Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Our Interview With Thee Swank Bastards: "We are the Marvin Gaye of surf music."

Readers, do you like kick-ass surf bands?  Do you like kick-ass surf bands who are prone to covering Slayer and Sabbath?  Do you like kick-ass surf bands that are almost equally well-known for their between-song dirty jokes?

If you answered yes to any or all of those questions, you'll need to be at the Record Bar in KC on Thursday, July 12 to witness Thee Swank Bastards (appearing alongside KC rockabilly legends The Rumblejetts and Hog Hunt, featuring members of the infamous Pornhuskers).

Thee Swank Bastards hail from the desert of Las Vegas (that's right!) and have been dishing out the surf since 2001, so you can bet their surf licks and dick jokes are both well-polished!  (Chip: "I do love a well-polished dick joke.").

Find all the links you need on Thee Swank Bastards over at the Orchid press site and make sure to "like" their FB page, since they seem to be very active over there with all kinds of shenanigans.

Enjoy this interview, which covers hula hoops, the links between surf and metal music, the "Tiki circuit," and whether or not these "hodads" actually know how to surf.  And our questions are followed by a short sampling of questions that the Bastards recently solicited from their fans.

Richard:   I love the idea of a surf band rocking out in the desert of Vegas.  What drew you guys to this genre and how would you describe your sound, ideally using one of those we sound like _________  meets __________ comparisons that lazy music writers like ourselves like to employ?

Jesse: This type of music is incredibly fun to play. We dont have to deal with a singer, and so we all get to find our space in the music and have a good time with this reverbed-out rock n roll. Kinda like Dick Dale meets Jimi Hendrix after listiening to some Slayer and Django Reinhardt.

John: We sound like a mishmash of Anal Blast and Anal Cunt, with a smattering of Ass Cavern influence thrown in, specifically Anal Cunt's jazzy 13th record...I think we draw heavily from that.

Jesse: No, John.....that's only the drum parts. The rest sounds nothing like what he just described.

Shaun: Our sound is The Ventures meet dick jokes.

Chip:  I understand you guys have a full-time hula hoop dancer with you?  How did this come about, and is it perhaps a new trend?  Lawrence, Kansas also has a band of gypsy-folkies named Dumptruck Butterlips who have a hula-hooper on hand.

Jesse: We no longer have a full-time hula hoop dancer. She moved about a year ago. We now have a part time hula hoop dancer.

Shaun: Years ago she started with us after seeing a performance, and decided that she needed to perform with us. She wouldn't stop showing up so we figured we'd pay her.

John: Szandora was with the band long before I joined. I don't have anything witty or intelligent to say about why or how she is with us. I do enjoy having her with us.  She's an awesome girl and a good friend, and she brings a good energy to the stage when we do perform with her, which is becoming more and more infrequent due to her living in the Bay Area.

Richard:  So youve done a full album of surfed-up Black Sabbath covers and I understand a Slayer album is in the works.  What is it that makes surf music compatible with those bands?  And whats a future band that you might like to apply your surf magic to?

Shaun: Our friend wanted a birthday party with Sabbath music. It just happened to be on June 6 of 2006. Slayer is the new "Freebird" so we learned to play it our way.

Jesse: Those bands work well for us because they are very melodic. They are both metal bands, but, to me, those bands and our approach to them are worlds apart. Ozzy really layed out some nice melody lines as a vocalist. We do a nine song Sabbath medley that lasts anywhere from 35-45 minutes. The Slayer is far more repetitive and the vocal parts are very monotone. We took ten Slayer songs and edited them down to a 15-20 minute medley. We are getting ready to record the Slayer, but I dont expect the full piece to ever become a part of the regular show like the Sabbath has. They are just two different animals.

I am not sure that there is a future band that we will reimagine in our own way. The Sabbath grew from one song that we were doing for years, into six songs for a 6/6/6 performance, into nine songs for an album and a regular set anytime we play a long night. It was a pretty organic process that I wouldnt have predicted beforehand. I am excited to see where we go next.

Maybe some Dead Kennedys.

John: Coming from a non-surf background, I guess I have a different take on things than the other guys do. The way the Sabbath stuff works is that Jesse plays the vocal rhythms as the guitar lines, with certain signature guitar parts from the songs left in. With the Slayer stuff we're working on, he's taking the signature riffs from all the songs, with very little from the vocal lines thrown in since, unlike Sabbath, the Slayer vocal lines aren't particularly memorable or melodic, the exception being one section of "Dead Skin Mask". As far as future bands, I'd love to be able to apply what we do to some black metal songs.  While those songs will only be known by a select few in the audience, they've got great lines, and black metal and surf aren't that far from one another. Black metal is pretty much surf guitar with lots of distortion and blast beats.  I'd like to see if we could take songs like "Mother North" from Satyricon, "Ensorcelled By Khaos" or "With Strength I Burn" from Emperor, the guitar line from near the end of "Mourning Palace" from Dimmu Borgir, anything from Nyktalgia's second record, "The Knell And The World" from Dawn's "Slaughtersun" record, or anything from Taake or Shining, especially "fortvivlan min arvedel" from Shining's newest record, and anything from the first four Gorgoroth records....umm....."King Antichrist" from Dark Funeral has a cool guitar line that might work well.  It's not black metal, but using some of Vital Remains' "Dechristianize" would be cool.  That guitar line in the first break would be killer. Also, because they're my favorite band and I'm the ultimate fanboy, having seen them 19 times, I'd love to try and turn In Flames songs into surf, but with the direction their music has turned, we'd have to stick to anything pre-"Reroute To Remain". Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, lots of the Swedish melodic death bands have great guitar lines that would be fun to try to turn into surf....At The Gates, Without Grief, early Soilwork, Dark Tranquillity.  Covering "Punish My Heaven" from Dark Tranquillity would be cool.  Those time changes and guitar lines are bad ass. Probably not going to happen, but it would still be neat.....for me. Probably not for Shaun and Jesse.

Chip:  They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  But could you PLEASE tell me a story of Vegas debauchery to titillate our low-brow readership? 

John: Apparently I'm boring and have no stories not relating to baseball or metal. In fact, I'm so boring I have to tell other people's stories, because they're far more interesting than anything I've done.

Jesse: umm......

Shaun: I can't remember any late night in Vegas. Got any...?

Richard:  Your press material describes the band as regulars on the burgeoning Tiki circuit.  Tell our land-locked Midwestern readers a little bit about that circuit.

Jesse: I think they are a lot of really cool people. They like to get drunk and wear aloha shirts, and they can take our jokes. Thats a great crowd in my book.

Shaun: John, what's a good word for "a lot of"....oh, a plethora of drinking rum. Rum drinking. Uhhh, drinking. Lots of drinking. They do great festivals, sometimes family oriented. They are all great, fun people. We are big fans of Tiki Oasis, Frankie's Tiki Room, Purple Orchid, Don the Beachcomber, Bamboo Hut and Forbidden Island.

John: Before I became the drummer with these guys, I was totally and completely unaware that this scene existed. I've learned that these people are totally dedicated to living the tiki or surf lifestyle, reflected in the clothes they wear, the way they decorate their houses with tiki bars in them, volcanos, volcanic rock, astroturf in the living room, massive collection of tiki glasses, etc. I thought that the metal crowd was dedicated to their way of life, with their obsession with trying to out kvlt one another with their t-shirts and record collections, but the tiki thing is this all-encompassing obsession for these people.

They are all a lot of really cool people. The number of people who have been cool to us, or let us crash with them, or just hung out with us at shows, both bands and individuals, is way too long to list with accuracy, and I know I'll forget someone and I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, so I won't even attempt a complete list. But it's all been very much sincerely appreciated.

Chip:  Do you guys actually know how to surf?

Jesse: We are hodads from a landlocked area that has a lot of sand, but no ocean.

Shaun: Been surfing a few times.  What does surfing have to do with surf music?

John: I was born in Washington, DC, then grew up in Malta, NY and then moved to Vegas. I've never been on a surfboard in my life, and don't particularly enjoy the ocean. Or sand. Or swimming pools. Or bath tubs even. I do like showers. Hard to surf in the shower though.

Shaun:Not really John.  I think it would be easier to surf in the shower as long as you had a short board or a big shower.

Richard:  KC is often just as hot as the damn desert this time of year.   Tell our KC/Lawrence readership why they absolutely NEED to leave their homes and attend your show at the Record Bar on Thursday.

John: Because we're fucking awesome musicians, and we tell awesomely offensive dick jokes.

Shaun: We are the Marvin Gaye of Surf Music and we will entertain the shit out of you.


Fan-solicited questions:

Jonathan: When are you going to get a singer?

Jesse: Never. Not in this band. How can you tell a singer is at your door? They cant find the key, and they dont know when to come in.

Shaun: We may have a guest singer in the future but Thee Swank Bastards will never have a full time singer.  We did start a side project with a crooner but never had the time to complete the project.

Noah: Do you like gladiator movies?

Jesse: You know that movie Clash of the Titans? I dont wanna sound like a queer or nothin, but unicorns really kick ass! – Dave the lighting guy

Shaun: No, but I do like art house cowboy flicks.

[kudos to the Airplane reference, Noah!]

Kyle:  Joints, pipes, blunts, vapes, bubblers, hot knives, or bong?

Anonymous band member: Whatever is available. There is something great about the ritual of sharing a joint or blunt, though. Only one of us partakes.

Grither: How many licks DOES it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop?

Jesse: Your mom probably knows

Luke: How bad do those suits smell?

Jesse: That is a subjective question. Some of the ladies like the way we stink. The real stink is in the van.

Shaun: I use a new suit for every show.

Craig: When the honest fuck do you actually practice for your shows in between all these Facebook posts?
Jesse: Every so often you will see a two hour gap.

Shaun: We outsource some of our posting to the Philippines when we are practicing.

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