JACUZZI BOYS: THIS WEIRD ISOLATED SWAMPLAND
2011 is shaping up to be a sunshiny year for Miami’s Jacuzzi Boys. Hardly Art released the band’s eagerly anticipated sophomore platter, Glazin’ at the end of August to positive press and mainstream acclaim. And although their identity remains fiercely tied to the raw tropical vibe of their home state, guitarist/ vocalist Gabriel Alcala, drummer Diego Monasterios, and bassist Danny Gonzalez are poised to spread their hooky melding of good-time pop, garage and punk to the world at large. Strapped in for the 500-mile drive from Miami to Tallahassee on the opening day of the band’s grueling 35-city U.S. tour, Gonzalez discusses Miami’s challenging music scene, the frustrations of being labeled as a garage act, and the recording process for their new album. They play Saturday at Blue Star—get tickets here! This interview by Jason Gelt.
What’s the story behind the cover art for Glazin’?
I studied photography in college, and I’m a big fan of this guy Christian Patterson. He worked with William Eggleston, who’s one of my favorite photographers. I was always a fan of Patterson’s work, but never really thought about using it for anything. One day I was showing Gabriel a book of his, and Gabriel really liked that picture, “Railroad Boots,” which has always been one of my favorites from that collection. When we were discussing album art, we liked the way Big Star’s Radio City cover looked, the way it was really simple and clean. And again, we wanted to do the opposite of the No Seasons cover, which was a super naïve, silly drawing. So we wanted to base the design off Radio City, and that picture was perfect for a variety of reasons. Eggleston shot the cover for Radio City, Patterson worked for Eggleston.
Does Miami have a thriving music scene?
It’s a weird place as far as the music scene goes. Miami’s not really a rock ‘n’ roll town, and not a ton of bands have come out of it and not a ton of bands tour through it. Geographically, the distance bands have to travel to get here limits the shows we get to see. There’s something cool about that, and there’s a certain isolation that makes Miami feel unique. It’s kind of a pain in the ass to make it all the way to Miami and make it all the way out without many options. I think it messes up bands from Miami as well, because when you tour, Atlanta is the first major city you’ll get to and it’s 10 hour away. Whereas, if you’re in that whole Northeast area, within a couple of hours you can get to Philly, you can get to New Jersey, New York, Baltimore, all those places. And that’s just not the case here.
How do Jacuzzi Boys fit in?
Now we have a pretty significant following, and the shows have been a lot of fun when we’ve played in town, but for a while it was like we were a novelty or something. People didn’t know what to make of it. It’s not like in other cities where there’s a strong local community that always goes out to shows. A lot of times a local band will have shows and there’ll be no one there. The club scene is way more prominent. People always seem like they want a dance party over a rock ‘n roll band. But that’s just the way it’s always been. Unlike other big cities, there’s basically one place to play in town that feels comfortable for a band to play, that feels like a real bar that’s been around for a while. There’s other clubby places that will have a stage and offer bands to play but it’s not the right environment.
What’s the one venue?
Churchill’s Pub in Little Haiti. They’ve single handedly kept the South Florida music scene alive. A ton of places have come and gone and other places have tried to dress it all up and make it look nice. You buy a drink and it’s a price like a club on South Beach. But Churchill’s feels like a real bar. It’s a total dive that’s been around for years, no rules, anything goes, and any kind of band can play. It’s kind of like our CBGB’s. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Miami, but it’s unlike any other place in the country. It has its own vibe going on. There are spots that definitely don’t feel like America at all. It’s one of the few cities that you can buys drinks seven days a week at any time of day. Bars close at five in the morning and you can probably find an after-hours bar after that. We’re in this weird isolated swampland that’s somewhat of a lawless town. Our environment has a lot to do with our identity, not just song writing. We’re very much a band from Miami. I just recently realized, when a band comes out of Detroit, they’re a band from Detroit, not Michigan. If a band comes out of Chicago, they’re a band from Chicago, not Illinois. When a band comes out of L.A., they’re an L.A. band, not a California band. But for some reason, we’re a Florida band. I think in general, people have such a weird idea of Florida, so it’s just kind of like, it’s all Florida. It’s just alligators and sunshine and retired people. Miami couldn’t be any different than any other place in Florida. It really has nothing to do with Florida except that we’re in the state. It’s kind of the way New Orleans is unique to Louisiana. Miami is very much its own little world inside of Florida. I love Florida, obviously, but I represent Miami before I represent Florida.
Are there other local bands that you feel an affinity with?
Yeah, the band Electric Bunnies. They’re on hiatus now, but they were around at the same time that we started up. They put out records on Florida’s Dying as well. They were a little more experimental. There was a band Beingz that recently broke up. There’s a band Heart Strings that had kind of like a Ramones-y sound, but I think they moved away. Miami has produced cool bands, but the bands never make it out of town, or they don’t get to tour, or they break up right when people are catching on to them. It’s weird that we’ve somehow managed to stick around. Maybe that’s why we get attention.
When Jacuzzi Boys first started out, what musical influences brought you together?
The obvious influences, like garage and punk stuff. The Ramones, the New York Dolls and the Sonics. But I think as time has passed, although we definitely still dig that kind of stuff, it’s expanded. It’s not like we stay at home and listen to garage records all day, but that was the initial interest and bonding element. It was what we were able to play. None of us are master players by any means, so it lent itself quite easily to that.
You guys have diverse musical tastes, including a lot of classic ‘70s rock. Is it irritating when you get pigeonholed as a garage rock act?
I don’t know. It seems weird complaining about it. I guess I understand why people do it. If you need to classify our sound, I guess that’s what it’s gonna be. But I also don’t think it’s strictly garage rock. People have different definitions of what garage rock could be. For instance on the new record, I think maybe our approach to it had that in mind, but it doesn’t sound like the Sonics or Gonn or something like that. But it’s fine. If people want to call it that, that’s cool. I find it funny when people call it lo-fi, though, because this record sounds pretty damn good to me. It sounds the opposite of lo-fi. We’ve never tried to make a lo-fi record. Sometimes it was just the means that we had. But especially on the new record, when I read a review and they’re like, ‘Oh, super lo-fi,’ and I go, ‘Oh my God. Really?’ Even our first album No Seasons—it doesn’t sound like a Steely Dan record, but it’s not lo-fi. I think people confuse a fuzz sound as meaning lo-fi, but that’s a fine distinction.
What’s the band’s creative process?
It happens in a variety of different ways. Sometimes Gabriel will come in with some guitar part. Sometimes I might have a guitar part. Maybe he’ll have close to a full song ready, sometimes I’ll have a bass part and we’ll play off that. Sometimes we have nothing and we’ll all just start playing together and start following one another, and then melody-wise Gabriel just sort of improvises over what we’re playing. It’s never really like someone brings complete, finished songs to the band, like ‘Everyone, learn your part.’ It’s not really like that.
No Seasons and Glazin’ each have a pretty distinct aesthetic. How did you develop the sound for the new record?
It happened pretty organically. We definitely knew we didn’t want to make the same kind of record. But we didn’t have a band meeting and say, ‘OK, now we’re gonna write poppier songs.’ I think even stuff leading up to Glazin’—like the seven-inch we did for Mexican Summer, the A-side ‘Bricks or Coconuts’ is pretty poppy. It started to lean in that direction and those were the songs that happened.
Did you have all the songs together for Glazin’ before you went into the studio?
We kind of always do. No Seasons was like that as well. We edit as we write. If we have a song that we kind of like, but we don’t all agree on it, we’ll do away with it. And when we have X amount of songs, we’re like ‘OK, I guess we’re ready to go.’
As a band with such strong ties to its home, what was it like to record Glazin’ at Keyclub Recording Co. in Michigan?
We’ve always liked the idea of leaving town to record a record. No Seasons was recorded in Atlanta. We all stay together and just focus on that. We don’t have daily disturbances. The songs are all written in Florida, but it adds a new perspective, however subtle it may be. At Keyclub you live in the studio while you’re there. They have rooms upstairs. It’s like ‘We’re all here, so let’s make this record together.’ It’s not so much the place, it’s more the people you’re working with. And different places just sound different.
How long was the recording process?
It was just shy of two weeks. No Seasons was seven days exactly. We wanted a little more time, so we got twelve. It would be nice to have some more time. If we had an extra three days or whatever, I’m sure we would have taken advantage of it. But what we’re doing isn’t that crazy and difficult. We’re a live band essentially. We play the songs live in the studio. We do overdubs and stuff, but it’s not rocket science. You could drive yourself crazy if you had three months in the studio with unlimited options. You’d have like 17 mixes of one song. You don’t know which one’s bad. At that point it’s like, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s cool to have some time restrictions. When you start nitpicking you lose the spirit of the song.
Has your newfound high profile gotten you any kind of negative reaction from the garage rock community?
There hasn’t been any full-blown negative reaction, but there has been like things you’d expect, like ‘Oh, it’s not as raw, it’s too clean.’ But it’s fine. If we’d been trying to strictly cater to the garage rock community, then we’d be disappointed. But we’ve never really approached it like that. I hope the next record doesn’t sound like Glazin’ at all. I just wouldn’t want to make the same record over and over. If people were expecting No Seasons 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, they’re bound to be disappointed. But we’re all happy with it, so I guess that’s all you can ask for.
What’s the story behind the song ‘Los Angeles’ on Glazin’?
When we toured in 2008 with the Shrines it was our first time in L.A. for all three of us. We loved it. So when we first started talking about wanting to make the new record, we had the idea of going out to California to record, because we all loved California so much. But that didn’t end up happening. The Keyclub happened instead, so having California on our minds and the good time we had in L.A., it was like, ‘OK, we didn’t record there, but we’ll write a song about L.A.’ Maybe one day. Maybe the next day will be a California record.
L.A. RECORD PRESENTS THE JACUZZI BOYS, TARTAR CONTROL, THE LOVELY BAD THINGS AND DEATH HYMN NUMBER 9 ON SAT., OCT. 1, AT THE BLUE STAR, 2200 E. 15TH ST., DOWNTOWN. 8:30 PM / $10 / 18+. GET TICKETS HERE!