can tell you on SG101, the gear forum has by far the most activity, about 25% more than the next one, the 'general surf music' forum. And that's on the premier surf music website on the internet!
Check out an article by Jim Fusilli in the Wall Street Journal regarding the Italian Surf Academy. My brother sent it to me.
"Keep to the Rhythm and You'll Keep to Life"
Prior to 1961, Southern California kids didn’t hang out at the beach all that much; you’d be more likely to see them cruising in their cars, hanging out at the ice cream / root beer drive-ins, or dancing to 45 rpm records at sock hops. Live music was a rarity, and there was no such thing as “surf music.” In short: prior to 1961, there was no “California surf culture” as we know it today.
But the new trend was on the rise that year: with the advent of lightweight foam boards, surfing caught on big with the beach-area kids; by summer this had grown into a major cultural explosion — a mass youth-movement complete with it’s own styles, mannerisms and slang.
Going into that memorable summer of ‘61, I was 15 and a fledgling guitarist with a fledgling band (the Belairs) that emulated the sounds of the rock-instrumental heroes of the late ‘50s (Duane Eddy, Link Wray, The Fireballs, Johnny and the Hurricanes, the Ventures, etc.). When we heard that a lot of these new young “surfers” were driving thirty miles south to Balboa on the weekends to hear somebody named Dick Dale play similar stuff, we decided to throw our own dances locally. The result was like jumping onto a speeding train!
We had never given the slightest thought to calling ourselves a “surf” band. But at our first dance that summer, which drew about 200 beach-area kids, a prominent local surfer came up to me and said: “Wow, man — your music sounds just like it feels out on a wave! You oughta call it ‘surf music’!!” By summer’s end we were filling halls with 1500 fully “stoked” surfers who were doing just that: over the summer they had embraced our music (along with Dale’s) as their own, and now they were calling it “surf music!”
Ever wondered how to nail the surf guitar sound? Is it the gear? Is it the technique? Is it a combination of both and of the attitude of the player, also? Dave Wronski (guitarist extraordinaire of surf monsters Slacktone and previously of the legendary Jon & The Nightriders) lays out the basic recipe over at Guitar World's blog in the informative entry entitled Deep Water: How to Get the Classic Surf Guitar Sound.