Monday, April 21, 2014

Interview with Thee Tsunamis

What’s up with Bloomington, Indiana? What’s with all the good tuneage? Betsy from the Thee Tsunamis suggests something in the water that spawns “mutant bands.” There may be something to that as there seems to be a constant stream of great music coming from the hometown of Indiana University. My first introduction to the town’s music was through Plan-It-X records, though I began picking up records and cassette’s from Bloomington’s Magnetic South label a few years ago when Apache Dropout put out their first LP. A lot of interesting music comes from the label from Circuit Des Yeux to Thee Open Sex to Psychic Baos and more.

I heard Thee Tsunamis’ cassette A Goodbad Man is Hard to Find on recommendation from a friend. The layout and design struck me – a minimally-masked elfish head sits atop a gag gun. The music didn’t disappoint either, as the band ripped through rock n’ roll with a bit of color. There’s a definite element of surf in the music, which justifies the band name, and here and there an odd patch of twang, all penciled in with attitude. Recently, the band put out their first vinyl release, which is a 7” entitled “Delirium and Dark Waters,” boasting the same comically disturbing artwork and a couple hit songs to boot!

You can listen to their songs on their Bandcamp and follow the band on Facebook. I also highly recommend picking up their records from Magnetic South or wherever fine records are sold.

Jordan: Who all is in Thee Tsunamis? When did you guys start the band?

Betsy: Thee Tsunamis is Betsy Shepherd on Mustang, Jenna Beasley on Jazz Master, and Sharlene Birdsong on the beats. Original Tsunamis bassist Josie McRobbie is saying sayonara to the Hoosier State for a job offer in North Carolina, and she will be missed greatly.

B: Josie and I started the band in the summer of 2012. We bonded over the Seeds, the Cramps, and Half Japanese, and decided we had a defunct musical voice that needed some airing. So after years away from songwriting and playing music, I got back on the horse, my Mustang, that is. Most of the songs from the first tape were written over the summer of 2012 (Thee Tsunamis, Crazy Love, Seeing Red, Ray Davies, Jitters) while in between jobs, loves, and locales.

B: We owe a lot to Lori Canada, Bloomington tour-de-force and mistress of ceremonies, for not allowing us to be liars. We said we were starting a band and when she booked our first show, we had to do it. Quick, write the songs! Quick, learn the covers! Quick, come up with a name! Band name? We donned ourselves Catsup Forever, terrible and twee and as ephemeral as the stuff that comes out of a squirt bottle. We gave up the condiment game, but decided to stick to liquid matter: I wrote “Thee Tsunamis” anthem about an imaginary band, and thought well, could it be that, well, maybe…we’re Thee Tsunamis? Yep, we’re thee T-S-U-N-A-M-I-S! Catsup maybe thicker than water, but the stuff is loaded with corn syrup, which causes diabetes, obesity and, as it turns, environmental degradation. And that’s not a cool way to go out. Watery myths…sirens, the kraken, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Here Be Monsters of ancient maps, were way more up our alley.

For, to quote that bumbler J. Alfred Prufrock:
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
B: Sharlene Birdsong is a water sign, and was born to play the part. She joined us on drums in December 2012, and immediately started writing/singing Tsunami songs…check out “Goner,” her fuzzed out cautionary tale about dark waters, to see how hip Birdsong was to the Tsunamis schtick. In truth, we became Thee Tsunamis in full swing when she joined the band.

J: Why did you start the band?

B: For the chicks.

J: How is the music scene in Bloomington? It seems like there's a lot of stuff going on there from Plan-It-X to Magnetic South!

B: I know, right?! There must be something in the water to make people crazy enough to want to start their own rock n’ roll labels. Whatever it is, it’s non-biodegradable because it seems that there’s always a fresh batch of cool mutant bands sprouting up. The hay day of Plan-It-X was before my Bloomington residency. But I vividly remember my first trip to house-show venue/label Magnetic South’s music festival Can of Worms and thought, this is some crazy shit. Who would host a music festival in their house…and in winter?

B: Being from Louisiana, where you can’t even bury the dead underground, I’d never seen a basement before and never knew the world of secrets that lie under mezzanine floorboards. So when I saw rock n’ roll in Magnetic South’s subterranean kitchen I couldn’t resist the pun: This is REAL underground rock n’ roll! I started regularly going to shows at Magnetic South, and Thee Tsunamis were lucky enough to play our second show there (in June 2012) with Apache Dropout and the OBNIIIs. Hook, line, and sinker…from there on out it’s been rock n’ roll or BUST.

J: Are there any bands from Bloomington that you particularly like?

B: Sleeping Bag, the Cowboys, Bloody Mess, Sir Deja Doog, Frankie and the Witchfingers, Jerome & the Psychics, and our psycho-delectable label mates Apache Dropout, Vacation Club, Sitar Outreach Ministry, and Thee Open Sex.

J: You guys have released a cassette and now a 7" on Magnetic South. How was it recording those songs?

B: Like a camping trip, but in a tent made of cement foundation and sewage pipes. We brought our guitars, food, and party supplies and parked ourselves in the basement, removed from the quotidian world, and told ghost stories over an open fire of our own making (albeit with the help of tubes and circuits). We recorded all the basic tracks on Friday (the 13th), recorded overdubs on Saturday, mixed on Sunday, and went back to work on Monday with a renewed sense of mystery at the natural world. But recording was way cooler than camping, because we didn’t have to shit in the woods, and we got a cool EP, Delirium and Dark Waters, out of it.

J: Do you get to play live often?

B: As much as possible, because we love playing shows with our hometown homies and sharing the stage with touring rock n’ roll bands.

J: Are you guys going to tour behind the 7" and cassette by any chance?

B: Funny you should ask! We’re taking off in early May to baptize the South with waves of Tsunamis reverb. Here are our landing sites:
May 1 Knoxville w/ Apache Dropout, Psychic Baos
May 2 Atlanta w/ Apache Dropout, The People's Temple
May 3 Nashville@ Grimey's
May 4 Chattanooga TBA
May 5 Birmingham, Bottle Tree w/ TBA
May 6 Little Rock, Whitewater Tavern, w/ TBA
May 7 Memphis w/ She Bangs
May 8 NOLA, Siberia, w/ The Bills
May 9 Lafayette, LA, Artmosphere, w/ Amazing Nuns
May10 Austin, Cheer Up Charlie’s, w/ Gory Details
May 11 Beaumont, TX, Texas Rose Saloon, w/ Raw Hunny

J: You guys played one of my favorite venues! The Pinhook in North Carolina. How did you get hooked up with playing there?

B: Chaz Martenstein from Bull City Records set up the show and was the most gracious host we could hope for. Durham has a great little slice of the rock n’ roll pie, and the Pinhook is the Platonic ideal of rock n’ roll venues…dingy but not too dingy, drunk but not too drunk, friendly but not too friendly. We had a total blast playing there with Apache Dropout and Pissed Jeans, and can’t wait to play there again!

J: What all have you been listening to lately?

B: Meet the Residents, Love at Psychedelic Velocity by Human Expression, Between You and Me by Fabienne Delsol, Les Marinellis S/T

J: What's in the future for Thee Tsunamis?

B: We’re touring May 1-11, and we’re playing IN CHICAGO with Heavy Times on May 24, in Indy with the Allah-las on June 13, and in Bloomington with White Mystery on July 3. And we plan to start recording a backlog of songs for a full-length record sometime this summer. Stay tuned!

J: Anything else you'd like to say?


B: Read The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. And, THANK YOU!

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