Los Straitjackets on Lucha, Lowe, and the Love of Surf Music

Los Straitjackets

The lucha mask wearing surf rock icons, Los Straitjackets are headlining the fourth Asbury Park Surf Music Festival on Saturday August 26. The iconic band, was formed in Nashville, TN in 1988 by Danny Amis, Eddie Angel and drummer L. J. “Jimmy” Lester. The band has specialized in performing some of the best surf rock in the business today.

Recently the band dropped a new album dubbed, What’s So Funny About Peace Love And Los Straitjackets. The album pays instrumental tribute to the music of Nick Lowe, their label mate, and someone they’ve jammed with for years. In fact, earlier this summer they performed with Lowe at Lincoln Center in New York City.

We caught up with Pete Curry (who joined the band in 1998) for a quick chat as the band gears up for the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival.

You dropped What’s So Funny About Peace Love And Los Straitjackets this year, paying homage to Nick Lowe, someone you’e performed with. Why chose to do a record covering his sounds, and doing an all original record?

For about the last three we’ve been doing a Christmas show with Nick — one on the East Coast, one of the West Coast, and one over in Europe. So, we got to know his songs fairly well. We thought this would be a nice thing to do.

How did this live collaboration/touring relationship with Nick begin?

We’re both on [the record label] YepRoc, and they had a 15 year anniversary party. We were the band that backed everyone who didn’t have a band, or didn’t have bands with them. One of them was Nick. We loved meeting the guy; he’s a pretty amazing character. He’s had quite a career. Christmastime came around, and I don’t know who thought of the idea [performing together], but I was all over it — it was a great idea. I’ve been a big fan for years.

To some Nick Lowe is a household, to others he’s an unknown. What do you dig about his music?

The thing that caught my attention in the late 70s is Nick Lowe has a great sense of humor. He had a light touch at a time when punk was popular and that was all pissed off. He was rocking, but he had a nice light touch that appealed to me.

Let’s talk about the songs on this record? Were there tracks that didn’t make the final cut?

We had a list that was a bit longer, maybe 30 songs initially. Some didn’t wok as well as others, so we moved quickly passed them.

What was a song you loved that didn’t make the cut?

Oh, man. I’d really have look back at that list.

Can you walk us through how you guys take a song with vocals and turn it into an instrumental?

We’ve been doing that for years. We did the theme from Titanic for example (laughs). First you’ve got to get the chords and melodies down. Once you have that you have to figure out a way to play them differently when the verses and chorus come in, so it doesn’t sound like you’re playing the same thing. The hardest part is making them sound like the original song.

When you approached Nick, and told him that you were doing a tribute to his music how did he react?

We had played a few years with him, and we had done an instrumental of “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” when we toured with him. Someone suggested we do “Rollershow” and then it developed into the idea of doing a record of his music. He’s got great songs, been doing it for 40 years.

You got his producer, Neil Brockbank, to produce this album. How was it having him on the album?

He was responsible for the way it sounded. He was a hands on producer because he knew the songs well since he’s produced and engineered all the Nick records for the past 20 years. Sadly, he passed away last year. He was a really talented man, sorely missed.

Surf rock is this insanely popular genre right now — what drew you to it, an what do you think is inspiring younger bands to pick it up?

When I first started playing in the 60s, the thing that appealed to me was it crossed the plain like Duane Eddy and The Ventures. I love instrumental music general. Surf music has a timeless feel to it. I know Pulp Fiction definitely gave it a shot in the arm.

From the surf rock genre who are your biggest inspirations?

Duane Eddy, The Astronauts. Of course, Dick Dale. I like The Shadows from the U.K., the Jokers from Belgium. And of course, I love The Ventures.

One thing that has intrigued me is the masks, and the Lucha libre connection. What was the inspiration for this, and was the mask designed specifically for you?

They are crafted to our personalities. We had them made in Mexico City, by the same people who make pro lucha libra masks. It makes us very memorable. There were names attached to everyone’s characters, but that feel by the wayside.

When you joined in 1998 were you worried about performing with a mask?

No, not really. The hardest thing is you can’t see the audience or your hands well. I knew them when they started, and we played a SXSW show around ’96. I knew the guys well, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was walking into.

What do you love most about being in this band?

For example the show we did with Nick Lowe. There I was on stage with a room full of people and I thought, “This is what I’ve been working for my whole life. There’s an upward trajectory for us. We’re having fun, and making music I like. I love travel, and we go to Europe a lot, so I love that. And I’ve been able to back up a lot of my musical heroes. It’s been great. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I play music I find entertaining and compelling, and with people I really like.

Finally, is there a new studio album in the works?

Yes! We’ve been talking about it. We’re definitely due for an all-original, or mostly original record sometimes every soon.

Los Straitjackets perform at The Asbury Park Surf Music Festival today. Click here for tickets.

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, 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. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites