The Sonics: Getting Psycho With The Bad Boys Of Tacoma

Back in the year zero for sounds amplified and dangerous there emerged a band outta Tacoma, Washington, USA, who without knowing it at the time, were to play a pivotal role in shaping the course of loud, loose and outta control rock and roll.

The name of that band was The Sonics and their blueprint has been aped countless times but rarely, if ever, bettered.  Across their two mid 60’s records, Here Are The Sonics and Boom, they belted out high octane takes on early rock and roll classics such as Have Love Will Travel, mixed with their own demented originals. The anthemic Psycho perfectly showcased the rough, unhinged vocal style of charismatic singer and piano player Jerry Roslie, owner of quite possibly the most blood-curdling scream ever to emanate from the lips of a rock and roll singer. They recorded cheaply and pumped out in your face takes, and drummer Bob Bennett bashed out a teeth rattling drum sound akin to trashcans colliding in a back alley at midnight.  And their lyrics peddled subject matter such as teenage delinquency, witches and drinking straight strychnine. Best be locking up your daughters when The Sonics hit town.

Fast forward 56 years from their inception and the manifesto remains – rock hard, move the floor and destroy any lightweight pretenders daring to masquerade as real-deal rock and roll.

Prior to their upcoming headline Australian tour, I got to fire off a bunch of questions to original ‘classic Sonics line-up’ saxophone blaster Rob Lind, hitting him up with the big issues. Like their feelings towards loftily bestowed accolades such as ‘the godfather of garage.’ And discovering if there was even such a thing as a ‘Northwest garage scene’ back in 1963.

Since 2007 your temporary reunion has morphed into a full fledged comeback, including a new album. Are you surprised at how this momentum has continued to build? And do you plan on still continuing to record and tour for the foreseeable future? 

Not so much surprised, but definitely gratified. It’s great that people love the songs, both old as well as new from the new album, but also that people continue to love seeing us live. Yes, for sure we plan to continue touring.  We still feel like it’s the most fun we can have without involving the cops! We will probably get started on a new album next year and are slowly writing and compiling new songs.

You were over here in Australia in 2012 as part of the Hoodoo Gurus Dig It Up Festival.  How is the band line up different this time around? And for those of you out here last time, how did you enjoy playing to Australian audiences?

We just loved Australia the last time we were down. And as a result of  doing that tour we have always been hoping to return. That “Dig it Up’ tour with the Hoodoo Gurus has always been one of our highlights.  As a matter of fact, Be a Woman on our new album was written by the Hoodoo Gurus! They are great blokes, killer musicians and truly one of our favorite bands.  The lineup will be somewhat different this time as original members Jerry (Roslie) and Larry (Parypa) have both decided to retire from touring. Jake Cavaliere is on keyboards now and Evan Foster has taken over lead guitar. They are both guys that we have known for years, so the search was incredibly easy.  Took about one day and two phone calls, I think! Evan is the long time leader of the Boss Martians, from our hometown and Jake was the leader and driving force behind Los Angeles band Lords of Altamont. In Jakes case, the Lords had opened for us about three times in Europe and a couple times in the states, so we were well aware of what he is capable of.  Also, both guys are the nicest people you could hope to meet, so touring and being on a tour bus 6 hours a day with them is a piece of cake.

I read that you have a rabid South American fan base. What has it been like touring over there in the face of such adulation?

Latin America is completely fabulous! The fans are maniacs, but it’s pretty much that way all over Europe as well. But we definitely love going down there and always have a totally amazing time!

Do descriptions such as ‘the godfathers of garage’ sit well with you? 

Sure…we had nothing to do with that. The terms “Garage Rock” and “Punk Rock” were hung on us years after we stopped playing in the 60s. At the time we just wanted to be hard rockin’ boys. We didn’t want to play jazzy stuff like a lot of bands were doing, or pop or whatever. We just wanted to rock hard…with Little Richard songs and anyone else who was hard rockin’. Incidentally, we haven’t changed from that initial focus one bit. That’s exactly how we are now and what folks will see when they catch us live. Our mission, now as it was then, is to make the floor move.

How did the new album This Is The Sonics come about?  And how have the new songs been received in the live setting?

The new songs have been received extremely well, as you will see. It’s because, thanks to our producer Jim Diamond, they are in the same vein as our initial albums.  We decided to do the new album because I was afraid that we were being seen as a retro band or an “oldies but goodies” band playing the hits of the sixties, which was something I hated. There’s so much more to our live shows than that, but we couldn’t just keep saying it.  We had to do something about it and so the new album came into being.

How are Jerry and Larry holding up these days? Will they still be involved with the band in some way, shape or form even though they aren’t part of the touring line up anymore?

Jerry and Larry are doing well. I had a lengthy conversation with Jerry yesterday. He’s continuing to write and will probably be involved with our next album. I’m trying to talk him into singing something when we go into the studio. Both he and Larry decided, at different times, that they didn’t want to continue touring. Larry doesn’t like to travel and wants to completely avoid it, and with Jerry, long tours just got too fatiguing.

You cover some great artists on the new record – Hank Ballard, Ray Charles, Bo Diddley and The Kinks. Was it an easy process to choose which of these songs and artists ended up on the record, or was there stiff competition on which of these tracks made the final cut?

If we’re going to consider doing a cover, our first thought is always, “Is this a Sonics song, and if not can we change it to make it a Sonics song?” Good examples of that thinking are I got your number (666), Little Sister, and Sugar RE. We arranged those to fit the Sonics sound, rehearsed them and played them for Jim Diamond, our producer, who had the final say, and they made the cut. Of course there were others that we worked on that didn’t make the cut. In the process of rehearsing, we sort of look  at each other and say, “This isn’t going to work.” And we move on. Between the five of us we invented the term “Sonicize”. “Can we sonicize this song?”  If not, it’s gone.

What was it like being part of the original Northwest garage scene back in the 60’s? Were you aware of what you were part of back then, or did the importance and relevance only sink in much later?

That’s a very excellent question and quite a few people have the wrong idea.  To begin with, there was no such thing as “the garage scene” in the 60s in the Northwest where we grew up. That is a description or a category just like “punk rock” that came into being years later and was sort of assigned to us and others. As a matter of fact we never rehearsed in a garage!  There were a lot of bands in our area during those years whose level of musicianship was very high. There were a lot of jazz trained musicians playing rock and the bands were very good on a musical level, but we thought they were totally lightweight. When we would appear with bands like that, even though the musicians were far above our level of competence, such as a sax player that I couldn’t touch in a million years, we would completely destroy them.  Just like today, we wanted to rock hard and play with power, so that’s what we set out to do. We loved Little Richard (still do!) and anybody else that was playing hard and we wrote our originals in that exact vein. I guess in those days we were sort of like what The Clash was years later. “Oh look…here come those nasty rock and roll boys, The Sonics!”  The importance and relevance didn’t dawn on us until many years later. For myself, I didn’t fully understand it until our best friends The Hives explained it to me.  We were always just “The Sonics from Tacoma.”

Be sure to catch those bad boys from Tacoma, The Sonics, when they tear up the stage at The Triffid in Newstead on 29 September, together with Brisbane rock miscreants HITS.

They’ll also be playing the following shows around the country:
23 September, The Gov, Adelaide
24 September, Max Watts, Melbourne
27 September, Rosemount Hotel, Perth
30 September, Manning Bar, Sydney

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