By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Not For Locals Only
Surf-instrumental band Slacktone are huge—huge!—in Europe
Dave Wronski builds guitars and plays surf guitar. He doesn't surf, but you'd never know it from listening to his band, Slacktone.
Slacktone has been around since 1995?
Yeah. The drummer, Dusty Watson, and I had been in a band in the early '80s. We played instrumental surf stuff. After many distractions and not going the direction I wanted to go, I decided in 1995 I wanted to pursue that—new songs, streamlined, hard-hitting music. Dusty was into it. From the first moment playing surf, it sounded right. Our original bass player was Mike Sullivan; after returning from our 2001 European tour, Mike was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we lost our friend within weeks. He was very thankful that he was able to pull off that tour, all the time not knowing what was going on with his health. Sam Bolle, a friend who was playing with Agent Orange, took over the bass-playing chores, and he's still playing with Slacktone.
What was the inspiration to play instrumental surf music?
It's my approach. I take a lot of time getting a big, gorgeous guitar sound. From the time I was a kid, I listened to records and just wanted the record to get to the good part. So my whole thing for Slacktone was it's all got to be the good part—no jamming, like what got started after Woodstock ruined everything and hippies trying to pretend they're John Coltrane. The thing I like about old surf instrumentals is that it was all about the theme. Strong themes carried it.
Does playing instrumental rock music limit you or make things tough for the band?
They've said it over and over again. One company really liked what we were doing. At the end, they said, "We love it, but we don't know what to do with it." But what they want to sell already exists somewhere. I understand it's the way they've got to think. The more consistent you are, the more successful you are at something, anyway. And the boundaries make us stronger. I've been in so many rock bands. I used to do a lot of session work. But if I tried to jackhammer all of that stuff into this, it would just turn into something else. I wanted to streamline but have depth within simple melodies. And it doesn't depend on a lot of stuff to support it. We're okay with setting up in the corner, where everybody's been throwing the trash, or on the rock-star stages. Sometimes, setting up on the floor next to the trash can is a better show.
You mentioned going to Europe. Is there a scene there for what you do, or are the bands spread out?
In Northern Europe, there is a very healthy live-music scene. It seems like it's a continuous thread that's been going on since the '60s. It's part of what's acceptable over there. We've played some pretty nice gigs there, and people get it. If we can get in front of an audience and they turn the PA on, we'll make it happen.
With surf music's history and the association with surfing culture, is Southern California a good place for a band like yours?
It's not as good as people would assume. When we first started, we would go to Huntington Beach and hand out cassettes. Somebody said, "You ought to go over to the Surfing Museum. They might be interested in what you're doing." I think they were shocked that it sounded any good at all. Our relationship with them has grown. We do a lot of events for them. They have things at the pier in Huntington Beach, which we've played several times now. That could give people the impression there's a lot going on with that setting and presentation. But there's a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar in Southern California. We've mostly concentrated on Europe.
Do you surf?
No, sir. I would like to. I don't live in that world right now. I work for Fender Musical Instruments building guitars. If I'm not at work or in gridlock, I've got my face buried in my computer, writing music. There are guys who've written incredible things sitting inside a prison cell, but there are guys sitting on the seashore, writing tripe. The fantasies in my head are better than the real thing.