"Pop-Cultural Studies in "A" minor", the posthumous full length by SURF ME UP SCOTTY, was certainly one of the best surprises as far as instrumental records are concerned.
This highlight in the 20 something years of the band's career is featuring some brilliant renditions of "Squad car", Journey to the stars" or "Taboo Tu" to name a few.
Do yourself a favor: track it down and purchase a copy. You get all the useful information at the end of the interview that was conducted with founding members of SURF ME UP SCOTTY drummer DAN and guitar player PATRICK. Here we go.
1) For the viewers of this blog who would not know you, What would you tell about SURF ME UP SCOTTY to introduce yourselves? Can you tell us the full story of the band? Who was playing what instrument in the band over the years?
Dan : Well, our band which was active from 1996 until 2017, consisted of a core of 3 members – Patrick (guitar), Patrizia (bass) and me, that’s Dan (drums). Raised on anything that was more rock-ish in the 80’s – from metal to punkrock – we found a common ground in the surf-instrumentals that some of the Californian skatepunk-bands like Agent Orange and JFA included on their records. The idea of a project revolving around surf-instros came after a rehearsal (around ’95) with the punk-band we had at the time, when one of the members firmly rejected that sound after Patrick started playing “Mr Moto”. It was too clean, too “mainstream”, too … whatever.
Somehow, realizing that there’s such a thing like “bad taste” for a punk made it even MORE appealing to us! (that’s what made me also turn onto easy listening, exotica, crooner stuff, swing, etc – that and the incredible songwriting in those styles). So we started rehearsing in 1996 and did some shows after a few months, even though our skills weren’t exactly what you’d expect from a surfband (switching from bass to drums, I had to start from scratch!). Then again, we mostly played in front of punkrock crowds in the beginning and cranked up the speed, so few people cared. Neither did we, at least not in the beginning. Over the years, we noticed, obviously, that there’s more to surf music than 3 chords played over a reverb unit, so I think it’s safe to say we improved on our skills in both playing and songwriting. And in picking coversongs.
Besides the band’s core, we had a bunch of musicians either on organ/keyboard or on rhythm guitar, most of which left after a while. We started to doubt if our body hygiene was responsible in some way, but they assured us – it wasn’t. Even though 2 band-members emigrated to remote places such as Estonia or Florida. Here’s the list : Alexej (keyboard 1996-1998), Muck (keys 1998-1999), Katia (keys, 1999-2003), Polka Claus (keys 2003-2008), Nicolas (guitar, 2008-2014), Eric (guitars, 2014-2016). And we had Mendaly, the Luxembourgian scream-queen (“De Zombie-Film”) on theremine and she also did a kinky sideshow for a while in the late-2000s.
As for our discography : we did a split 7” with a local noise rock band, Gauged, back in 1997 (our first output), a demo CD-R called “Music to get wiped out by” in 1999, a first full-length-CD in 2003/2004 (“Surf now, Apocalypse later”) and it took us, ehm, what?, another 14 years to put out “Pop-cultural studies in ‘A’ minor”. Plus a bunch of compilation tracks.
2) About the posthumous full length record "Pop-Cultural Studies in "A" minor", what can you tell about the recording process? Was this a "live" in the studio recording or a track by track recording with lots of overdubs?
Dan : Recording track by track, with quite some overdubs on some songs. We decided to exploit all the technical possibilities that were available, for instance on songs like “Como quien pierde una estrella”, which is a cover of a 90’s latin-pop classic – a song we’d never played live. It would’ve been a pain in the ass to bring all the folks together that played on that track for a single rehearsal, let alone a liveshow! But then again, that’s one extreme example – all the other songs had a spot in our live set lists for quite a while, and we added some percussions or guitars on those. I think the “honesty” of a live-recording is one thing, but it shouldn’t turn into a dogma. We knew we could add some extra spice to the songs by doing some overdubs, and the result was more important to us than a musical ethos. What’s “real” anyway? Didn’t Plato already question our perception of what’s “real”? ;o)
Patrick: Also, considering the band’s impending break up, time was a factor here. First you are confronted with a choice: make the recordings as “live” as possible, and, in doing so, sacrifice some of the possible grandeur of the compositions, or go with the flow instead, record with the available personnel (the extreme example here is our cover of “Besame mucho”, which at the time saw ME lay down all the tracks on a Bass VI and some latin percussion, all alone…with Dan coming in the next week to record a track of Bongo rythms on top of that – done! Just the two of us…), to “Coyote” or “Como quién pierde una Estrella”, which featured all of us (three different guitar tracks) plus violin, trumpet, latin percussion and samples…almost a surf ORCHESTRA!. The second point to consider was that of a point of view…was it really important to catch a band “live”, which, by that time was a patchwork at best, or rather focus on the SONGS to produce the best possible way for them to sound so they could shine on in posterity? We opted for the second! ;-)
3) Did you prefer to use the nowadays digital recording technology or did you guys only work with analog machines in analog studios?
Dan : Analog over digital anytime. Except for bands who don’t rehearse enough to get it all done live in an analog studio – like Surf me up, Scotty!
Patrick: Living in Luxembourg, one does simply not have a lot of analog studios to choose from. So we opted to work again with our long time friend and studio engineer André Thiltges of “Emerald/Orange Box Studios”, which were rebaptised into “Spacestation64 Studios” for the occasion. It’s in a town close to all of us, so we could drive there on the weekends and/or after work to continue working on our recordings whenever some of us had the time. He also has a lot of vintage amps, effects and microphones, so the “digital” recordings were done with a richly analog and vintage equipment. I exclusively played a 1962 brown-face FENDER showman amp with a reverb tank hooked up, to give it the surfiest sound I could muster. Some bass tracks and reverb splashes were recorde through an all-tube SUPRA combo amp and we used an original BINSON ECHOREC, the works!
4) Was there a main composer in the band or was everybody involved in one way or another? Or alternatively did you only play covers and no original tunes?
Dan : About half of the songs are originals, which come from either one of the 3 guitarists involved in the making of the record – if there’s such a thing as a main composer, it’s Patrick in our case. Two songs were written each by one of both rhythm guitarists, “Lightning Bolt” (Eric) and “Coyote” (Nico) .“La Curandera” was the last song to be arranged and recorded by the band. The groundwork was laid by Eric, a Chorus/break added by Patrick and Patrizia and me laid down the rhythm section. As for the covers, some were picked by me (Taboo Tu, Space Fly, Journey to the stars) or by Patrick (who, in a flash of maestric genius, re-arranged stuff like “Como quien pierde una estrella” and “Besame mucho”).
5) Are all the tunes actually in "A" minor?
Dan : You tell me… ;o)
Patrick: Most of them are, I guess…some may also be in “E minor” for that matter. That fact was of little consequence to the choice of the title. Most of all we liked the word play in the meaning of the title for the album. “Studies” can refer to courses taken in an academic environment as well as to a set form of written musical pieces. We wanted to take the listener by the hand and bring them on a tour of our favorite pop-culture items, in music, literature, as well as in a cinematic sense, as well as to provide them with the most finely crafted surf music we were ever able to perform, kind of a swan song, if you will.
6) To what kind of music did you listen to as teenagers? What were your favorite bands as a teenager? Name 3 bands that you consider still have a influence on your own work today.
Dan : it’s tough to pick only 3. As a teenager : Suicidal Tendencies, The Cult, Metallica.
3 musicians / bands that influence me nowadays, somehow (even though I’m not active anymore) : Ennio Morricone, Arthur Lee & Love, Brian Wilson / Beach Boys.
But it wasn’t only the music known as “surf-music” that inspired me, but also the whole lifestyle revolving around it : I started surfing in 1993, around the same time I got my first Ventures record. For a while, the myth of the 60’s California beach-lifestyle and the subculture (boards, mags, movies) was something that also inspired me to play in a surfband. For the record : surfing in Blankenberge on a sunny afternoon in the summer of ’98 and hitting a show featuring the Revelaires and the Fifty Foot Combo at the Botanique in Brussels afterwards was about as close as I could get to the Californian lifestyle, without even leaving the continent. Who needs Malibu and the Rendez-vous Ballroom then??
Patrick: For me, growing up, it would have been Gary Glitter(all things glam, really! Suzy Quattro, The Sweet, T-Rex, early Bowie, some Slade, etc), Alice Cooper, and, more relevant to the surf music I played: the Shadows and the Sputniks, some Ennio Morricone of which my elder brothers listened to a lot. Megadeth and Slayer were very prominent for me, then all the punk and hardcore legends…for surf music, I would always come to certain reference points: Dick Dale, Man…or Astroman? And I must admit the VICE BARONS were/are among my favorite surf bands of all time. I could not get enough of your albums, listened to them all day long in the middle of the 90's. “Friends in low places” was a go-to album if that surfing mood hit me. So you might understand that I am quite excited by the news of new material being put together by you guys!
7) Do you have a video on youtube featuring a track from the LP?
Dan: Yes, we have : you can find an “appetizer” which features excerpts of 2 songs (only covers, though). Check my youtube channel (keeperofthelostpipe), I have a Surf me up, Scotty! playlist on there that has some live stuff and 2 unreleased recordings (“Surfing on the moon” and “Storm surf”).
8) What could concert goers expect at a gig of SURF ME UP SCOTTY, way back in the day?
Dan : Flashy outfits, B-movie trailers played on TVs, wrong notes, chaos. Oh, and a bee-mask.
Patrick: Yeah, on our better and bigger gigs we would have B-Movie interludes: Dan transforming into a Bee-Man Monster, chopping someone's (fake) hand off…artificial blood spewing all over the place to the irritating sounds of a theremin playing an eerie sci-fi type background music, flashing lights. Later on we would have themed shows, we would all dress up as cops or do a classic Zombie show in full make-up and theatrical blood all over. We also had a Surf Nazi phase where we would shock people with anachronistic visuals and contrasting messages. A voluptuous, sexy girl (our friend and co-conspirator Mendaly who also laid down some theremin tracks for the album) would dance and improvise, interact with the audience or just plainly worship the band while playing, being scantily clad and luxuriously shaped. Visuals of all kind would be a fixed part of our performances, be it a surf or zombie or Mexican wrestling film on old TV sets playing, projections of slide shows, pictures and films, you name it.
9) Were there any bands you considered yourself close to musically speaking?
D : If you mean bands that inspired us, I’d say Agent Orange and Man or Astroman when we started out. The original 60’s bands, obviously. Those records are still spinning on my turntable on a regular basis. Also bands that took more care of their songwriting and arrangements - 2 bands come to mind : The Bambi Molesters and, uhm, yes, The Vice Barons.
10) What happened to the other people in the band? Are they still active musically nowadays?
Dan : Patrizia now lives in Florida and she did a band with her husband for a while, Giorgio ‘The Dove’ Valentino – check them out on youtube. Dark-crooner stuff. Nico lives the life he’s always dreamed of – as a lumberjack somewhere up the Baltic sea. Still playing his OG 60’s Fender Jag, but not a band in the making, as far as I know.
Patrick: Well, yes I have been and still am active in loads of bands and projects, chief among them would be TOXKÄPP! , my Two-tone ska band (which also evolved out of the super-group Dan mentioned earlier. SMUS and Toxkäpp would be sister-bands in that regard. I also play (along with Eric, of course!) in the live set of ROME, a dark folk band , which evolved out of our Oi-punk band THE SKINFLICKS and which is touring around the globe constantly.
11) Anything you would like to add?
Dan : It’s quite weird to think back of all the stuff we did – and it’s a bit sad to see most of it is gone. Not speaking only of the band, but also of the lack of interest in surf music nowadays, if compared to the situation in the 90's, when the Pulp-Fiction hype brought in a lot of people (maybe for the wrong reasons, agreed). At least we got to know cool bands and people from Belgium… and other parts of the world. But yeah, maybe it’s time to move on.
Patrick: yeah, I know we were all bitten by the surf bug, and even if this incarnation cannot function any more because of restraints that time and space chained us to, I am fairly sure that we will return in some form or another, maybe under a new name, who knows? But I myself miss playing surf music a lot…it still means a lot to me and we will do something along those lines sooner or later, come the right time! Thanks for the support and the interview, keep up the good work!
Dan: And then there’s the obvious beg : BUY OUR RECORD! Since it’s the band’s final output, we really wanted to have it on vinyl and went the whole hog : vinyl + CD in a gatefold cover. So it’s pretty clear we’ll never see our money again, but what the heck. It’s a present to ourselves for our 20th band-birthday, so it was worth it. If someone else along the way happens to dig it, it makes me a happier person. If someone wants to buy a copy, just get in touch via our facebook-page (/surfmeupscotty) or send me an email : firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s 15€ plus shipping (but I’ll throw in half of the shipping costs).