By Tyler Fox (@TylerFox585)
Surf rock is a finicky genre to do right. Too often it can end up sounding like a sloppy garage rock band that will never make it out of the basement. But when done right, you end up sounding like Atlanta’s Antarcticats. Antarcticats bring the rawness of punk and meld it with classic surf and swing elements. You can hear from the first note that these guys can play and just feed so well off each other.
Recently I had the chance to chat with Andrew Joyce and Chad Miller about the band and what they have been up to as of late. Go grab their new live album “The Cats Are Back In Town” from Bandcamp and like them on Facebook to keep up to date with shows and news.
Why don’t we start at the beginning. What brought Antarcticats together and when did it all begin?
Chad: Andrew and I met when we formed a twee/indie pop band called The Merry Go Rounds with about a dozen other people September of 2013. Andrew played rhythm guitar and I was just a percussionist, since we already had two drummers. It was our main project at the time, and we put out an album in April 2014 and toured up to New York in August 2014. About halfway through the tour, Andrew brought up the idea of a new surf-influenced project he wanted to start, and Andrew and I had our first practice with our then-bassist Chris Young (whom Andrew knew from high school) about a month later.
I always like to know more about local scenes that bands come from. So what is Atlanta all about? How do you guys fit into the scene and how have the other groups been helpful?
Chad: Atlanta’s got a big DIY scene; you can’t walk half a block without accidentally bumping into three or four musicians. Every city has its own niche to fill, and as a result a lot of the bands here kind of sound the same: lo-fi, very simple garage rock through tons of distortion and reverb. There’s still tons of unique bands here, though – one of our early influences was a local band called Pillage & Plunder, who were a weird art rock band, too bad they don’t play together anymore. Another influence was a local band called Champagne Room, who played swing-influenced punk.
Andrew: Generally speaking, Atlanta is well-known for its hip-hop acts; there’s an established scene, and many influential hip-hop records have come from this city. This is really cool, because I’ve gotten the chance to meet artists involved in a completely different genre – I think there’s a lot of potential for collaboration and genre mixing, even if it doesn’t happen all that often. On the rock side of the spectrum, Atlanta is a little more eclectic. I think our city is still evolving, figuring out which subset of rock is “ours”. Like Chad mentioned, there are quite a few bands with garage rock and post-punk influences, but there’s also some experimentation going on – psych rock fused with techno beats, ska throwbacks intertwined with folk sensibilities, stuff like that.
The DIY scene in particular is pretty well connected in Atlanta; most of the booking guys for a lot of the venues in town are also playing in their own bands, and are active in the community, so it’s not like you’re dealing with some sketchy club owner, or a greedy dude that trolled through Facebook to find bands to fill his bar. We’re setting up shows working with musician’s we’ve played with, or played shows with before, and that’s really cool.
Surf-punk isn’t something you hear a lot now, which is a damn shame. Where does the band draw influence from and what made you decide to resurrect a dying genre?
Andrew: The surf shtick kind of started as a joke; while on tour with the Merry Go Rounds, our then-violinist, Mike Stearns, was talking to me about how surf is practically dead, and there’s not really much surf music in Atlanta. So, when we got back to Georgia, we would joke about setting up rival surf bands, and how we’d “bring the surf back”. When Antarcticats started forming, I mixed in my own songwriting styles with surf riffs to try to diversify ourselves from other Atlanta bands.
Surf isn’t even a genre I listen to often, honestly. I listen to a little classic surf rock, like Dick Dale, and some surf pop, like the Beach Boys. More recently I’ve drawn inspiration from bands like Surfer Blood or Best Coast, that have some surfy vibes, but definitely aren’t strictly surf acts. I also listen to a lot of Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes, so some of that creeps into my songwriting as well.
Chad: Personally and ironically, I don’t listen to surf music at all. My biggest influences are indie emo bands like Cap’n Jazz and Midwest Pen Pals. I guess that helps in keeping all of our songs from sounding like pure surf.
You guys have been pretty damn busy in your first year, having four releases including a live CD. Has it been tough keeping up with all the writing, recording, and doing shows?
Andrew: Surprisingly, it hasn’t been too tough! There have definitely been a few really hectic weeks here and there, but for the most part everything has been pretty smooth. In our first year, our schedule had us playing around 3 shows a month. Early on, most of our shows were booked ourselves; we just reached out to a bunch of venues and hoped for the best. By the latter half of the year, a lot of our shows were from bands and friends reaching out to us to play, which made the logistics of getting shows set up much easier.
Everything has just worked out really well for us this first year; our work schedules meshed well with our show schedule, and recording has been a breeze; thanks to careful planning alongside our sound engineer Bennett Kane, we were able to get the entire EP recorded in about 1 ½ days of recording (1 day for the band as a whole, and a half day for vocals).
Songwriting has been a bit difficult, especially recently. It’s been hard to find time to write, between college and work, but every so often I’ll have a creative streak that lines up with some free time. Those times I’ll just barricade myself in my room and then emerge a few days later with 3 or 4 songs to expand on.
Chad: It’s been natural to us – we don’t really try to force anything. A lot of our songs are written in “groups,” where Andrew will come into the practice room with riffs he wrote for different songs and a structure to go with them. Andrew’s a songwriting genius. Playing shows is, at least in my mind, a kind of live practice, except you can’t fuck up and you need to keep the audience engaged. Recording also comes pretty naturally, since our first EP was done practically for free by our friends and Irregardless was recorded in about two days, with almost everything being done the first day.
Among the releases from last year was your newest EP, Irregardless, released in November. You can tell just between your first EP in March and the new one in November that the band has progressed significantly. What did you guys find different, if anything, this time around with the writing and recording process?
Andrew: I did a majority of the writing and arranging for our first EP. For Irregardless, I started coming to the band more with fragments of songs, riffs, or ideas, that we could then work together to really flesh out, which certainly helped us find our sound, as a group. We also had a more focused view of how we wanted the band to sound, stylistically. Unlike Short Stories, Irregardless was recorded live, except for the vocals and some guitar overdubs, so I think it captured more of our energy and helped us sound our best.
Chad: I feel like when we were writing the songs for the first EP, we didn’t quite know what we were going for, or what we wanted to sound like. “Whatever, Whatever” was a song Andrew originally wrote for The Merry Go Rounds many months before we even thought about starting our own band. Originally we wanted to have a lot more swing in our songs, but really the only true swing song we have is “Shouts and Screams.” As we started writing songs for Irregardless, we started getting more aggressive and more punk in our songwriting, and I feel like we were able to hone in on what kind of sound we’re going for.
This winter you guys went out on a weeklong tour. Was this the first tour for the band? What was it like?
Chad: This was our first tour as Antarcticats, but it was the second tour Andrew and I had been on. We were in an unusual situation because after we had booked all of the shows, our old bassist Chris Young moved out to Athens, GA to pursue a career as a luthier, so we didn’t even know who our bassist on tour would be. A few weeks before tour, we both unanimously agreed that we wanted our friend Chris Senador – then playing only with his band Small Time ‘Capone – on bass, since he came to all of our shows in the past and probably knew all the bass parts anyways. Chris Young’s last show with us was in Athens, GA at Flicker Bar, and Chris Senador’s first show with us was in Asheville, NC at the Boiler Room (the next night).
Booking tour itself was very hectic. We honestly should’ve given ourselves at least one more month to prepare. We didn’t even know for sure if we were playing in Chicago until just a few weeks before our date there, and we didn’t know where we would be sleeping in Indianapolis and Louisville until just a few days before our dates there.
Culturally, it was eye-opening for us to see how different all the scenes around the country are. We hadn’t fully experienced this during our tour with Merry Go Rounds since it was basically a nonstop party and we were perpetually drunk and high.
This time around, it was different, and it was intensely nerve-wracking at some points because we knew we were managing this for ourselves without any help from anyone. We were worrying about how many people would come out, whether we’d break even getting to that city, whether we’d sell any merch, etc. It was a learning experience in a lot of ways.
Andrew: Our winter tour was a great experience. It was a little stressful having Chris Senador join the band at the front-end of the tour, but it was a surprisingly smooth transition. Chris was on top of his parts, and we really got the chance to bond, as our “new lineup”.
Seeing the scenes in the different cities, and meeting so many people, was a real treat. Sometimes I forget that the live music scene in other cities doesn’t work quite like it does here in Atlanta. In Indianapolis, we got to play at a house venue called SEXX Mansion. The guys who run the house were some of the coolest people we met on tour, and it ended up being one of our best shows on tour. The crowd was amazing, and I got the chance to talk with most of the people that came out. In Louisville, we had the pleasure of meeting Boner City, a really fun, energetic, punk band, and we got a glimpse of the city’s bar culture. Chicago was one of the more diverse scenes we saw; our show at YC was with 4 other bands, of varying genres, with very different crowds coming out.
As I mentioned above, Antarcticats released a live CD from your tour stop in Chicago, which turned out remarkable. How did you get the opportunity to do this?
Andrew: Young Camelot is a phenomenal DIY venue, and it was definitely one of the better venues we saw on tour. It was run out of an old church, so in one of the side rooms they had a computer set up, taking audio from their mixing board in the main room, recording everything. They have a bandcamp page where they post a lot of their shows, but we personally asked for our stems, since Chris Senador has experience with mixing audio. The recordings from the show were already solid, but Chris really made them great.
Unfortunately, YC is currently defunct; their tenants were evicted (they weren’t supposed to be running a venue out of the space), and they’re working on finding a new location.
Chad: I didn’t even know we were playing Young Camelot until about a month in advance. I was in charge of booking Chicago since I spent the first 18 years of my life there, so I got help from a fantastic indie band called The Gnar Wave Rangers, who got us our show there. At the end, we asked for the stems, and they were sent to us via Google Drive, where Chris mixed and mastered them. Personally, I feel like the snare’s a bit weak, but that’s because by the end of tour the head was about to break through so I wrapped the whole thing in duct tape so I could actually play it.
So, the EP came out in November, tour just concluded, and the live CD is now out. But I doubt that means you guys have nothing coming up. What do we have to look forward to coming from Antarcticats?
Andrew: For the next few months, we’re slowing down our show schedule slightly. We’ve got a radio gig in Athens coming up in March, and we have a couple of cool shows coming up, but we don’t have a ton planned otherwise. We’re focusing on writing some new songs right now, we’ve got 2-4 really solid ideas coming together. We’re trying out some new sounds, and we’re really happy with where things are going so far. I’m hoping we can get enough material to release a full length album, either by the end of 2016, or early 2017 at the latest.
We also want to get back on the road again as soon as possible. We’re planning on touring again this summer, but for 2-3 weeks instead of just one.
Chad: We haven’t been playing as many shows as we did last year, but that’s on purpose. We’re playing shows at a pace of about twice a month, but writing a lot of new songs during our practices. Maybe we’ll put out a full-length instead of just an EP again. Who knows? We’re excited. I know I personally won’t let this band rest until we tour Japan. As soon as we do that, I can retire from music in peace.
We’d like to thank Antarcticats for their time and the photos we provided. We’d also encourage you to check them out at the links above.