Surf Rock Ain’t Dead Yet: A Conversation with The Seatopians
Originally Published August 17th 2019
Back in April, I made it out to 10th Street Station for a meeting with The Seatopians, who I’m convinced are hands down the finest, funkiest, and most fluid surf-rock band in Boise. We had a few beers, shot the bull, and generally had ourselves a fine ol’ time.
The Seatopians, for the record, are: John Seatopia on guitar, Marcus Seatopia on bass, and Seth Seatopia on drums. And while their songs are mostly instrumental, the occasional vocals are shared all around.
As it had only been two weeks since Treefort wrapped up, we began our conversation by talking about which acts each of us made a point to see, which ones we missed, etc. The guys spoke highly of Federale, The French Tips, and Built to Spill.
John qualifies this last bit by adding, “I’m originally from the East Coast, so it’s probably a little bit different for me, but seeing Built to Spill is still a treat for me. …’Keep It Like a Secret’ is still one of my top ten favorite albums of all time.”
Regarding a few other favorite bands at this year’s festival, John specifically wanted to mention Me Without You. Because of the way things were scheduled, The Seatopians had to play their set, then rush to a different venue to catch Me Without You. John and Seth both gushed about Motherhood, as well.
“Motherhood was phenomenal!” John says, and Seth explains, “Motherhood is from eastern Canada. The province above New York.”
Ontario? I guess aloud.
“Yeah, I think it’s Ontario,” says Seth, nodding. “They’re a three-piece, they’re super unique… Half their songs are instrumental, and those songs are, like, rhythmically diverse, and drawing on punk influences, but super open. And then they’ll have singing, but the singing will go back and forth between, like, screaming sometimes, and then this kind of country twang. It’s super entertaining and super interesting.”
Since we’re describing music, how would you describe your own?
“Put simply,” deadpans Seth, “it’s instrumental surf rock. Both traditional and modern.”
John adds, “To my ear, yes, there’s a heavy nod to tradition. But–and this is probably a horrible way to explain it–in my mind, I think of guys like Eddie Bertrand, Jim Fuller, Larry Weed and some of those guys. When they were 14, and making the first wave of surf in the early 60s? We’re in that mindset. But it’s 50 years later, so we also have The Pixies, and punk rock. Plus, we’re a three-piece, and traditional bands are gonna be four or five, or more.”
As to the band’s process, he elaborates, “When we write songs, it’s pretty democratic.”
And here Seth chimes in, “What we’ve usually done since the beginning is, John will come in with a melody, maybe an A part. Or maybe a structure, like A, B, bridge, something like that. And then we’ll just play it and play it, and ‘maybe we can transition to this here,’ you know?”
John continues, “And a lot of times, it’ll just be you and me,” pointing to Seth.
So, to back up a bit, how did the group come together?
“Well, I moved here about two and a half, three years ago,” John begins, “I came out here, and I’d gotten back into [playing music] enough where it was like, ‘Yeah, surf is what I want to do.’ So I put up a Craigslist ad, and our original bassist and I met up first, and you [nodding at Seth] were, like, soon after that. Gabe was the original bassist. And we played three, four shows with that lineup–Treefort, last year. And we knew by then that [Gabe] was leaving. It was all amicable. So then we found Hayden through, uh, Craigslist again!”
As I chuckle in disbelief, Seth clarifies, “Someone else found us through Craigslist,” and then steered this second bassist toward The Seatopians.
In June, Marcus became their third–and hopefully, final–bassist. He explains in a recent email, “I moved up to Boise three years ago to start a band with my buddy who was living up here. That band was The Love Bunch. We were both previously in a band in college called The Cold Shoulders. [So] I’m currently playing guitar in The Love Bunch, and that’s how I met The Seatopians. We heard there was another surf band in town and checked ‘em out at Treefort, liked what we heard, and we’ve been friends ever since. We’ve played a few shows together and I’ve been to a bunch of Seatopians shows. We also both practiced at The Bomb Shelter, so we saw each other a bunch before/after practicing. I joined the band in June, and went on the recent West Coast tour.”
Given that this initial interview took place a few months back, before the release of their new album (more on this below), I asked them about the songs available on Bandcamp at the time.
“It’s kind of been a, uh, I don’t wanna say ‘crap-shoot,’” John says reluctantly, “But all the stuff that’s up on Bandcamp, that’s all been self-recorded, self-produced. However, we’re in the late-planning stages of recording a full album. We’ve been talking to Jason from Tonic Room.”
And indeed, on April 21st, a couple weeks after I originally spoke with the band, they recorded their album at The Tonic Room, with the aforementioned Jason Ringelstetter doing the engineering and mixing. “It was important for us to capture as much live sound as possible,” John tells me. “Jason […] had a good idea of what we wanted to achieve.” The album was then mastered in-house by Chris Parks. And when I ask about the experience of working with these guys, John is emphatic: “The Tonic Room crew definitely had the experience and know-how to make it work, and we’re very much pleased with the result.”
Flash forward to early July, when the final product is released: “Underwater Ally” [now available in a couple formats, via Altered State of Reverb–a cool little indie label I’ve grown quite fond of]. The very day of the album’s release, they played not only an in-studio performance at Radio Boise (which was excellent), but they also played mid-way through a bill at The Olympic in the evening. I caught this particular show, and I highly recommend you catch these cats live and in person.
In support of the album, the band booked a West Coast tour, which had them playing in Seattle, Portland, Medford, San Francisco, Pasadena, and Huntington. The opening date in Seattle was at a festival-type thing called Surf X Surfwest, a gig the guys seemed especially stoked to play.
With any luck, The Seatopians will soon be playing shows back home in Boise. To tide you over until then (huh huh, see what I did there?), I suggest you follow the links below to hear their kickass new album, and maybe follow them on various social media platforms. More than once, they’ve posted items that put as big a smile on my face as their songs do, so check ‘em out.
And find them on Instagram: @theseatopians
New Cassette by James Plane Wreck