Chad Shivers' Southern Surf Stomp channels the past, present, and future of Atlanta's Surf Scene
Posted by Sean Zearfoss on Fri, Apr 17, 2015 at 3:42 PM
Getting into surf music 20 years ago after hearing a Ventures song at a house party, Shivers formed his first surf group, the Squares, almost immediately thereafter. From there, he founded Sorry No Ferrari — not surf, but instrumental nonetheless — and most recently progressive surf band Moonbase. He’s also a member of the Mystery Men?, who are a staple of the Atlanta surf scene. In early 2014, he started the Southern Surf Stomp, a monthly surf showcase at Kavarna in Oakhurst. In the surf community, both in Atlanta and nationally, Shivers is helping to usher in a resurgence of the genre.
Shivers invited me into his home to talk about the music while he made BBQ, something he’s also quite good at.
Surf music feels like something that its fans keep in their back pocket. Surf fans have a deeply personal relationship with the genre, its bands, and the scene at large. What is it that resonates
Just as much as the music, I think it's community. It has that punk rock idealism, but without a lot of the pretense. You don't have to be or look a certain way. It's fun music and you can choose to push it or not. So many variables, but they're all legitimate.
After being killed by the British Invasion in 1964, surf music made a resurgence in the '90s with bands such as Los Straitjackets and Man or Astro-man? and has maintained an underground status. Why such a devoted yet small following?
I think it's small and devoted, and I'm not trying to sound pitiful, because we're all each other has. We don’t have a big following except each other and it’s very insular. It’s not by our own device, but it’s just an outlier in most people’s tastes.
There's also a lot of cool stuff you can grasp onto with surf music; there's a lot of history and, I hate to say it, but gear is a big component. By its nature, the music has to be more technical because you're playing all of your melodies on guitars or another melodic that's not voice. I think people can grasp on to whatever they want to with surf. I was having a discussion with Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets for the podcast and brought up the fact that they wear Mexican wrestling masks when they play. He mentioned that that helps because people don't want to see middle-aged guys play surf music. I think that's why people like it, because anyone can play it — it's not a young man's game or an old man's game, it's everybody's game.
I also think there's a great parallel in heavy metal. Surf might not have the same youth appeal, but it’s technically proficient, very gear based, very community based. A lot of surf players come from metal.
To me, Dick Dale sounds like metal much of the time. And Metallica, specifically Kirk Hammett, is clearly indebted to Dick Dale.
And Dick Dale will tell you he's responsible for metal (laughs).
The Southeast seems to have a growing, if not flourishing surf scene centered around Atlanta with the Drive-Invasion, the Clarkston Surf Fest, and other regular events. Can you talk some about Atlanta’s relationship with surf?
The South in general, not just Atlanta, has a great scene. Austin, Texas has a great surf scene with a monthly surf show that they do. Tons of bands, great bands. North Carolina has a great scene.
Alabama has historically had a great scene, which leads me to Atlanta. We've had some heavy hitters in Atlanta, but by proxy of Alabama. Originally, Man, or Astro-man? was based in Alabama and kind of moved to Atlanta. And also, the Penetrators — that’s what we all rally around in Atlanta. I don't think there would be an Atlanta surf scene without those guys. They started in the early '90s and carried the torch for Atlanta.
Where do you see Atlanta’s surf scene right now?
I'm very happy with the Atlanta surf scene. I think it's great, I think it's growing, and I think it has a lot of potential. But I have realistic expectations; I don't think it's going to be the next big thing, but I think if people get in on the secret, they're going to want to be a part of it. We have amazing bands. We have The Surge, El Capitan is now active again, Gemini XIII, my bands MOONBASE and the Mystery Men?. Not to toot my own horn too much, but I think the Mystery Men? have kind of picked up where the Penetrators left off with The Stomp and touring California. That's why I wanted to start this, to showcase the talent.
Clarkston Surf Fest, which turned into Douglasville Surf Fest, drew a bunch of bands from out of town to Atlanta. That definitely helps put bands on the map. Drive-Invasion maybe a little less so, because we always get the side stage. But, historically, it has been good; Los Straitjackets have played, Man, or Astro-man? played. There was a whole surf stage [there] in 2013. Having a central focus to these festivals is really helpful to the scene because we all meet each other and become friends. Again, there’s a lot of patting each other on the back, but I think that’s great because we’re all encouraging each other. It’s like a family reunion every time we have fests.
Festivals are a good opportunity for a general audience to get an introduction to something as specific as surf because people can find something they identify with. They can jump around between stages. These types of festivals build community and raise the music's profile.
Let’s talk about the Southern Surf Stomps. They’ve existed for a little over a year now and are fully booked for the next several months. What are they? What prompted you to start doing them?
It’s a monthly surf show. My goal is to get one local, one regional or national surf group, and one non surf group to bring in different audiences. Most people don’t want to listen to three surf bands play all night, sometimes even myself. I think it creates a different environment and a different experience. We try to do little things each show to make it more than just a show, such as booking a DJ, doing a podcast to promote it, and keeping a blog. We do highlight videos after the shows that get a lot of compliments. It brings attention to our little scene and to what we’re doing.
I started doing these because we have some many great bands here and I thought this was the next logical step to bring different acts here, showcase all of that, and show people how cool Atlanta’s surf scene is, even historically.
Kavarna is an interesting choice for a venue for the Stomps since most of our “rock” music in the city feels rooted in the East Atlanta, Little 5, and Poncey-Highland neighborhoods. Why Kavarna?
The reason we chose Kavarna is because my friend Greg Germani used to put on these great country shows. He used to bring great bands from Nashville. I went to see Chris Scruggs play and it was a really great vibe, a really great experience. I had played Kavarna, but not in an ideal setting. When we were looking for places to do the Stomps, it would have been a difficult sell to clubs, so we went with Kavarna because they’re more open to different ideas and something that they can book monthly as long as they have patrons. I’ve been surprised with the turnouts because at our Crazy Aces show [in February] we had over 100 people.
People have responded really well. I think people like the atmosphere. We talked earlier about surf being an Everyman’s game. Anyone is welcome, they can bring kids, and it’s not just people at a bar. People are there to see the music and have a good time, which everyone gets and responds well to. It’s a different kind of vibe. Is it for everyone? Probably not, but I enjoy it, even going to shows there I enjoy.
Where do you see it going in the future?
I have a lot of ideas. From the start, my goal has been to set the bar high, but the expectations low. Aim for the stars, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work out. It’s funny, many people in the surf community, and maybe even myself, didn’t think we could do this, we didn’t think it would happen, we didn’t think people would come, and we didn’t think we could get all the bands. We’re pretty surprised and encouraged.
As far as big goals, I’d like to get some more national names in, I’d like to get a West Coast group to play, we’d like to build a festival centered around the Stomp, which we’re working on. I’d like to do little things like a webcast of the show, so people can watch from home around the country. We’ve had people come from Kentucky, we regularly have people come from Athens and Augusta, people have come from Florida, Nashville, Alabama, all over the place.
A really crazy goal I have is to expand it to other cities. I’m in discussions with someone now about doing a Southern Surf Stomp somewhere else. One reason I want to do that is that you look at '50s and '60s music, and they had a circuit. Now, if you’re a band, you go on tour and just hope for the best. I think if you have an established thing once a month that’s not overcrowding, you have more incentive for bands to come out from further, potentially make a little more money, and play to bigger audiences.
What defines surf music? On the surface it seems clear: surf beat, reverby guitar, single note leads, generally instrumental, often space themed. But the genre feels more nuanced than that. You have argued that the Ventures aren’t actually a surf band, but, instead, an instrumental band. If this is the case, what makes a surf band?
I think you got it. The defining factor is reverb. I’m sure there are surf bands that don’t play with reverb, but I just don’t know any. Again, I’ll draw a parallel to heavy metal. It’s like a metal band that doesn’t play with distortion. It can happen — I think it does happen, but it doesn’t really fit the character of the music.
What are the three most essential surf albums? How about the most quintessential album from an Atlanta surf band, if those categories don’t overlap.
Hands down, the Penetrators Locked and Loaded is the quintessential, defining Atlanta surf album. You could argue Man, or Astro-man in there, too. [Nationally] Space Cossacks Tsar Wars, from the first wave, Eddie and the Showmen's Squad Car, and, most recently, it’s between Crazy Aces' Surfadelic Spy-a-Go-Go or Barbwires' Sea Rider.
There are waves to surf music?