Interview: Great White Caps

bill bodkin is getting paid to learn how to surf by the FBI…

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It might not be obvious to everyone, but Pop-Break.com’s name is a play on one of my all-time favorite movies (in a completely non-ironic way), Point Break. Yes, the 1991 action-thriller, starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze which was directed by Oscar-winner Katheryn Bigelow.

The reason I bring this up?

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On Sunday, March 10th, the surf rock band, Great White Caps will be presenting (in conjunction with our friends at the NYC concert promotion company Rocks Off) a unique live show called ‘Point Break Comes Alive!’ at The Bell House in Brooklyn, N.Y.. It’s a show where the band will be screening the film and then performing a live surf rock score under neath it. So, as a massive fan of the movie, I was immediately interested. Then our good friends from the Asbury Park-based surf pop band, The Brigantines, e-mailed us about putting a show at the famed city-by-the-sea with the GWC.

So with the fates pushed me to my Spotify and I dove right into the Great White Caps catalog. The frigid, gray, frozen tundra of Central New Jersey melted away from sight with each track and images of sweltering summer days, sweaty bottles of wearing and killer ‘point breaks’ danced through my head. Their sound is as classic as a ’57 Chevy that’s blasting Dick Dale from its radio. Their instrumentals are perfectly infectious — full of summertime excitement with an air of carefree recklessness. From tracks like the hands-in-the-air ‘Pacifico’ to the innumerable instrumentals in their catalog, Great White Caps are, without a shadow of a doubt, a band that must not only be on your musical radar, but it’s imperative that their tracks be included on your summer playlists.

Recently, I caught up with the entire band — Johnny Utah, Montag the Magnificent, Warchild and Sylvester Seaweed, to talk about surf rock, Brooklyn and of course, Point Break.

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Pop-Break: To paraphrase the famous Slim Pickens from the comedy classic Blazing Saddles — why in the wide, wide world of sports would you guys decide to form a band that plays surf music? But in all seriousness, this is a genre you don’t hear played by too many bands these days. And if bands do play some surf music, it’s usually within a hybrid of performing reggae and surf together. So in short, why form a surf rock band?

Montag the Magnificent: I have had a longtime love affair with surf music, and it really isn’t much different than what anyone would find when they ask themselves why they love the things they love, because it feels right. From the first time I learned a surf tune, my first was “El Gato” by The Chandelles, I felt like I came home.

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Johnny Utah: Why not?! It’s great music they makes people smile and dance. What else can you ask for as a musician but to make people happy. Too many shoe gazing, “serious” bands and musicians out there. Loosen up!

Sylvester Seaweed: Surf rock never fails at being the soundtrack to a good time … ever hear Dick Dale’s music in a depressing Lifetime made-for-TV movie? Didn’t think so!

PB: What bands did you look to as a blueprint on how to model the Great White Caps sound? Can you give examples from the heyday of surf rock and maybe a few, more modern examples?

MG: This one’s easy for me, from the way past: The Surfaris, Davie Allen and the Arrows, The Ventures and most of all a non-surf guitar player but a style icon, the incomparable Link Wray. From the recent past: (90’s actually my favorite era for surf rock) The Mummies, The Phantom Surfers, The Trashwomen and my all-time favorite surf group Satan’s Pilgrims. From the recent and present, Man or Astroman?, Guantanamo Baywatch and Daikaiju.

Warchild: Obviously — The Ventures, Dick Dale, The Shadows. As far as modern bands, Los Straitjackets, Man or Astroman?, Agent Orange, Satan’s Pilgrims. We are answering all these blind, without seeing each others answers, so I’m sure these read pretty similarly (laughs).

PB: Being that you guys are a Pennsylvania-based band, was it difficult time garnering an audience or following, as opposed to say if you guys had formed on the Jersey Shore?

MG: Honestly, our proximity to Mother Ocean has never been an issue. I feel as though being based in PA has helped us, because we have never had to deal with people thinking we formed because it would be a good way to get gigs on the boardwalk. Plus, thankfully our home town bar is the one and only Funhouse, we had no problem expressing ourselves in the most feverishly frantic and sweaty way possible!

WC: I think it may have been easier, because there is a lot less surf music in PA than there is in say, Southern California. It’s definitely something people don’t see much around here or any land-locked state. We get a similar response all over the country in places like Vermont or Kansas. Its very new to areas like that.

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PB: And in the same vein, has it been more of a struggle for you guys to break into certain areas or win over new fans in non-beach areas because of your sound?

MG: We play to more “non-surf” fans than we do to traditional surf music audiences and I am always met with an enthusiasm and resounding air of pleasure. I think people are sick of hearing the same old thing, we have enough seriousness in this world and I think people thirst for some lighthearted fun with their tasty brews.

JU: I actually think it’s easier to find an audience in landlocked places. First because it’s somewhat novel to see a surf band in say, St. Louis. But aside from that, this music, although born from the sea, is at home everywhere. We have had some of the most amazing audiences in Austin, TX and Albany, NY! Nowhere near the ocean they love us in Central Canada.

WC: In some ways its harder, especially being largely instrumental. But it again, being different tends to attract a lot of people. And we try to put on an entertaining, high energy show, so even if the music doesn’t necessarily grab peoples attention at first, the show hopefully does.

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PB: You guys all have pretty awesome stage names — why go with that? Also, are there on-stage personas associated with these nicknames or is it just you guys with cool names?

MG: I have always thought it was fun to use a stage name and persona. Funny story, as we started doing some touring with a band of friends of ours we were backstage and the guitar player said to me, “you know for the longest time I thought you just talked like you do on stage in real life!” As far as I am concerned that means JOB DONE!

JU: Unfortunately, if I was to have a persona to go with my stage name, I think our music would be quite slow, one-dimensional and a bit dim.

WC: We all have pretty white bread, mono-syllabic, names. How many bands do you know with a lead singer named “Montag the Magnificent?” Much more interesting than, Jon, Nick, Ian and Jesse, don’t you think?

SW: I’m not totally sure what everyone else is saying, my birth certificate says Sylvester Seaweed and I’m stickin to it!

PB: You have two pretty radical albums, Sting of Death and Screech Beach! If someone wanted to check you guys which song off each album would you recommend listeners to check out first in order to fully grasp and appreciate what the Great White Caps are all about?

MG: Off Sting of Death – “The Morey Boogie” and off Screech Beach! – “Screech Beach!”

JU: SOD – “50 Year Storm” and Screech Beach! – “Move the Maxilla”

WC: “Totally Pissed About These Shitty Waves”- Sting of Death “Buffalo Surfer” or “Pacifico” – Screech Beach!

SW: “Seaweed Shuffle” from SOD and “You Got It” from Screech Beach!

PB: You guys are doing a show at The Bell House in Brooklyn called ‘Point Break Comes Alive’ where you perform live while the film screens. How did you come up with this concept and can you explain in further detail what this show is like as an experience?

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MG: I have dreamt of doing this for years, it is one of my all time favorite movies and the soundtrack deserves to be surf music. We were presented the space to try this in and I jumped in so deep I came out the other end with a six page script with light and audio cues and enough bullheadedness to force three other people into a basement to practice and watch this movie upwards of 25 times. I have taken great care to maintain the story of the movie and leave space for the amazing wordplay on screen to be heard, and to match the what is happening visually, say in a car chase, with what we are playing live. Really, it is so much more than a band playing in front of a movie, but it is a band re-scoring probably the best movie ever!

PB: So far, what’s been the highlight of your career as a band?

MG: Opening for The Ventures twice in one week. Touring the entire US. A dude slow dancing with a bong while I played “Sleepwalk” in San Francisco.

JU: Hard to put into one highlight so I’m going with three.

-30 day national tour (playing surf music) with some of my best friends.
-Opening for The Ventures (twice in 3 days).
Screech Beach! (recorded in 1 day, live, then released on vinyl)

WC: Opening for The Ventures, recording an album in a day, and pressing it on vinyl, and a successful 30-day national tour

SW: Utah and Warchild hit the nail on the head… any chance they’re related with such similar answers like that?

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PB: Where are the best waves you guys have ever surfed?

MG: There’s no place like Trestles.

JU: The Avacado/Grandview break in Leucadia, CA. Though I spent a few months in Hawaii, I did not surf there, but those waves were the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed. Life changing.

WC: Encinitas, CA. Actually the ONLY time I’ve ever been on a surfboard. Jersey shore can make for some pretty great boogie boarding at times.

PB: In a fair fight, who would win Johnny Utah or Bodhi?

MG: Bodhi of course, Swayze is a badass!

JU: No question Bodhi has the upper hand on all levels.

WC: Bodhi, its the obvious answer and honestly, who actually roots for Keanu?

SW: I’ve got my money on Utah, dude trained at Quantico! However, he does have that bum knee…

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PB: You have a song entitled ‘Pacifico’ but the question remains, is this YOUR ultimate summer beer or are there other options you enjoy more?

MG: This is my ultimate, there is nothing like the flavor of a Pacifico with lime to set my mind at ease. I’m currently about three in.

JU: Nope that’s the ultimate summer beer.

WC: I think as a band, we love all kinds of beers. You might even call us beer snobs, or connoisseurs but there Isn’t a whole lot better than a Pacifico with lime on a hot day.

SW: No comment, my parole officer might be reading this!

PB: And finally, what are you plans for the remainder of 2013?

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MG: More shows, new tunes and a new record in 2013! Plus I think I am going to knit a sweater for my cat, build a racecar out of popsicle sticks, erect a statue in the honor of cheesy garlic bread, figure out a way to use auto tune in a surf song and make a fort in my living room from the couch cushions while my wife is at work and then wait til she gets home and bombard her with water balloons full of grape Kool Aid when she walks in the door!

JU: New album, two week midwest tour in July, national tour in the fall, and more surfing.

WCL <ore tours, new rekkid, lots o' shows.

SW: First and foremost, I’ve gotta go sky diving to the Joe Esposito song “You’re The Best!” If I survive the fall, I think I’m gonna buy a unicycle and learn to ride it on stage to amp up our live show.

Tickets to see Great White Caps’ Point Break Comes Alive! show at The Bell House in Brooklyn, NY are available at this link.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site’s podcast, The BreakCast.┬áHe is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great interview. I’ve seen them do this show. It’s a great way to enjoy the movie and hear some terrific music at the same time. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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