“There’s this place called Pilgrim’s Passage, over the other side of China Town”, says Jordan, drummer of local surf rock duo BEACH SKULLS. “I think it used to be a warehouse and it’s about five floors tall. We were looking around and on about the fifth floor, tucked away, was a massive box of old vinyl. We got Otis Redding, Link Wray, Muddy Waters, Glenn Miller and Blondie”.
There is something to be said for the musician who scours the dusty corners of the city for the music that they buy, and which thus ultimately informs the music they make. Willing to look and willing to learn. And coming away with such a varied haul can only illustrate a diverse taste and a diverse palette for making music. But two surf rock enthusiasts from Widnes and Warrington who dig anything and everything in between? Surely not…
“We met in college in Widnes and played together one time in another band but nothing came of it,” says Ryan (guitarist and chief Beach Skull), before Jordan adds: “Then we lost touch because I refused to have a Facebook or anything, before we bumped into each other at the train station, and it has come from there really. He said he was making surf rock tunes; I said I would love to be in a band playing surf and we took it from there”.
And surfy the results sure are. Lo-fi Link Wray, reverb cranked up to eleven, warm scuzzy sounds giving you a warm scuzzy feeling permeate debut EPs Beneath the Waves and The Brooklyn Jive, the latter being purely instrumental. Both choice cuts, yet there are more influences here than for the band to be labelled simply as surf. I wonder how the songwriting process works within the band?
Ryan explains: “I recorded the first two or three tunes on my own, with a shit drum machine. Then when Jordan got involved he wrote the drum beats and that and had input into writing the songs.” So are the songs and songwriting process as a whole a joint effort? “Yeah,” confirms Jordan. “We usually jam and if it sounds good keep playing it. Then take it from there.”
“I find that when I play music that most of the time it always ends up with some sort of minor, dark, side to it,” says Ryan. “I think that’s just the way I write and play guitar so it always comes out, really.”
I sense juxtaposition, a Smithsonian meeting of happy, jangly major music with some sort of underlying dark element. The contrast between the lyrics and feel of Girlfriend In A Coma. The Byrd’s do it in parts, as does a great deal of country music. It’s apparent throughout the whole Beach Skulls package, from the song lyrics, their visual imagery, and right through to the name… and it’s a conscious decision. Skulls and Beach? A dark take, if you ask me.
“That’s the thing with a lot of surf music, it’s usually really quite upbeat,” offers Ryan. “For example the Beach Boys; we’re taking that sound with the reverb and all those drum patterns and putting a cooler, darker edge.”
“It’s kind of more serious I think,” says Jordan. “We’ve got a song which we don’t play live called Hicks McGrath which is about a fella who falls out of love with his wife and ends up killing her.”
Since forming late last year there have been two, cassette-only, releases on the Welsh independent, Cheesus Crust. This is a label who pride themselves on only releasing music that they love, for the love of the music. They share the band’s DIY, quick fire release ethos.
“I can never understand bands who take two months to work on one single,” says Ryan. “Whenever we have a new song, I want it recorded and out straight away. You have got to catch that moment. If you end up polishing it and refining it, it loses the character. All Right Island (first track on Beneath The Waves EP) was written and recorded in one day.”
The baggy, unpolished approach is one of the main and most interesting aspects of Beach Skulls’ music. Whether it be the cool as sin groove of my personal favourite Surfbeat Mojo or the ragged reworking of Gershwin’s Summertime, which flicks the baggy to the max, they boast lo-fi character in abundance. The live inclusion of the Link Wray classic Rumble is a great touch.
On top of two further releases poised to drop, two filmmakers have also been in touch about licensing music for their soundtracks.
“We know that one’s a movie about surfing and one’s a movie about zombies,” confirms Ryan.
What were we saying about juxtapositions?