by Tyler Roberts
Staff photo by Allison Potter
Ben Moore, Jason Delamar, Brian Drake, Seth Moody and Steviemack Harrington of The Carvers play surf rock reminiscent of music that was popular 45 years ago.
The twangy reverberation of a Fender guitar pulsates through the room. Heavy bass and strong backbeat supplied by the drums follows. Soon the room is jiving to the retro sounds emitted from the band in the corner.
The Carvers, a local surf rock five-man band, has taken the stage clad in uniform red shirts with a pocket crest. With smooth riffs, light-hearted lyrics and a nod to their precursors, The Carvers breathe new life into the 45-year-old music genre that is surf rock.
“The style we play harkens back to carefree times, banging around, partying on the beach, surfing and I think we approach playing that way,” said Ben Moore, who plays bass and sings vocals.
Surf rock music can be identified by several style elements, including vocal harmonies, heavy reverb and lyrics celebrating surf culture. The surf culture inspired the first adopters of surf rock, but the genre can trace its musical roots to rockabilly, rhythm and blues and the big bands of the 1950s.
“Jazz, soul, blues and rock all kind of influence our style because we have people in the band coming from different musical interests,” Moore said. “In addition, these musical styles were the influences of the traditional surf instrumental bands to begin with.”
Surf music surfaced in the popular music scene in 1961. Originally, surf rock was purely instrumental and led by the lead guitar or saxophone. Vocal harmonies, best exemplified by the Beach Boys, became a part of surf rock, though many surf rock purists contend that harmonies are not essential characteristics of the genre.
One of the first surf rock bands to infiltrate the mainstream music scene was The Ventures. The band had a basic musician line-up with two guitars, a bass and percussion and played songs with the elementary AABA song structure.
Percussionist Steviemack Harrington recognizes the influence of early bands like The Ventures on The Carvers’ song structure; however, he said The Carvers have made it a point to not caricaturize themselves by simply emulating surf rock bands of old.
“Instead of trying to sound like The Ventures, we tried to break down who The Ventures looked to for inspiration and how we could…find our own musical voice based on that,” he said.
“We don’t play the traditional surf guitar hits note for note,” Moore said. “I mean, if you really want to listen to the Ventures, you would play a Ventures album, right?”
The Carvers have recorded several original songs that exhibit an originality tethered down by surf rock elements. One such song, entitled “Is That So Wrong” sounds like it could have blasted from a topless convertible in 1960s California.
“It sounds like something you could have heard on the radio 45 years ago and that to me is our goal,” Harrington said.
Other early influences include musical artist Dick Dale, who utilized reverb and the lower notes of the guitar. He explained the sound of his guitar style simply as surf sound.
By Dale’s description, found on www.surflegends.com, “surf music is a definite style of heavy staccato picking with the flowering of a reverb unit to take away the flat tones on the guitar and make the notes seem endless.”
Many of the most influential songs of the surf rock genre have been forgotten in time, Moore explained. Many times, surf rock instrumental songs would be placed on an album’s B-side. The legacy of many of the surf rock bands was short lived.
“Whether it is a cover of a popular surf instrumental, a greasy soul organ grinder or some song of their own making, I love finding a ripping instrumental from these garage unknowns,” Moore said.
The influence of the early innovators of surf rock is prevalent in The Carvers’ sound. Their sound is retro and simple with a kick to it, much like their predecessors.
“Many of us have played in more complicated music genres,” Harrington said. “The challenge comes in keeping a guitar solo interesting, keeping everything tight and finding a syncopation that feels right.”
The Carvers’ goal for every show is to create music people can dance to, he said.