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Penetrators Interview
By MuzikMan
(more articles from this author)
2001-04-05
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[MuzikMan] I have to ask this, what took so long to get "Locked & Loaded" released? There was word going around a few years ago that you were going to have video games on the CD. Was this true?

[Rip] That was an ugly rumor started by propaganda operatives from G.R.E.M.M.I.E. -- that's the Global Resistance to Eliminate Manly Music's Influence Eternally. They were attempting to make us look like underachieving computer geeks who can't get the job done, and to build up anticipatory expectations that could only disappoint upon realization. Do we look like the kind of guys who sit around a play computer games? Life itself is the game, and outside under the sky is where the action is. The Southern Surf Syndicate will not be blamed for contributing to anyone's sedentary lifestyle. This is music was meant to be played… in muscle car stereos, not computer headphones.

[Luger] The Southern Surf Syndicate is a multi-dimensional organization with interests around the world involving operations, both classified and declassified, that are ongoing. Locked and Loaded was supposed to be declassified a few years ago but G.R.E.M.M.I.E. Agents (see www.penetrators.com) were still neutralized from the declassification of S3 releases from The Space Cossacks and other S3 members.

[Sticks] Well comrade. It was most definitely a planned attack by the G.R.E.M.M.I.E. forces to hinder the video games -- that's the Global Resistance to Eliminate Manly Video's Influence Eternally. We do not have video games on our CD per say but we do have a video. Would you like to see it?

[Spanky] I can neither confirm nor deny any such rumors based upon the knowledge that has been personally provided to me at this particular time. What we know is that the CD has been released to the public, it does include 13 sonic gems, and it does not include any video games on the disc itself. I may be biased, but I find the songs to be, well... top notch. It seems to be a real shame that anyone would let some unsubstantiated rumors detract from this fine release.

[MuzikMan] What has been the reaction to "Locked & Loaded" thus far?

[Rip] It's been terrific. One thing that pleases us is how many reviewers have listed different songs as their favorites, which is very gratifying. We'd be worried if everyone who reviewed it all picked the exact same song as the standout track. I think that would indicate that we had dropped the ball somewhere. Or, more bluntly, that we had one good song and 12 crappy ones.

[Luger] The reaction has been nothing but positive. We didn't know what people would think about the CD since the songwriting is so eclectic and different from the first release. Besides the songs themselves, people mention the production of the CD and how it captures both the Trad and Non-Trad sounds of instrumental music. We have to thank "Cadillac" Jeff Bakos at Bako's AMP Works in Atlanta, GA. For the fine-tuning of The Penetrators sound.

[Sticks] Even my parents like it. They have the poster hanging in their kitchen. Pretty cool I must say.

[Spanky] It's been very positive. It's interesting to see which songs people choose to highlight. It's also interesting to see which one's rarely get mentioned. On our first record, a reviewer went through each song one by one and rated the CD very high over all, but slammed the last song "Hubba Hubba." Knowing a little bit about the reviewer I knew why he slammed it and took great joy in it. "Hubba Hubba" was intended to sound like a hick band from Alabama's attempt at writing a surf song. By the time we got done recording it, we layered organs and sax and percussion all over it to where it just sounds well like a song called "Hubba Hubba" should sound.

[MuzikMan] When you guys first met, did you have any idea that you would end up being a surf-instro group? Why did you choose this genre? Nobody makes any money (well, not enough) and the audience is small in comparison to other genres.

[Rip] No. We'd all known each other for years before, and were already friends, which have certainly helped keep the enterprise together for seven years now. We chose to play instrumentals because not only were we fans of the genre, but also we were sick of the smelly hippy "jam" bands and the "alternative" bands that stare at their shoes and tell you how much life supposedly sucks. Maybe their lives suck, but ours don't. So anyway, we decided Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where we all lived at the time, needed a band of four guys who dress well, don't sing, and who rock. The not singing part is of particular importance -- we like the audience to be able to decide what a song "means" for themselves. I think instrumental bands give the listener more credit for intelligence that way than regular vocal bands do.

[Luger] No, but we were all friends before we started the band, which I believe is critical in forming a solid band in any genre. Rip and I were set in forming a surf-spy-spaghetti-instro group, but we had to coerce Sticks and Spanky away from their respected bands to play with us. Which paid off for Rip and I because of the influences, ideas and talent they brought to the band. Rip and I weren't actually "seasoned" players when the band first started, so Sticks and Spanky's experiences helped the band develop faster than normal. Playing anywhere at anytime helped also. Besides being diehard fans of the genre, we were all sick and tired of the hippy "jams" and depressing "alternative" music that was out at the time. In most cases…. singers are a nuisance, unless they play an instrument (there are exceptions). We just wanted to basically write short, fun background music that people could enjoy without feeling pressured to stand there, watch and pay attention. I can't count how many times that I've seen vocal bands get pissed off because no one was paying attention to them or what they where saying. I love live shows where the band could give a rat's ass if anyone is paying attention or not and are just having being on stage playing. I may not particularly dig the type of music they're playing or how well they're playing it, but if it's fun for them it's fun for me. I don't think the average person, who's only marginally familiar with instrumental rock & roll, has any idea how much variety there is within its seemingly limited constraints.

[Sticks] We had no idea free beer could take us so far. I have had some of the best times in my life with these guys and look forward to many more. Money doesn't come close to overpowering our friendship.

[Spanky] If you want to make money with music you start a cover band and play fraternity gigs for $2,000 a pop. Occasionally a band throws in a few "originals" and hits it big like Hootie in the Blowfish, but for the most part nobody's making money playing music. Nearly every band on the charts is manufactured by the Music industry. That's G.R.E.M.M.I.E. These chumps on the charts have a little liquid money to throw around and look glamorous because that's what the typical American drone likes to see, but it's just a matter of time until G.R.E.M.M.I.E.'s pawns are in bankruptcy court trying to figure out what happened. Before they know it, they’re on VH-1's behind the music trying to rationalize their stupidity. People think ha ha funny, when we start talking about G.R.E.M.M.I.E. like it doesn't exist, but that's just it. G.R.E.M.M.I.E.'S influence is so damn obvious, but people won't open up their eyes. The stranglehold that they got during the 90's is more subversive that we realize. In the 80's you still had a faction of musicians outside of G.R.E.M.M.I.E.'s reign and a medium in College Radio to help spread the word, but now college radio has succumbed to the forces of G.R.E.M.M.I.E. What used to be a bastion for new and exciting music you couldn't hear anywhere else… has now become a clone of your everyday run of the mill "X" type station that touts themselves as alternative music for a new generation or whatever while playing Billboard's number one song. Yeah, that's real damn radical. Someone needs to tell these kids that this is the last time they will ever have the freedom to have fun in radio so they better take advantage of it. And what gets me are these dumb ass sheep that go along with it thinking they’re rebellious. Sorry Clyde, your just the poster boy for conformity. You're doing exactly what G.R.E.M.M.I.E. wants you to do and shell out daddy's cash for what he's sellin'.

Sorry, I stopped smoking 3 days ago. To answer your question …we were all friends before. We liked it and it was the exact opposite of everything else going on at the time - We never thought about the money.

[MuzikMan] From a growth perspective regarding music, do you think there is enough room to continue growth and expansion as an instrumental band in the realm of surf-spy-instro?

[Rip] Sure. I think that's like asking a painter if they'll run out of ideas because they're not sculpting. "Don't you worry about running ideas since you're only working in two dimensions?" We are not worried.

[Luger] I do, I like to compare it to classical music in a way. Surf-Spy-Spaghetti-intro, whatever, attempts to evoke emotions in one way or another, like classical. It's only limited by your imagination... and less instruments... and you have to pack it all in 2-4 minute songs. I remember after we recorded "Locked and Loaded", we had a hard time coming up with a concept for the CD because the songs were so different from each other. Luckily we had a movie script lying around at Syndicate HQ that needed a soundtrack.

[Sticks] I think people forget about a lot of the uses instrumental music holds. You hear it in sound tracks, movie trailers, car commercials, bathing suit commercials, and music for recording studios, video games. You name it. Just sit back and listen. You'll hear us one day on a musical toilet seat or something.

[Spanky] Paul McCartney once said every Beatles song was about love. It seems fairly limited but they did a lot with it. Musically, you're only limited by your imagination. You will always be able to find an audience with a good melody with a backbeat. There are a few bands that I grow tired of because every song sounds the same, but you can find that in every genre. We often experiment with other types of music to bring to surf, like the Scottish songs we have and so on. We once had a Reggae surf song - but it kinda sucked so we didn't take it very far. That's not to be said that a great Reggae surf song's not out there.

[MuzikMan] What do you think of groups like The Mermen, The Space Cossacks, Los Straitjackets, and some of the more popular acts?

[Rip] We've played several shows with all three of them, and had a great time every time. We're good friends with The Space Cossacks and Los Straitjackets, actually, both of whom have influenced our writing as well. "Triple-Dog Dare" was written after we did a show with Los Straitjackets a few years back. Someone saying, "Let's write a Los Straitjackets Song," was the impetus, I believe. Eddie and Danny will trade leads while the other plays the 1 and the 5 in the chord quite a bit. Spanky plays the verse leads, imitating something Eddie might play, and I play the chorus leads, doing more of a Danny-style melody. They're an amazing band in every regard." Checkpoint Echo" is our stab at writing a Cossacks-style song, same ballpark perhaps as their "Mir Rescue," as the tape echo on the lead guitar might indicate. Ivan, as you know, is a monster guitar player, and loves playing with echo in addition to reverb. His guitar sound and playing spurred me to experiment with using echo with my playing as well.

We played with The Mermen once in Atlanta five years ago, and it was definitely a study in contrast between our sound and theirs, as I don't think we really have anything in common musically at all besides a lack of vocals. That's not a value judgment, just a fact. Nice guys, and Allen Whitman, their bass player put a track from our first CD called "the Wind Beneath My Kilt" on a compilation he put together a few years ago.

[Luger] These cats are all incredible bands and we have had the pleasure of playing with each of them. If you want a example of growth in the genre, pick up a CD from each of these bands and listen to them. Each band is so different in their styles and sounds, but all capture the essence of what instrumental music is all about.

[Sticks] I'll never forget seeing Dick Dale at the Chukker in Tuscaloosa. It was probably a couple high speed weekends before the Penetrators really took off. He was incredible. I don't know a lot of guitar jargon, but he had two Fender Blondes on stage. I think that's what you call them, and they literally blew me away, Dick and the amps that is. I was freaking out. A little buzzed but still freaking out. Dick sounded incredible that night and ever since then he has lost that edge I remember from years ago. Now I listen to The Space Cossacks, Los Straitjackets, The Shadows, The Ventures, The Shadows, The Space Cossacks and el Los Straitjackets, Thee Phantom 5ive and Bobby Fuller. I don't care for the Mermen much and have not really had the time to keep up with them.

[Spanky] Like 'em a lot. We only played with the Mermen once but we've had the opportunity to play with The Space Cossacks and Los Straitjackets several times. I'm not sure if they've stolen ideas from us, but we've stolen several from them.

[MuzikMan] Do you feel it was The Ventures, The Shadows, and Link Wray that set the stage for people like you? Who were your heroes and inspirations growing up?

[Rip] It was all of them, plus Duane Eddy, Dick Dale, Morricone soundtracks, and countless surf bands like The Belairs, The Lively Ones, The Astronauts, The Pyramids and many more. We've got over a hundred songs in our repertoire, so as you might imagine, there's a wide variety of sources.

One cool thing about playing this kind of music is that you get the opportunity to meet your guitar heroes occasionally. I've met Dick Dale, Link Wray -- we actually got to open for him, and last year had lunch in Nashville with both Duane Eddy and Nokie Edwards of The Ventures when a friend of mine who's a writer there interviewed them! That was amazing. I don't get star-struck very easily, but that sure did it. That'd be like a country guitar player getting to hang out with Roy Clark and Chet Atkins.

[Luger] Without a doubt, Along with Duane Eddy, Dick Dale, The Belairs, The Astronauts, The Pyramids and so many others to mention. However, if I had to pick one major influence I'd have to say that Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet is it. I'm still trying to figure out some of Reid's bass lines.

[Sticks] I started playing heavy metal back in the early '80s and during my college days I would have to blame Rip for introducing surf music to me, because I had never heard of instrumental surf music before. The first note of the song Baja really changed my drumming career. That song did something to me. I'm not sure what, but it did, and I still love playing it live today.

[Spanky] Sure, and Duane Eddy too. I'm no instrumental historian, but I always liked instrumental. A lot of the "vocal" bands that I listened to in High School seemed to always have an instrumental or two on their records. I remember making a tape of only these instrumentals from bands like The Connells, The Replacements, REM, Guadal Canal Diary etc. So a lot of those bands influenced my playing as well. I really hate standing there playing muted strings, which is called for pretty often in surf music. I think that comes from this background. You gotta strum man to have fun on stage. To stand there and hit muted strings all night is about as exciting as typing on stage.

[MuzikMan] Is there a certain amount of ego going on when you perform? Do you feel it goes beyond confidence to be better than the rest? (Which, in my opinion you are.)

[Rip] It takes balls just to get on stage in the first place, and then to be audacious enough to -- gasp -- play without vocals takes even bigger ones. It's a truly alien thing to some people in the audience, and they either get it or they don't. When you're playing only instrumentals only, you need to put a lot of thought into your stage show, most importantly the way the set list is constructed. Have you ever seen a surf band and gotten bored within a few minutes? There's usually some pretty obvious reasons: no memorable melodies, which is the most important thing of all, and/or all the songs are the same tempo or in the same key. You've got to be really aware of those kinds of things, because most people don't have the attention span to listen to anything without a change of tone of some sort for longer than five minutes, unless they're stoned. We try not to play more than two songs in a row in the same key, because they really do start all sounding the same. We also make sure the sound guy understands that when playing this kind of music, you need to mix the lead guitar as though it were the lead singer. Otherwise, it just sounds like a backing track waiting for a vocal to get dumped on top.

We've never cared if people in the crowd stand there transfixed as we play. If we're doing our job properly, our music is affecting their mood, and making them stand taller, and become more confident in regards to the opposite sex. Go talk to that chick. We'll supply the music that will make you feel like you're in a movie. And have you ever seen James Bond get shot down?

[Luger] I think you have to have a little ego to get up on a stage and play in front of a bunch of strangers. I believe you have to have confidence in what you’re doing if your going to be good at it, no matter what it is. Thanks, check's in the mail. Everyone in the band is competitive to an extent, and I think we try to better ourselves on each new song we write. We do have friendly competitions with other groups in the genre that we've gotten to know through the years. They'll put a CD or album out and we'll go, "Damn, that's bad ass", and try to one up them on our next release and vice-versa. It's all in fun and I think it helps everyone to push him or herself to try different things musically.

[Sticks] It's not ego really, but a feeling that reminds me of all the good times we have had all these years. It's a feeling you don't lose no matter how bad the gig is. Every gig feels like the first to me. Not that we are bad players like our first gig, but just the feeling that nothing could be better at that very moment. Wow… I sound like Stewart Smalley.

[Spanky] Sure. It's an opportunity to show off. If you've practiced and know your parts you should have a bit of an ego. I think we all have a pretty good idea for what sounds good and what doesn't, and the discipline to cast aside the crap. A trap I think a lot of bands will fall into is they don't put quality over quantity. They may play a song because they’re in love with a chord structure, and that blurs their vision to the fact that it just sounds like shinola.

[MuzikMan] What do think of the media convergence that has developed over the last several years? Where is music headed?

[Rip] I assume you mean the rise of the Internet, and the blurring of the lines between your computer and your stereo or TV. This is a good thing, and allows an artist to spread their work far and wide cheaply and efficiently. It makes it easier for the fan to find it as well. Music is just going to become more and more splintered into narrow fields of great depth-- there will never be another Beatles or Elvis, simply because there's no monolithic outlet to focus everyone's attention on one thing anymore. There are too many choices competing for people's eyes, ears and wallets.

[Luger] I think it's good for everyone. It gets the music out there for people to test drive.

[Sticks] Napster Rules. Keep it coming baby.

[Spanky] Don't get me started (refer to question 3 for a glimpse at where that could lead).

[MuzikMan] What is your top five dessert island discs?

[Rip] No way I could narrow it down to five discs, but if I were stuck on the proverbial desert island, I'd have to have some Ventures, Ramones, Bobby Fuller, Flamin' Groovies, Link Wray, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, Dick Dale, Gary Usher instrumental stuff from The Superstocks and Hondells, Buddy Holly and... Hell, there's too much to list.

[Luger] Hawaii 5-0 Theme, Gilligan's Island Theme, Ishtar Soundtrack, The Road Warrior Soundtrack, and The Endless Summer II

[Sticks] I guess I would have coconut power on the island so therefore I would be able to listen to The Shadows.

[Spanky] Don't know that I could narrow it down that far, but some faves and current rotations would be: The Good Earth by the Feelies, Murmur by REM, The Bobby Fuller Four, The Best of Dick Dale and his Del Tones, The Jam's greatest Hits, a lot of Nick Lowe and Rock Pile, The Who - Who's Next. The Shadows Are Go and Morricone.

[MuzikMan] What keeps you energized?

[Rip] I'm sure you're expecting some lame battery joke here, but I'm not going to touch it. The fun and satisfaction of performing and creating with friends does it for me.

[Luger] Free Beer, and walking out of a bar with more money than I did when I walked in.

[Sticks] PBR.

[Spanky] It used to be cigarettes. Now it's a higher concentration of oxygen – I guess.

[MuzikMan] What are the plans for the future? Will you all continue to make music for years to come, or are there personal goals to reach beyond music?

[Rip] The next album will have a more specific movie theme than this one, but that's all I can say right now.

[Luger] CLICHE' ALERT!!! I just take it one day at a time. As long as people want to hear The Penetrators play live, CD sales keep paying for the next, and the whole thing doesn't "feel" like work, I’ll be in it for the long haul. I'm certain that we'll play music together until we're 65 in some form or fashion.

[Sticks] The next 12 albums will have more lyrics about violence I think.

[Spanky] This Saturday we're playing our 7th year anniversary show. Down the road I wouldn't be surprised to see us doing a 10th, 20th etc. anniversary show, even if it's in a basement somewhere. Certain projects may be put aside or put on hold for one reason or another, but there will always be a time to strap on a guitar and turn up the reverb. It's just a matter of finding those times.

[MuzikMan] Do you all spend a lot of time on the Internet looking at other music sites, reading reviews, and conducting research regarding promoting your music?

[Rip] No more so than the average geek.

[Luger] No, not really, that's Rip's job.

[Sticks] All I'm trying to do right now is track the MIR space station while listening to The Space Cossacks. There are some cool sites out there for tracking satellites and space stations. I dig the internet. Spanky: I use the Internet for e-mail about 95% of the time. When I'm on a website it usually has something tto do with cars.

[MuzikMan] Is there anything in particular you would all like to say to your faithful and devoted followers?

[Rip] We've got a whole new line of Penetrators clothing and accessories, which make swell gifts at http://www.penetrators.com/loot.html

[Luger] Come to the shows, buy Penetrators Loot, and if it doesn't have reverb, it's crap!!!

[Sticks] We've got a whole new line of Penetrators clothing and accessories, which make swell gifts at http://www.penetrators.com/loot.html

[Spanky] Thanks

http://www.penetrators.com


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