The Power of East Coast Surf

 

Feature for 

February 2008

The Aquatudes

 

Name: The Aquatudes

Genre: Original & Traditional Surf – played with attitude!

Geographical Area: Central Connecticut and Shoreline

Interview by email with Dick, Tom & Fred on 1/30/08


1. What is the current line-up of your band?

Tom Bittel – Guitar, songwriting, and the occasional vocal.

Fred Magetteri – Bass guitar

Dick Bascom - Drums

 


2. How and when did you get started with your band?

TB: I’ve been playing in bands since I was a teenager. In the spring of 2006, I came up with the name “The Aquatudes,” secured the domain name, and put up a one-page website. At that time, it was just me and my guitar. I recorded two original songs, “Shim Jambs (Before Cutting Bands)” and “Bongo Shmongo,” playing all the instruments – mp3s of these tunes went up on the site. (“Bongo Shmongo” eventually ended up on the 2006 Surfguitar101.com online compilation.) Then, in 2007, I turned 50 (!) and decided it was time to get serious and make the Aquatudes into an actual band. I had been a lurker on the NESMA site for a couple of years and finally dove in and made contact. Almost immediately, Sandy e-mailed me that there was a drummer looking to join/start a band. This turned out to be Dick Bascom – we made contact and the rest is…you know.

DB: Ours is a true NESMA success story. I had discovered the NESMA website while looking for opportunities to join a band, and liked what I found. I attended one of Bobby D’s Surf Nites listed on the site and was thrilled by the playing of 9th Wave, The Outpatients, The Octomen and The Supertones. I attended Dick Dale’s show at the casino, and was just blown away by the power of his playing on stage. I asked Sandy to post a “Drummer Available” listing for me on the NESMA site, and she hooked me up with Tom, who was also looking to play some surf. The rest is history.

DB & FM: Fred and I both grew up in the sticks of Durham, CT but had not seen each other in some time. Here’s a fun fact: Fred and Dick actually performed on stage together as kids back in the 60’s! We both played the parts of robed, bearded shepherds in our church’s touring Nativity pageant. (They gave the “Wise Men” parts to somebody else!) Anyway, we ran into each other by chance at a performance by some other old friends later last summer, and we discovered that I was in a band looking for a bassist, - and he was a bassist in search of a “different” kind of band! Fred is now a living warning to all to be careful what you wish for! But, we do think he is having fun and will adjust given some time and professional counseling.


3. What bands or music have influenced you most?

TB: The “other” reason I picked up the guitar in the first place (besides the Beatles), was to learn guitar instrumentals, surf and otherwise. When I was a kid, my parents filled the house with music on the hi-fi and much of it was instrumental – big bands, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and the like. But then there was this Al Caiola record, “Golden Hit Instrumentals” with remade versions of  instrumental hits of the 50’s and early 60’s, like “Apache,” “Honky Tonk,” “Hearts of Stone,” “Ram-Bunk-Shush” and more. I couldn’t get enough of that. Then I learned about the original versions of those songs and started collecting 45’s like there was no tomorrow. Eventually I heard the Ventures, Dick Dale, and The Beach Boys. By the end of high school, I was learning to play “Misirlou” and “Stoked” when my friends were all into the Doobie Brothers and Tower of Power…More recently, I have discovered the Atlantics, Slacktone, and many of the NESMA bands. In fact, seeing The Clams at a Simsbury Airport Fly-In a couple of years ago really inspired me to start a surf band.

DB: As a youngster, watching the high school drummers playing “Wipeout” and “Hawaii Five-O” in the pep band at basketball games were inspiring role models. Hendrix, Steppenwolf, Santana, Mountain, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple. More recently, The Offspring and Blink-182. And, finally, Jason and Andrew from the garage band “Say No More”. Andrew, the drummer, taught me the value of playing with dynamics – and I have the cymbal fragments in the wall at home to prove it.  Jason, the guitarist, is like a son to me, and jamming with them inspired me to “join in a rock and roll band and try and get my soul free”. And for re-kindling that, I am eternally grateful.

FM: Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Elton John.



4. What is the breakdown of cover vs. original material in your live shows and/or recordings?

TB: I have a goodly amount of originals in the queue, but they do take some time to learn. So far (1/08), The Aquatudes play six of my tunes in our set, and they seem to get a positive reaction from people. I’d like it to get up to a 75/25 split, still including some familiar classics for the unconverted. As far as covers go, we include some that are off the beaten path, like “Mona My Love,” by Wild Bill and the Blue Denims, and a surfed-up instro version of “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles, which we introduce as the “anti-surf.”

 

5. What recording have you done?
 

TB: In the mid-80’s, I was the lead guitar and 1/3 of the songwriting in a power-pop band called “The Broken Hearts” in Hartford. We recorded a 9-song LP which has recently been re-released on CD. That was done at a professional studio in Glastonbury. In the 90’s and up to 2007, I was in a local original rock band called “See Jane Run” and we recorded two CD’s in our own basement studio. I learned a lot about recording through that. In 1997, I created my own home studio, “Dad’s Noisy Basement.” I recorded a CD of 12 original tunes (including two instros) which I released privately under the DNB name in 2002. I recorded the two Aquatudes tunes that reside on our website there, too, with me playing all the instruments. I now look forward to laying down some newer originals with my two talented colleagues!

DB: None before The Aquatudes. Recording ourselves has definitely helped me become more self-aware of what I am playing – or not playing, as the case may be. DOH!

FM: I have recorded with two different rock bands, Blind Date and New Ruins. We recorded both originals and covers in studios in Middletown and North Branford, CT.

 

6. What kind of gear do you use?

FM: I use a beautiful Fender Jazz Bass. For the electronics, I get a great sound playing through an old acoustic head, plugged into a 2x12 cabinet.

DB: Depends on the situation. I use an older Slingerland cocktail kit with a Gretsch metal popcorn snare that adds some visual interest and novelty for lower-volume venues. It sounds great, too! I have a beautiful newer Gretsch Maple full-size kit that has a great sound, but I’m hesitant to knock around too much because it is sooo pretty. I recently picked up a vintage early-70’s Slingerland kit on e-bay that has great authentic looks and will compliment the traditional surf  sound of The Aquatudes. I have a couple of vintage Ludwig aluminum snare drums that I’ll bring along for something different. I use lighter A Zildjian cymbals, Remo Coated Ambassador weight heads, Gibraltar hardware, and Tama Iron Cobra kick pedals. Oh – and some cool Drum Rolls cases to keep everything looking nice. Aren’t you sorry now that you asked?

TB: 80’s Electra strat-like guitars (one red and one blue) that were made in Japan at the long-gone Matsomuko factory. Both modified by me to include the sweet-and-surfy-sounding neck/bridge pickup combo. Both are strung with D’Addario Chrome flatwounds - .010-.048. I use a Guyatone tube reverb for the drip-drip-drip and an Echoplex solid-state tape echo-echo-echo. It all goes into my 1966 Ampeg Gemini II amp, which has a fantastic tremolo. Sometimes I take my Peavey Bandit 112 to practice (20 lbs. lighter than the Ampeg!). I also use a Ross compressor for clarity and a Dean Markley tube preamp pedal for a little dirt on some tunes. I just got a real cool coiled guitar cable, too!

 

7. What is your band’s favorite food/beverage?
 

FM: Anything non-alcoholic. Gatorade, Vitamin water, etc.

DB: Personally, I’d say pizza – and beer served in green bottles.

TB: Food: Green-chile enchiladas at a now-defunct restaurant in NYC called Raja-Rani. Beverage: On-tap local ales or espresso, depending on whether I’m at work or not.

 

 

8. How do you get gigs?

DB: Shameless, persuasive self-promotion. We are all on high alert for the “right” opportunities for our band, and we strike while the iron is hot, so to speak. If you snooze – you lose.

TB: Dick’s the schmoozer of the band. I tend to the website and the Myspace page, so they’ll be up-to-date when Dick refers people to them.



9. What are the difficulties you find playing your kind of music in your area?
 

DB: The Surf Rock genre is not widely familiar to most people, so that takes an awful lot of significant initial explaining, often with yelling, odd sound effects and wild hand gestures and body contortions. That said, I do see it as an advantage for being able to offer people a “cool, unusual entertainment experience” – without the need to hand out ponchos to people sitting up front!

TB: So far so good. We’ve even gotten a gig at a venue that never had a surf show before. When people are not sure what instro surf guitar music is, and after I explain that we don’t sing like the Beach Boys, I usually vocalize the beginning of Pipeline to get the idea across – “dug-dugga-dugga-dugga-dugga-dugga-dugga-dugga-dugga-dug.” That usually works.



10. What positive attributes does your band have that sets you apart from other bands (of any genre)?

FM: Our experience. Being a musician for 30 of my 50 years. Having experience playing many types of music: country, rock, blues – even jazz originals.

DB: The three of us have collectively about 150 years of life experiences and accumulated wisdom. This helps us be realistic in our expectations and aspirations as musicians, and helps us be on the same page with each other as a band. 

TB: I think our copious years of playing experience has helped us to gel fairly quickly as a band. We also seem to think along similar lines as far as song arrangements and details go. I can’t wait to do some recording with this combo.

 


11. What have you found to be the single most effective promotional tool you’ve used to further your band’s musical path?

DB: The internet. The websites, Myspace community, YouTube videos, and e-mail, connecting musicians, bands show organizers, performance venues and surf rock fans are all incredible tools at our disposal.

TB: The internet continues to amaze me. When I first came up with the name The Aquatudes, I Googled it and came up with nothing – which is why I used it. Now, there are several pages of “hits” as we are added to various online band databases and show schedule sites. The NESMA site has been instrumental (pun intended) in the very forming of the band, and the listserv is great for getting gig news out. Surfguitar101.com has been another useful site, with many entertaining and informative discussion threads, not to mention the annual mp3 compilation. YouTube is a valuable resource to show potential venues what we look like when we play.



12. What’s the most interesting performance experience you’ve had?

FM: For me, playing in New York City at Unsteady Freddie’s Surf Rock Shindig was awesome. It was the first time I had ever played in NYC. The Shindig scene was very cool, and we met some excellent musicians. We scored a parking spot right outside the front door!

DB: I’d have to say that Tom and I playing our debut as a bass-less duo at the NESMA picnic on Dano Clam’s patio is right up there in terms of sheer lunacy. We had only played together a handful of times – and we had no bass player yet! It was the pre-show blowout for Blue StingRaye’s Beach Rock Weekend Extravaganza at Zen Bar last summer. The Who’s Who of the local NESMA scene were all going to be there, so Tom and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce ourselves as the new kids on the Surf Rock block. Dano Clam took a huge chance in letting us play at his home “sight unseen”, given his own standing as a respected surf guitarist, husband and then neighbor-in-good-standing. But we played a mini set consisting of some classics and a couple of Tom’s originals, and Mike Rosado even grabbed a bass and jumped in to help us out. The NESMA characters in attendance seemed to enjoy our little show, Dano did not pull the plug on us, and the neighbors did not summon Law Enforcement, as far as we know. We had a great time talking about our gear with the other musicians, and I had a chance to trade chops with Christian, the youngest surf drummer I have yet encountered. All in all it was a good day! We like to think that it turned out very well for everyone involved. OH - and, it makes me appreciate having Fred with us now to hold the fort on bass and fill out our sound. He still thinks we were nuts to put ourselves out there like that alone.

TB: That was a great experience – and the NESMA members on hand made it all worthwhile.

 

13. What do you hope to get out of being a NESMA member?

DB: I really appreciate the networking and support offered by the NESMA bands, show organizers and fans. It is a great community of good people.

TB: Finding the other members of the band so quickly through NESMA was a great start! The acceptance of the band has been fantastic. I like how the bands each have their own unique take on the surf genre and it’s great to see the richness and variety that arises from one basic musical style.

 

14. Anything else?

DB: I would encourage everyone reading this to send the NESMA website address to anyone they know who might like to hire a cool surf band for their next community or corporate event.

Here’s the link: http://www.nesmasurf.org/

Do it now.


 

                   

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