Feature for August 2017
Band Name: Mark Malibu & the Wasagas
Genre: Surf Instrumental
Geographical Area: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Interview with: Mark Sanders by email on 7/26/17
Band Formed in: 1979-1982; reunited 2014 to present
NESMA member since 2017
1. What is the current line-up of your band?
Lead Guitar &
Steve Turner: Drums
Sharny Cameron: Bass
Andrew Wright: Rhythm Guitar
1a. What is a "wasaga"?!
Good question. When I was deciding on a name I definitely wanted something that said 60’s band. Most punk rockers had pseudonyms back then and I liked the surfy alliteration of Mark Malibu. It sounds silly now, but what the heck. I’m sure the Beach Boys would rather be called the Beach Men after all these years. The Wasagas was derived from a well known party beach which is 2 hours north of Toronto, Wasaga Beach. It was renown for drunken parties, loose women and bikers back then. Now very upscale.
I actually looked "wasaga" up recently thinking it might be an indigenous people from my area. It is actually the longest freshwater beach in the world at the base of the Nottawasaga River.
2. How and when did you get started with your band?
That is a long weird story so I’ll keep it as brief as possible. I spent the summer of 1977 in London, England visiting relatives. Punk and new wave music was exploding. By 1979 I had formed the DeGeneRatz…. and I use the term “punk” loosely as we played half Ramones and half 60’s songs. I had already added Wipeout and Pipeline into the set list. Then a strange sequence events resulted in a surf instrumental band.
First, I had
LPs and had
to write my
Secondly, at a house party where we were playing, there was a huge fight/home invasion, 2x4s, baseball bats, knives etc and one of the attackers was stabbed. By the end of the night my guitar amp and our PA had been stolen. Hence, no vocals.
Thirdly, Grant Cermak, bass player, had become a born again Christian and was working a lot with his youth group so he left to build a school in Haiti. That left Steve Turner and myself playing guitar and drums in his basement. The Wasagas were born. Now I just had to find two other players to buy into my concept.
What bands or music have influenced you the most?
Easily the Ventures were my inspiration for instrumental music followed closely by the Shadows. That’s all I knew in the beginning. Once I had discovered there was such a thing as surf instrumentals, I could ask the record dealers for anything they had. Then I discovered the Astronauts, Barracudas, Jon and the Nightriders and the Raybeats
4. What is the break down of cover vs. original material in your live shows and/or recordings?
Even as a kid, I wrote my own songs. So the Wasagas played 50/50 split first time round. Now I have a rule where I’ll only play 2-3 covers per set. The Wasagas will always play predominantly original music.
What recording have you done?
In 1981 another high school friend, Steve Jeskie, was taking recording engineer classes on the weekend at a studio called Cottingham Sound owned by a local mover and shaker, Tom Atom. It was an old movie theatre on Queen Street West converted into a dirty rock’n roll studio. It was also our first time in a recording studio and somewhat overwhelming. We didn't know you could punch in, or over dub until it was explained to us. For $200 we spent a Sunday afternoon recording and mixing 7 original songs. For another $20 I could have mixed to 1/4” tape but I didn't have that so our master is a cassette tape.
Without those recordings, all would have been forgotten. A couple of songs, Wasagas Run and Buzz Beat, appeared on Toronto underground compilation cassettes, one distributed in the UK and reviewed by the infamous music trade paper NME. Another song, Psychedelic Summer, was placed in the film “Happy Hell Night” with Darren McGavin and a young Sam Rockwell.
The new lineup has just finished 21 songs. 14 of them will be released in September of this year on the LP “Return of the Wasagas”. We will return to the studio in January to record the next LP, as it is written and waiting.
6. What kind of gear do you use?
The band uses exclusively Hallmark Swept-wings. Thanks to Bob Shade at Hallmark Guitars, he managed to fit us with matching gold sparkle guitars which play and sound amazing. I also play a Phantom 12 string electric and Nord Electro 5 keyboard which has killer organ sounds.
I do use guitar pedals or as some people call them, sound suckers. My main pre-amp is an Egnater Goldsmith ANALOG - 2 channel overdrive which is extremely responsive to the subtleties of surf music. For fuzz I use a Swollen Pickle because you can really control the amount and contour of fuzz so the guitar wont disappear live. For tremolo I use a Strymon Flint. Delay gives me grief. I rotate between TC Electronics Flashback and a Strymon El Capistan.
Most important, REVERB; Live I use a Catalinbread Topanga Spring Reverb Pedal. Not as authentic but it works every time. When I record I use my Fender Reverb tank and for fuzz I have a Fuzzrite Clone.
For my amp, I use a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe "White Lightning” with Celestion Century Vintage speakers. I have the matching bottom cab which has a closed back that gives extra punch on the bottom end. I don't like to play out with vintage gear as things get broken too easily. This amp gives a perfect clean punchy sound.
7. What is your band’s favorite food/beverage?
I rate every restaurant in the universe and beyond by how great their hamburger is. We ate a lot of good burgers recording the new LP. Regarding beverages, the band lives all over Ontario, so there is much driving after the shows. PLEASE,…Don’t drink and drive !
8. How do you get gigs?
I know many of the bookers in town so booking local shows is easy. I’m also very good at reaching out to remote bookers and other bands for setting up shows. Always be business-like and polite,… and respond within 24 hours. Run your band like a small business,… because it is.
What are the difficulties you
find playing your kind of music in your area?
We are blessed to have a strong surf, rockabilly, garage and punk scene in Toronto. In fact, I think we take it for granted. Other cities barely have locations to play at all. In Toronto, there are probably hundreds of live shows every night. Lots of competition but lots of opportunities. The only difficulty I find is keeping the show line-ups fresh. You can’t offer the same three bands every month at the same club so I’ve made a point in getting us onto line-ups with new, different bands and predominantly non-surf bands.
The only difficulty I find is keeping the show line-ups fresh. You can’t offer the same three bands every month at the same club so I’ve made a point in getting us onto line-ups with new, different bands and predominantly non-surf bands.
10. What positive attributes does your band have that sets you apart from other bands (of any genre)?
I think our visual presentation is very professional. I have tried to build a show as opposed to a set list. This is very hard on a limited budget.
What have you found to be the
single most effective promotional tool you’ve used to further your band’s
Up to now,
we have only
am a keen
with the new
will be a
12. What’s the most interesting performance experience you’ve had?
The Punk/New Wave music scene in the 80’s was very open to fresh styles so that helped us a lot. We played with artsy new wave bands as well as hardcore punk bands and everything in between. However, people were not open to a full set of instrumentals. The novelty wore off after about 5 songs and we would get heckled with “Sing a Song” or much worse. One show in particular, the audience took to flicking their lit cigarettes at me. By the time I got off stage, I had burn marks on my arms and neck.
13. What do you hope to get out of being a NESMA member?
Well in order to get something, you have to give something…. And I would be happy to assist any band coming through Toronto in regards to setting up shows, introductions to bookers or other bands. Maybe even a couch to sleep on as long as they like dogs.
Hopefully, if the Wasagas surf across the border, they could help us in return.
14. Anything else?
It’s somewhat surreal that the Wasagas are a fully functioning band again; writing and playing new music in various cities. After all, it was my high school band. I thought I had quit playing guitar for good in 1992 when I got busy with my career. All I can say is I’m having great fun and meeting lots of awesome people. I hope to meet all of you soon (and sell you a CD or vinyl) It’s an honor to be a part of this new Surfin’ craze.