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When contacted by the Weekly, Greg Johnson, guitarist and bandleader of Costa Mesa's instrumental surf trio the Kettle Drivers, was en route to one of the band's many local gigs. October was a bit of a breakout month for them, culminating in a month-long residency at Avalon Bar. As the new year looms, the Kettle Drivers, who also include Shane Thompson on drums and Carlin Walth on bass, have several impending projects.
OC Weekly: Your personal website, Swindletone, seems to be the home for a lot of different things—what came first?
1695 Irvine Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Region: Costa Mesa
Greg Johnson: Whatever needs to happen is there. I think in 2006, when one of the bands I was in crumbled, I was sort of freelancing and started a podcast. The next few things will probably just be records, such as our drummer Shane's record—we'll put it on and host it there. It's almost like an alias; I'm not Swindletone, but it's my website and what I do.
Your posts and comments make it seem like you're a pretty unapologetic guitar geek—were you always?
I started on bass but moved to guitar quickly after. I became more of a guitar geek a few years ago, thanks to an older co-worker. I don't like having a ton of pedals, just a Telecaster plugged into an amp. I listen to a lot of players older and newer—I can get pretty nerdy over the Telecaster.
What's key for you about the Telecaster?
It's a matter of tone. It's a really simple guitar, but you can be so versatile with it if you hone the craft of playing with it, versus a guy with three guitars and a ton of pedals, because I get a range of sounds. I'm at most a medium Tele player; I keep pushing how versatile you can get as opposed to hopping from rock to rock to rock.
Have you known your bandmates for a while?
Me and Shane have been playing for about 10 years on and off; we hadn't put out any music, but we were always working together. Carlin tunes a friend's amp and turned out to be a righteous dude, likes a lot of the same music, and is a jack of all trades—he plays every instrument, really; you should see him play a B3.
Surf music is a mix of things as much as it's a perceived genre—what drew you to its approach in particular?
I'm influenced by the great guitar players, but I like the lesser names a lot, such as Jerry Cole, Jack Nitzsche, members of the World Famous Wrecking Crew—it's almost like nobody looks at Glen Campbell! With the trio, these are the easiest-going and hardest-working dudes. Bands are very difficult to form and stick with, and we're all very lucky to be able to mesh. Just look at any day job! It's hard to work with people.
What's next for 2012?
Hopefully, by the end of the year, we can wrap an EP soundtracking a short film, so maybe two Kettle Drivers songs, a Shane song and a riff with a singer. Shane's solo album will be a bit laborious, but we'll push ourselves and spend a lot of money!
This column appeared in print as "Kettle Drivers Do Good."