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Surf scenes and ink blots

Music Interview: RoarShark 

Surf scenes and ink blots

Just replace the ink from a Rorschach test with some saltwater, and visualize surfboards and sharks and sandy beaches instead of the imagined, tell-tale images of hidden psychosis and genitalia, and you've got RoarShark. Or better still, assemble four Rochester rock 'n' rollers into a tight, guitar-driven onslaught. Then add volume, liberal amounts of reverb, a strong back beat, and sit back and watch the aforementioned genitalia (backsides, anyway) boogie to the twang-centric rhythm of crashing waves.

RoarShark has played excellent surf rock with a sci-fi, exotic-lounge undertow and a splash of mystical whimsy since it first washed ashore in 2010. Live, it's a no-bullshit affair. Sure, there are fezzes and loud Hawaiian shits, but for the most part it's just guitarists Brian Gemme and Josh Reiner, bassist Neil Bourke, and drummer Gary Yanni, and a few cheap TV sets piled on stage to paint the picture amidst the quartet's modest Fender tweed back line.

The foursome has been hard at work in both ACME and Saxon studios, laying its first full-length album to tape, with the working title "It Came From Lake Ontario." RoarShark stopped by to discuss its love of surf, its hate for The Beatles, and revealed that there actually is a surf scene in Rochester. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

City: How did RoarShark begin?

Brian Gemme: Craigslist.

No, seriously.

Gemme: Seriously. I put up an ad on Craigslist and these three guys answered.

Kind of like musicianmingle.com?

Neil Bourke: It was the first ad I saw, and the first one I responded to. I said, "I've got a Super Reverb, I can use it for surf."

Who knows what kind of band you would have wound up in if you had scrolled down the list further — polka, klezmer...

Josh Reiner: I can play klezmer. I have an accordion.

Did you start off with covers, or did you dive right in to the original pool?

Gemme: Our first few songs were covers, of course. But we started writing pretty quickly thereafter. I would just come up with a basic riff and chord structure, and everyone just kind of jumped in. It felt natural.

Besides the obvious big Kahunas like Dick Dale and The Ventures, what influences the RoarShark roar?

Reiner: Obviously Bach. My big influence is Roy Buchanan. I'm just obsessed with instrumental music, that type of thing. I hate The Beatles because of what they did to it.

Gemme: I grew up listening to a lot of punk, skate punk, JFA. Certainly Agent Orange and Man or Astro-Man? are big influences. I think a lot of that comes out in our music.

There really isn't a surf scene in Rochester, so what scene have you glommed onto? Punk? Garage?

Gemme: Well, there's a lot more surf coming out lately, if you think about it.

Let's see, there's The Isotopes, The Seabreezers, The Huckleberry Finns, and RoarShark. What do you know? It looks like there is a scene after all.

Gemme: Yeah, I think it's really catching on

What do you think is surf rock's appeal?

Gemme: There are no words or story to get in the way, basically.

So no plans to add a RoarShark singer to the on-stage equation? Would it take away from the instrumental simplicity?

Bourke: I think if someone had the talent as a singer it wouldn't diminish the music, but often when you have the talent, you have the attitude. Sometimes there isn't talent, and there's still the attitude.

Gemme: We structure songs as if we were planning to include lyrics, but we never put words to them.

Maybe not vocals, but other instruments perhaps?

Bourke: That's something on the docket; adding other instruments. There's been talk of a sax, maybe a cello. We're all pretty much multi-instrumentalists.

Without an assigned front man, what is the show part of RoarShark's biz?

Gemme: We do have "nitrous vision" — a series of old black-and-white TVs on stage that show loops of old surf and sci-fi movies.

So you're pretty much a straight-ahead surf outfit

Reiner: Yeah, we haven't strayed too far from the A-minor, straight-beat type of surf sound.

Who knows, maybe that would work well with klezmer.

Gemme: Maybe...

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  • Surf scenes and ink blots

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