By Brian Tucker
Last December, two floors above Dixie Grille in downtown Wilmington, local surf rock band The Carvers was surrounded by old typewriters, turn of the century items and exposed brick walls with layers of wallpaper peeling back. After hauling instruments up the stairs to the dark confines the musicians were seemingly removed from 2013. They settled in to record new album Surf and Stomp Combo out on local record label Doctor Gone Records.
“You sure we have permission to be here?” guitarist Jason Delamar asked aloud. “Someone said, I think how dirty it is will translate to a nice gritty record.”
It did. The essence of grit and noir paints the album, namely original instrumental “Night Surf.” By leaving everything in its place the cluttered surroundings lent a chaotic, sullied feel to an otherwise fun, energetic album. Over two nights they laid down basic tracks with singer/guitarist Seth Moody’s twelve-track recorder rolling tape. The Carvers purposely aimed to record the way surf rock bands did a long time ago.
“That’s really what we wanted – keep it simple, not too many takes,” Delamar said.
Moody used the twelve track to mix the basic tracks as they recorded live instrumentation using one microphone for each instrument. He would tweak things until it finding the proper sound mix. They then relocated to Carolina Beach, Moody’s kid’s bedroom to be exact, to record vocals.
“(Moody) is our brainchild when it comes to all that. We set up in the corner facing the wall with mic’s.”
Dusty atmosphere and the recording philosophy helped shape Surf and Stomp Combo into a timeless sounding, fun collection of original and cover songs. It’s a next-step album, evolving the rawness of their first, In Person. Releasing the album on vinyl was on everyone’s bucket list. The Carvers are of an age group that remembers shopping for records when they were “an artifact, as opposed to a digital download, a piece of data.”
“When I listen to it on vinyl, I don’t know if I was so ready to hear it, and we all kind of agreed, but it just sounded ten times better than our final mixes on a CD. We got really excited about it when we put it on the turntable and listened.”
The beautiful thing about The Carvers’ music is its availability to anyone of any age group. Their old-but-new sound is a mix of surf rock from the mid-50s to early 60s, bands like The Kingsmen and many others that incorporated a basement/garage rock sound with jazz and bossa nova. It has the ability of creating a fan base that spans age groups.
“Baby boomers that grew up listening to this kind of stuff at Wrightsville Beach. They come up to us and say it reminds them of 1962 and Wrightsville Beach. Down there around Johnny Mercer’s pier there was a Pavilion, maybe that was even before the 60s, maybe it was on the way out. Those guys who went and grew up listening to this kind of stuff, bands that played in people’s basement, bring their cardigan sweaters and ties,” Delamar said. “Little kids get it because its fun and they can dance. They don’t have too many preconceived notions about what cool is yet. (Older) kids have to take a minute warm up to it, you know, five guys in ties.”
The Carvers have jobs and/or children but the focus is to have fun playing music when possible. They have a busy summer thus far, playing locally and some bigger, private functions. Delamar, an English teacher in Topsail Beach, is just happy in a band playing more traditional style of surf rock.
“We never wanted to be the kind of band that fine tunes, screws it down too tight,” Delamar said. “Guys like us, a little older with other stuff going on, that little time you have to get out there and play music is sacred. At the end of the day, if it’s not fun it’s not worth it. Because it’s a hell of a lot of work.
More with Jason Delamar
The Carvers have been together how long?
Delamar: Two to three years. Ben and I were playing in The Palm Readers. I was in Swashbuckler, a trio, singing and playing guitar, Moog organ, and drums. An interesting trio. Drake and Seth Moody were playing in The Noseriders and Dean Grey was involved. We were talking about doing some more traditional style of surf rock than doing the exact same thing that The Noseriders were doing. Seth loves Devo, T.Rex and Roxy Music and he likes a lot of the electronic type sounds and stuff like that (see his project Sweaty Already).
Was the focus aimed at being more on surf music or a musical hand holding, taking listeners back in time?
Delamar: That’s what we’re going for. Kids get it; small children understand it because its fun and they can dance. The baby boomers get it. They come up to us and say it reminds them of 1962 and Wrightsville Beach.
But that’s where the uniform came from?
Delamar: We’re trying to be that 50s, mid 50s era to 1962, capture that niche. The old timers were there and we’re Generation X’ers playing 50s and 60s rock music. A lot of those bands back then, they would listen to all kinds – Bossa Nova, jazz, stuff like that. They did a lot of nods to all different genres and we try to do that too.
The Carvers music has an old school vibe but with an edge too.
Delamar: We’re still working on the Generation X, Y and Z. Babies love us, old timers love us, sometime people out see us in suits and ties and it doesn’t compute. It’s like, that ain’t rocking. They listen to it and are like, I guess it’s cool.
When did you record the new album?
Delamar: We recorded on a twelve track and tried to keep it real simple. We did this back in November, December (2013) and recorded upstairs at the Dixie Grille downtown. That was an interesting space. Third floor level, he just uses that as a storage space. We left all that stuff in there, it was cluttered, had a chaotic feel. It was dirty up there.
The walls they were in various stages of remodeling up there. The walls were stripped back and you could see the original brick and see several layers of wallpaper and all the different textures and colors that were there. All this artwork that was stacked used at Dixie Grille that’s collected over the years. That’s really what we wanted, keep it simple, and not take too many takes.
Seth Moody recorded it?
Delamar: Seth has the twelve-track and was able to mix it all down there. Everybody was happy with the performances that we got. We knocked it out in two nights.On the first record In Person has got that feel. We stayed true to that raw garage feel (on the new record), didn’t want to get too much reverb and no effects. It’s recorded on twelve-track to tape, live instruments and we put one mic up. We had one main room where the drums were set up and we set up in various spaces.
Most of set up way away from the console where he was doing the recording with one mic in front of each amp. He would tweak till he had it right, had the sound he wanted. I played pretty much everything clean and we’d get enough volume to get some gain. Seth could compress things down and get more or less fuzz, lighten things up if he needed to.
When we did our initial tracks it was drums, one guitar and bass. We didn’t have the vocal tracks over it because we didn’t want a lot of bleed over into the drums. We played like that because our other guitar player, Drake, was sick and couldn’t be there the night we did the bulk of rhythm tracks. He came the next night and laid down his parts and just nailed them. We didn’t want to get caught up in, ‘I can do that better.’ We’ve always had this attitude, give it all you got, because it is what it is.
You like to play guitar with more fuzz?
Delamar: It kind if depends on what we’re playing. On some of the old surf-y stuff they didn’t have distortion, any gain they got was from cranking it up. So we still want to stay true to that. You’ve got plenty of fuzz on there and then also some clean stuff like “Scrambler” has some pretty melodies. “Night Surf,” an original, is the same thing. We kept it a little spooky but and little jazzy and clean, with haunting melodies. Some songs, they require finesse and others are just banging on the instruments. That’s part of that edge and also being versatile. I think that’s true to how they did it back then.
Does this feel like an evolution of your sound, a departure from the first album?
Delamar: This definitely stepped up from that. In Person is raw in a good way but also rawness that’s…if I was going to go back and do parts over again…I hear every little mistake. We never wanted to be the kind of band that fine tunes, screws it down too tight. But I think this one, the away it worked out with the space, it was dirty and perfect, it felt right. We’re really proud of this one. We definitely feel like we stayed true to the rawness of the first album but then again had better performances and more interesting songs.