By Jamie McNamara
CALGARY — There are usually a few obvious things to get out of the way when Guantanamo Baywatch come up in conversation. Yes, they have a fairly weird name. Yes, they are mainly surf rock revivalists that like to have a fun time. And finally, yes, the band is painfully aware of both former points.
The Portland, Oregon trio have spent most of their fairly short career building their reputation on a front of sleaze and debauchery, but that’s not all they’re capable of. The Guantanamo Baywatch specialty is surf-inspired garage rock that takes equal cues from Burger Records and Dick Dale, but like most bands that start with a narrow focus, there comes a time to branch out. The new album, Darling… It’s Too Late finds the band doing just that.
“It’s been way more satisfying being just a band and playing whatever we want than getting hung up on some genre,” says Jason Powell, Guantanamo Baywatch founder and guitarist. “Obviously we got this shitty name and we still love rock ‘n’ roll and oldies, so I doubt we’re going to become a dubstep band, but it’s cool seeing how we can push stuff and still be the same band.”
Pushing stuff is essentially what the band made their name doing. Their 2012 debut album Chest Crawl is the kind of album that stands out amongst popular, super serious indie fare, but it’s not to be discounted. The album is ragged and immediate, a rough morning after following a night out getting blackout drunk with your friends from high school. It didn’t seem to have any rules, only that the songs were fast in tempo and loud in volume. But, the album’s immediacy tends to take away from its ability to convey a message, especially behind the lo-fi haze that hangs overtop of everything. That haze was a result of a quick and dirty recording process, something that Powell admits he was nervous to change.
“I kind of wondered if people who were fans of Chest Crawl would think it was super different because Chest Crawl was recorded so shitty, but it hasn’t really been an issue at all. Most kids get it.”
To record Darling…, the band set out for Atlanta’s Living Room Recording to track the album with actual professionals. The results of the band’s newfound sonic clarity speak for themselves. The album doesn’t just sound cleaner, it also sounds more calculated. Almost like the band actually wrote the songs down before they recorded them. There’s a new variety to the album as well with ballads and instrumentals finding prominence in between the usual fast and loud surf rock the band is known for. Powell credits the more calculated nature of the album to the luxury of recording in an actual studio.
“I knew the guys at Living Room were going to be working with me on the mixing so it freed us up to add the stuff that just got lost when I was mixing Chest Crawl. We could add all the back up vocals and bongos and bullshit.”
It’s the “bongos and bullshit” that make Darling… sound as fresh as it does. It is the sound of a band announcing their arrival, however tongue in cheek they choose to do it.
Guantanamo Baywatch perform during the BIG Winter Classic, taking place at Broken City and Last Best, January 28th to 30th.AB, Alberta, BIG Winter Classic, BIG Winter Classic 2016, Broken City, Guantanamo Baywatch, Last Best Brewing & Distilling