The Volcanics - Interviewed 11/12/2013
Led by guitarist/vocalist Frankie De La Torre, So Cal surf combo The Volcanics are quickly becoming one of the most popular live acts in the scene, as well as an excellent debut CD, "Girls Girls Girls" released a few years ago. Later this month they will be releasing their 2nd CD, "The Lonely One" on Double Crown Records. Here is an interview we did with Frankie as the band prepares for the CD release and a series of live shows over the coming months.
The Continental: When did The Volcanics start, and why did you choose to go into surf music?
The Volcanics started around 2001. I was playing in a previous surf band called “The Futuremen” with Mark on bass (our rhythm guitarist). We opened for a Frat Rock and Roll band called “The Mighty Kegsmen” which consisted of Norman Cabrera and Kevin Hair of The Ghastly Ones, and Benny Hammond and Arunas Leskys of The Markdowns. The show was at The Garage in Silverlake, CA. My band The Futuremen was on its way out. Mark had other bands going on and so did our drummer Alben Zatarain which played in a punk band called “Regal Beagle”. I remember all the guys from The Kegsmen seemed to really dig us. I remember Benny mentioning that he had a red sparkle kit that matched my candy apple red Fender Jaguar Guitar and that he was interested in playing drums for a surf band. It wasn’t long after that we started The Volcanics.
I started playing surf music in high school. After scrounging enough money for our guitars and amps we didn’t have enough money to buy a P.A., speakers, mics etc. Also, none of us had really a voice or knew how to sing so instrumentals seemed to fit well for us. We formed a surf band called “The Impossibles” and played “Walk Don’t Run” for our High School talent show.
The Continental: What was the first song you wrote and performed as a band?
I don’t really recall the very first song that we wrote. I do remember a show was offered to us 2 weeks into forming the band at a club called Orsini’s in Los Angeles. Many of the songs in our set were songs that I had written in my previous surf band The Futuremen and developed them into Volcanics’ songs. Songs that I remember playing for the show were Green Room, Russian Roulette, Midnight Swell, among others.
The Continental: What bands do you feel have most influenced the sound of The Volcanics?
I love the sound of The Fender IV. I think they have such a tough and raw sound. Randy Holden’s tone is one that I wish that I could capture. I also love the rhythm guitar in that band; they almost have that “ska” up-stroke style in some of their songs which is really cool. As far as song writing, Paul Johnson is just amazing. I love his melodies. His songs are so fun and lively and complex in the sense that they are so well thought out. Lastly, the rippin’ energy and fast playing of The Crossfires I think is what we try to depict on stage as a band.
The Continental: What 3 surf/instro albums would you want with you if you were stranded on a deserted island?
Having mentioned The Crossfires, I love “Out of Control”. The album just has so much energy.
Plus, there are vocals on there that are really fun as well. It would be a great album to listen to “pep” me up or get energized with determination to survive. Again, I have to go with P.J. I’m not sure if this counts but I love the “Rare Surf Volume 1: The South Bay Bands P.J. & Artie/P.J. & The Galaxies/The Journeymen”. Every single song on that album is great and almost “dreamy”. I can actually picture myself on the “deserted island” starring up at the stars at night lying on the beach listening to some of those songs on that complication. Lastly, I think it would be a toss up between Dick Dale and Eddie Bertrand. Dick Dale is “the King of the Surf Guitar” but Eddie was just cooler than cool. Only because some songs such as “Lanky Bones” and “Squad Car” are on the Rare Surf Volume 1 comp, I’d have to go with Dick Dale and His Del-Tones’ “Surfers’ Choice”. Dick Dale was the man…tone, sound, guitar playing, etc. Also, as seen with The Volcanics, I’m a big fan of surf bands throwing in fun vocal tracks here and there. I am a fan of Dick Dale’s voice and “Mr. Peppermint Man” is a song I’d often play on the jukebox at the bar my brother used to work at when I’d stop in to visit him.
The Continental: Tell me a bit about the gear that you, and your bandmates use.
Mark and I both play out of 61’ Blonde Fender Bandmasters through reissue Fender Reverb Tanks. I love the Bandmasters. They are gutty and so beefy. When you crank them, they really start to get a cool natural distorted sound. The overdrive along with the reverb almost makes them sound “mean”. Those amps really set us apart from surf bands that are just too “clean” sounding nowadays. That and they just look so cool. Mark and I also play out of matching 62’ reissue candy apple red Jaguars. We both have Jazzmasters as our backup guitars. I’ve had my Jaguar for about 16 years or so. I love the thing. I put the Vintage Seymour Duncan pickups in it and it has done the job since. I remember shopping for my first “actual surf guitar” around 1996 or 97’ (I was playing out of a Fender Squire previously). I was in between the two surf bands I was in which were The Impossibles and The Futuremen. I was jamming a lot with Chris Barfield from The Finks and The Huntington Cads at the time. He has a whole collection of guitars including some vintage Jaguars and Jazzmasters. He let me play them and I was sold ever since. I really loved the Jaguar, the neck and the guitar itself were just so comfortable to play. Plus, I think the Jaguar and Jazzmaster are the coolest looking guitars on the planet.
Jimmy plays a white Gretch Catalina 4 piece set and uses 5B Hickory Vater Sticks. His kit looks really cool and fits the band so well. The snare sort of has a bit of a “boxy” (rather than a “snappy”) sound to it which I really love because again, I think it sets us apart from other modern surf bands. The snare sound almost reminds me of The Sentinels’ snare sound on their cover of “Shout”.
Dave was playing a Sunburst Fender Jazz Bass but recently switched to a candy apple red Precision Bass to match mine and Mark’s guitars. As far as amps, Dave has yet to “convert” to the vintage look but manages to capture a great sound day in and day out. He plays out of an ampeg svt3 pro head, ampeg svt410 and svt610 cabinets, and uses a tech21 sansamp bass driver. Although they look cool and I wouldn’t change it for the world, Mark and I on occasion will have issues with grounding, humming, or buzzing noises coming out of our amps. The Bandmasters are delicate amps. However, Dave on the other hand is all set to go 100% of the time. I think he captured a great tone on the new album.
The Continental: Your new album, "The Lonely One", has been in the works for several years. Could you tell me a bit about the recording and writing process? What should fans expect with this new disc?
Oh boy…where do I start with this question? Many of the songs on the new album were songs that I mostly wrote in my previous surf band The Futuremen. I just wasn’t able to record them or really do anything with them. Back then, we weren’t really doing much with the band and there was no real organization or desire to “do more” such as record. As a result, when The Volcanics started, Benny and I both had a surplus of surf material from our previous bands which was how The Volcanics’ material was developed. On our first album “Girls, Girls, Girls”, Benny and I both shared song writing duties. As a result and although we played many of the songs from this album from time to time at live shows, many of my other songs were not put on our first album.
After “Girls, Girls, Girls”, there were several attempts for us to record our next album. For some reason or another, it just never happened. We did “things” on our spare time when we actually had the time. We worked around everyone’s schedules and it just wasn’t enough to put out an album. Life happens….work, careers, school, relationships, interests, investments, family, etc. It was a grueling process and learning experience. Things weren’t recorded right or timing was off and we’d have to start all over. We attempted to utilize all of our resources. However, it just wasn’t ever enough. At times it felt like running in place.
Eventually, Mark took a break from the band. He had a lot going on and other cool projects he was working on. Shortly after, Derek ended up leaving as well because he was focusing on his career and his business that also required his full attention and time. Benny and I were all that was left. Enter Dave (a.k.a. “Whitey”). I knew Dave since kindergarten and we went to the same high school together. I knew Dave played bass in a lot of punk bands. I approached Dave and he was in. About a year or so into the “new” Volcanics’ line up, Benny ended up leaving. He had started The Beechwoods project and recorded a full length CD. It was then I asked Jimmy to jump in on drums. (Jimmy states that he started playing the drums after watching my first surf band The Impossibles play his and his older brothers’ backyard party. I believe Jimmy was in elementary school at the time.) At this point, Mark was ready to jump back into the music scene and catch up with The Volcanics. Of course, the changing of band members further prolonged the recording process.
Once the “new” line up was in place, we began the recording process again, using all of our resources. For the first time, we recorded the surf songs and instruments on all the songs live in our garage and I’m so glad we did. Recording live was something that I had always wanted to do. We mic’ed up each of our amps and had maybe three mics on the drums. In addition, I believe we had two room mics. The guys all jokingly state that they will never record this way again because if one person messed up, we had to start all over (and to credit their frustrations, I can not count the number of times we had to start all over). Mark also had a really tough time mixing, editing and mastering the recordings because he could not isolate instruments, dealt with bleeding, and could only work with certain tones so much. However, I think by recording live, it really captured the live energy we give off on stage onto the album. At times, the recordings almost have a “dirty” tough sound to them which I really love. The actual recording of the songs took some time to do and then there was the time it took to engineer the recordings. Again, we did this on our spare time when we had the time. It was quite a process. We have three vocal tracks on the album. For the vocals, we did our parts separately which was really fun to do. One song that has an intentional differing sound from the rest of the album is Gina’s vocal track “Moonlight Serenade”. Her voice is amazing and it was really fun harmonizing our parts and collaborating the backing vocals on that song. I wrote a vocal track on there called “Keg Party” which was very much influenced by an early 60’s song called “Weasel” we often cover and The Premiers’ “Farmer John”.
As a whole, Mark did such an amazing job with all of the recordings. It is really neat to create something and want to listen to your own music when you jump into your car which I find myself doing often. I’m really proud of the fellas and everyone involved in making the album.
Derek actually helped us with the album artwork concept and we do one of his songs called “Del Rey” on the album that we used to play when he was in the band. We also were going to have him play piano on the “Moonlight Serenade” vocal track but we just never got around to it.
The Continental: What would you tell to someone who hasn't heard of The Volcanics to convince them to give one of your discs a spin?
When I usually try to describe the music I play to people, they usually have no clue what the music is. Although I love the Beach Boys, when you say “surf”, people usually think of the “Beach Boys”. A new recent response was “surf like Jack Johnson?”. To me, there is “Beach Boys Surf”, “Instrumental Hawaiian Shirts Surf”, and then there is “Surf”. I like to think we play “Surf”. It seems to me not a lot of people remember or are even aware that “Surf” is a genre of music. It is only after seeing and hearing us that people get it and “know that type of music”. Surf, to an extent, is an untapped modern day genre that has yet to be exposed. Dave and I were talking about this not too long ago. Nowadays, “Surf” is almost more “punk rock” than “punk rock” is “punk rock” because “punks” used to be the minority, but now they are the majority. It is kind of cool when The Volcanics go into dark clubs full of people with tattoos and grease in their hair and we are wearing our sweaters and ties with our hair combed to the side and jump up on stage and rip into a fast double picking song like “Trick Shot”. We are now the minority. If you think about it, in a way Surf was “punk” before “punk” was “punk”. Much like the Anarchy symbol of the 80’s, the Iron Cross was often used by surf bands and to represent surf music in the 60’s. Surf bands took the music from the 50’s and gave it some high octane and played it faster. I think it had an attitude (in a good way), youth, energy and excitement. I like to think The Volcanics picked up where they left off.
To sum it up, The Volcanics play rippin’, fun, fast, instrumental rock and roll with a “wet” sound (reverb). We throw in some fun Frat Rock and Roll vocals in there that are easy to sing along and dance to, as well as play melodic pretty instrumental ballads that are easy to listen to. The new album depicts all of that above, almost like a really fun party.