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Up Close with Mike Rosado's 9th Wave
One of New York's Leading Modern Surf-instro Bands
By Dick Stewart, The Lance Monthly
(more articles from this author)
2002-09-22
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"Well, there was an awkward moment back in the Fall of '99 when The Big Bad Bullocks drunkenly insisted they were taking our go-go dancers back to Ireland with them. Then there was the time in Savannah, Georgia, at The Velvet Elvis, when two really big guys leaped on top of the speakers and started gyrating wildly while their girlfriends rubbed up against me as I tried to play guitar on stage."

[Interviewer's Comments: Aside from the die-hard surf-rock instrumental fans, few rock aficionados are aware that in the late '50s and early '60s, rock 'n' roll made a transition that should be considered as significant as the British Invasion of the mid-'60s. It was the birth of instrumental guitar rock (now referred to as surf-instro rock) and it was ushered in dramatically by such U.S. greats as The Ventures, Dick Dale, The Fireballs, Duane Eddie, and a ton of one-hit instro wonders. The mainstream, rockabilly expressions of the '50s had become too predictable in their standard three and four-chord progressions and the puppy-love lyrics, too mundane and silly.

The electric guitar, aided by the inventions of a number of electronic, special effects such as tremolo, reverb, echo delay, and the tremolo bar, was responsible for the change in rock's overall delivery as these new deep-toned, exotic, reverb-drenched, guitar sounds screamed for minor chords as the principal structure for expression. Not only did this magnificent genre catch on and play a dominant role in rock from 1960 to early 1964, it sparked the first Great Garage Band Explosion.

The Beatles' arrival to the U.S. in February 1964 was actually responsible for the second one, and although it firmly placed instrumental rock in the back seat, the mainstream bands' preferred structure of instruments--two electric guitars, electric bass, and drums, which was originally popularized by the early '60s guitar rock instrumentalists--remained intact. Unfortunately, credit for this major rock contribution is long overdue.

Today, the early '60s trad-rock-guitar genre appears to be gaining appeal and it could be for the same reasons that made it originally popular: mundaneness, monotony, silliness, and repetitiveness in mainstream rock. But regardless of the motives, guitar-surf-rock-instro bands have been increasing in numbers, and although the vintage'60s instrumental band formations have been strong, it's the new wave of surf musicians (who were either not on this planet or infants during the early '60s) that is taking the modern surf genre to a new level. One such group is New York's 9th Wave led by Michael Rosado. This modern day, aggressively promoted surf band (thanks to the ardent work of Mike's wife, Pam) is developing a healthy fan base in his state, and the group's contemporary and original instrumental expressions are heavily influenced by the instrumental-rock-guitar gods of the early 1960's. Many thanks to Mike for his valuable contributions.]

[Lance Monthly] How old are you Michael and where were you born?

[Michael Rosado] I'm 40, was born in NYC (the Bronx), and grew up and went to school in rural Connecticut. I live in Storrs, CT, about an hour away from Higganum, the town I grew up in.

[Lance Monthly] Before you got into surf, what were you into?

[Michael Rosado] Seems like I've always been into surf. As a kid I used to listen to my parents' Ventures albums and I always knew I wanted to learn how to play like that. There was always a lot of Spanish guitar music at our house as well, so that influence shows up in my music too. I later gravitated toward punk (played in some local bands) as well as international music, but surf was always my first love, so whatever I've played has had surf elements to it. I started collecting surf vinyl when I was 12 (Ventures & Dick Dale), some new, some at garage sales. I got my first electric guitar as a high school graduation gift. It was an early 70's used Crown (copy of a Strat), and I immediately sat down and figured out how to play "Walk Don't Run" and "Pipeline". By 1995 I was writing tunes and starting putting together a lineup for what would become 9th Wave.

[Lance Monthly] So 9th Wave was not your first group?

[Michael Rosado] No, early on I jammed with a lot of people, mostly punk rockers, but I always managed to get them to play punk versions of "Walk Don't Run" and "Pipeline" . . . also, when Agent Orange released their "Living in Darkness" vinyl album that fit right into my surf-punk adventure. In the '80s I formed a house band (literally, with roommates) called The Gypsy Slave Boys (blues-rock-surf), and that lineup later morphed into a couple of variations, known as Tick Alert, and Identity Crisis. By '94 I knew I wanted to go with straight up surf, and by '95 I was writing original tunes and started putting together a lineup for what would become 9th Wave.

[Lance Monthly] So what actually turned you on to surf instrumentals and who are the artists that stimulated you into getting into that genre of rock?

[Michael Rosado] What turned me on to surf instros was my childhood experience of listening to my parents' Ventures albums and wanting to learn how to play glissandos (though I obviously didn't know the term at the time), thinking "I want to know how to make a guitar sound like that!" Also, frankly, I'm not a vocalist, so my creative energy comes out in my melodies. Artist inspiration would include: Duane Eddy, The Ventures, Tom & Jerry guitars, Dick Dale, Robert Johnson, The Shadows, and Booker T and The MGs, then later on Agent Orange and The Surf Raiders.

[Lance Monthly] What's your real job?

[Michael Rosado] I'm employed by the Federal Government, as a construction inspector for the Natural Resource Conservation Service branch of The U.S. Department of Agriculture.

[Lance Monthly] What are the names of the members of 9th wave, what instruments do they play, and what are their ages?

[Michael Rosado] Mike "Staccato" Rosado, 40, surf guitar (USDA, NRCS construction inspector); "Negative Ed" Schorr, 34, surf bass (University of Connecticut "clean room" lab technician); Sandy "Oceana" Brooks, 39, surf flute, Farfisa organ, rhythm guitar (CT state resource librarian); "Danger Dan" Pickett, surf drums (assistant to CT state office of comptroller) . . . Not long ago Pam pointed out that all of the band's current musicians are in some way employed by the government, funny, eh?

[Lance Monthly] What is your wife's name and what roll does she play with your band.

[Michael Rosado] My wife, Pam (a.k.a. "Sheba"), was our original go-go dancer. These days (in addition to work & family) she basically manages the band, handling the bookings, distribution, web site, gig promotions & posters, hiring other bands for gigs, you name it, she does it.

[Lance Monthly] After seeing your numerous venue postings on Cowabanga and Reberborama, it appears that your band activity is intensifying. At present, how popular is 9th Wave locally and how often does the band perform? Also, describe its venues.

[Michael Rosado] 9th Wave is on the road a lot. We play about 50 shows a year (3 to 8 a month). Venues range from clubs, pubs, taverns, biker bars, to car shows, fund raisers, and community events, and for four- years-in-a-row, we've played at Sleazefest, the three-day, surf/punk/rockabilly/garage/trash music fest held annually in Chapel Hill, NC on the first weekend in August. [So], we're pretty busy, and we get a lot of miles in, since locally for us has always been regionally. Our current circuit ranges from Boston to NYC, with trips south now and then as well. When we first started playing in our immediate area, people had no idea what to expect. We've cultivated venues that would had never previously booked much original music, let alone instrumental rock or surf. We now have several places where we regularly hang our surf board, and there's always new opportunities cropping up.

[Lance Monthly] Are there any other surf bands in your area?

[Michael Rosado] Regionally, there's been a lot of changes in the scene, but while many of the groups that were around when we started aren't active anymore, there are also some new surf groups appearing. Some of the newer bands include The Coffin Daggers (NYC), Gein and The Graverobbers (Boston), and The Retroliners (NJ).

[Lance Monthly] Give our readers a briefdiscography of 9th Wave. That is, a run down on what the group has released.

[Michael Rosado] Cruising for Mako (full-length, all-original, 1998); Surf Denial (full-length, all-original, 1999); 9th Wave Gets Sleazy (3-song original collector's edition, released for Sleazefest 2000); Hurricane (full-length, all-original, 2000). Recording starts this Fall for the next full-length CD: Time Tunnel.

[Lance Monthly] Have you opened for any national acts?

[Michael Rosado] Yes, in addition to Dick Dale, The Amazing Crowns, The Fleshtones, Hi Fi and The Roadburners, and The Big Bad Bullocks. We've worked with some great bands at Sleazefest each year, including Southern Culture on the Skids, in which Cousin Crispy joined us on stage to sit in on a couple of tunes on Farfisa organ as well.

[Lance Monthly] What was it like to open for Dick Dale? When and where did that occur and did you have a packed house?

[Michael Rosado] We had a really great time opening for Dick Dale in April 1998 in New Haven, CT. He and his band were really friendly and encouraging. DD and I talked about everything from strings to reverb tanks. He signed our surf board too! There were about 250 people in the audience by 9:00 PM when we opened. We played mostly originals, and we got an encore, which was also an honor. To top off the night we sold about 90 copies of Cruising for Mako and picked up a whole bunch of names on our mailing list.

[Lance Monthly] Does 9th Wave have any plans for a West Coast tour?

[Michael Rosado] We would love to strike the West Coast! Probably after we release our fourth CD, Time Tunnel. It'll be really different for us, flying out, maybe borrowing gear along the way. When we travel on the Eastern Seaboard we usually pile everybody and all the gear into an '85 VW Vanagon or a '76 micro bus and hit the road (9th Wave's traveling tiki surf safari).

[Lance Monthly] Does your audience bug you from time to time about throwing in some vocals? If so, does 9th wave appease its fans with a few or is your band composed of die-hard instrumentalists?

[Michael Rosado] We don't get asked about vocals much anymore, but then again we're not anti-vocal, and depending on the venue or the occasion, we do throw in a couple vocal tunes. We've currently got three 9th Wave original tunes with vocals: two rockabilly style and one that's kind of garage punk. When we're playing to fans, they know we're primarily an original instro band, and that's what they've come out to hear. When we play at a new venue, although some of the audience members might not really know what to expect at first, they usually catch on pretty quickly and enjoy the show. In the early days we used to get asked to play "Wipe Out" or "Hawaii Five-O" (and we did sometimes, especially when we had a sax player sitting in with us). These days we get people calling out for some of our earlier 9th Wave tunes, and we try to oblige whenever we can by adding those into the set.

[Lance Monthly] So how do you describe 9th Wave's surf instro style? Does the group follow, more closely, the trad style of The Ventures or the double picking efforts of Dick Dale?

[Michael Rosado] Hard to say. So far, I've written all the tunes, and I do quite a lot of double picking, but the styles of the tunes themselves range from straight-up surf to hot rod, spy, sci-fi, spaghetti western and exotica. We've even got a surf-instro reggae tune! We've had some great feedback from reviewers who enjoy the stylistic blend. Others have said we're too trad, and still others have said we're not trad enough. Our live shows appeal to surf and crossover rockabilly, ska, and punk audiences, as well as folks who might usually go for popular rock. Our faster tunes have even been compared to speed-metal. I think the inspiration from The Ventures, Dick Dale, and Agent Orange definitely comes through, and our delivery carries a strong signature 9th Wave garage-surf energy too.

[Lance Monthly] When 9th Wave performs, has it been fairly successful in drawing a decent-sized audience?

[Michael Rosado] We've been really fortunate to have such a positive response from those who know and follow us, as well as from those who encounter us for the first time. We've been working in the region for quite a while, and we usually can set up our shows for weekend nights and often get to set the bill for the whole night as well. Venue owners are generally pretty happy with us, since we always bring people in and we don't scare their regulars away. Sometimes we hear about truly incredible West Coast surf shows that play to a really small turnout, and we feel especially fortunate to be cultivating such a diverse crowd in a traditionally non-surf market.

[Lance Monthly] Do you think that surf-rock instros have a reasonable chance of moving into the mainstream market as it did in the early '60s?

[Michael Rosado] Hard to say. You hear surf music all the time in the commercial sound-beds for car and pizza ads. Maybe folks will hear and associate and continue their musical interests along these lines. I don't know what the odds are in general, but my ten-year-old son and my two-year-old daughter are really into surf instro, so maybe that bodes well for the future! We have noticed that several of the vocal bands that we've played out with have later written surf-instro tunes of their own, and we know of a few cases where people have started up surf projects after coming into contact with 9th Wave, so there might already be a regional trend underway!

[Lance Monthly] Mike, it appears that 9th Wave wants to go as far as it can with its surf-rock efforts? What's the band's ultimate goal?

[Michael Rosado] Interplanetary domination!!! Seriously, this is truly a labor of love. Anyone who plays and records original music, let alone surf instrumental music, is basically trying to share something with as many people as possible. Yeah, it would be great to be on Conan O'Brien, book an arena tour, or land a movie soundtrack, a TV show theme, or even a commercial sound-bed, but we're really all about getting out there and playing for people who like what they hear, and shout it out. The more the merrier!

[Lance Monthly] Describe some interesting scenarios (good and bad) during 9th Wave's various performances.

[Michael Rosado] Well, there was an awkward moment back in the Fall of '99 when The Big Bad Bullocks drunkenly insisted they were taking our go-go dancers back to Ireland with them. Then there was the time in Savannah, Georgia, at The Velvet Elvis, when two really big guys leaped on top of the speakers and started gyrating wildly while their girlfriends rubbed up against me as I tried to play guitar on stage. We were all glad they felt inspired to join in the moment, but we were a little worried about how the PA system would hold up, and my guitar playing was definitely sketchy for a couple of tunes. Another memorable show was on the boardwalk stage at Ocean Beach (CT shore) in the Summer of 1999, when there was [a] full moon rising out over the water in the East while the sun was setting during our set. Our performances at Sleazefest 2001 really stand out for me too--at both shows we had the honor of a surprise guest on stage: Cousin Crispy from Southern Culture on the Skids jumped up and sat-in on Farfisa organ for "Mr. Moto," "Miserlou" and a few more.

[Lance Monthly] Describe the band's gear in detail from guitars to amps etc.

[Michael Rosado] Mike plays: Guitars - Fender Jazzmaster reissue, red sunburst Fender Jaguar reissue, red sunburst; Amp - 1970 Fender twin reverb Fender Hot Rod Deville; Reverb tank - Fender reissue Ed plays: Guitar - Fender Jazz Bass; Amps - It's hard to identify Negative Ed's amps. He's like a mad scientist constantly creating "Franken-amps" in the lab. Here is how he described a recent set up: "Ampeg VT-22 (like SVT-all tube, 120 Watts) w/ reverb Music Man 1*15 speaker." Sandy plays: Flute - Deford silver flute; Keyboard - Farfisa VIP 233; Guitar - American Stratocaster; Amp - Fender twin reverb reissue; Reverb tank - Fender reissue Dan plays: Drums - one 51/2 X 14" Ludwig Supraphonic snare drum, one 10 X 13" Ludwig Super Classic double-headed tom-tom in mahogany wrap, one 14 X 16" Ludwig Super Classic double-headed floor tom in mahogany wrap, one 16 X 22" Ludwig Super Classic bass drum in mahogany wrap; Cymbals - one Zildjian "A" 18" Crash/Ride cymbal, one Zildjian "A" 20" Ride cymbal, one pr. Zildjian "A" 14" Newbeat Hi-hats

[Lance Monthly] Which one of the national acts for which you opened was the coolest and which one was the most difficult to work with?

[Michael Rosado] They were all cool. Again, once we rescued our go-go dancers from The Big Bad Bullocks, it was smooth sailing.

[Lance Monthly] What are your musical rock tastes outside of surf instros if any?

[Michael Rosado] I listen to all kinds of music at home. Lots of international instros. Italian street music, Spanish contemporary, and Flamenco guitar are suppertime family favorites. I'm an old rockabilly-garage-punker, and I've always been a big lounge and exotica fan too. It's a diverse mix!

[Lance Monthly] What type of attire does 9th Wave wear while performing?

[Michael Rosado] The band mostly wears Aloha shirts, probably just because we like 'em (at last count I had about 120 Hawaiians). The big bright tropical prints are a great match for the big bright energy of 9th Wave's tunes. The official shoe of 9th Wave is Converse high-tops, and we're usually sporting jeans or shorts. Sandy (a.k.a. "Oceana") might show up in anything from a tropical sarong with sneakers to an Ann Margaret-inspired, sequin-covered, one-shouldered micro-mini with white boots. We never quite know ahead of time what to expect from her.

[Lance Monthly] You say your wife was a go-go dancer for 9th wave. Could you elaborate on that? Do you still have go-go dancers?

[Michael Rosado] Pam (a.k.a. "Sheba") came down to North Carolina for our first appearance at Sleazefest, August 1999. On Friday, during Satan's Pilgrims' set Dave Robertson (owner of the host bar, The Local 506) was on stage with the band and inviting ladies in the crowd to join him so I pushed Pam up there. She gamely danced around with Dave, and then joined us on stage for our Saturday set as well. That Fall our friend Deb (a.k.a. "Blue Stingraye") joined in, so we had two dancers, sometimes synchronized and wearing matching costumes. When our daughter was born (or a few months before that, actually), another friend zipped on her white boots to take over for Pam, and that was Sandy (a.k.a. "Oceana"). Lucky for us, Sandy happened to be a trained musician (plays lead flute in the local orchestra and fronted her own vocal rock band), and now, in addition to flute, she pitches in on rhythm guitar, Farfisa organ, percussion and some vocals too all while dancing, of course! With Sandy's shift to full-time musician duty, Deb made the move offstage to dance in the audience and cultivate press contacts, and Pam currently works behind the scenes these days as our manager, handling booking, distribution, website maintenance, news group postings, general promotion & poster graphics. When Pam's at a show, though, I usually walk out to her at some point during a set and we get a little dancer-guitar move going, just like old times.

[Lance Monthly] Your final thoughts?

[Michael Rosado] Creating and playing with 9th Wave is an incredible experience. We really appreciate all the support we've received from other musicians, DJs, reviewers, venue owners, online CD stores, and we're thankful for all the people we've had the opportunity to meet and all the places we have gone as a band. I'm glad to know there are so many new opportunities ahead, in the U.S. West Coast, the Southwest, and Middle America, and with our friends in Europe and beyond.


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