It’s a busy day in Portland. Guantanamo Baywatch guitarist/vocalist Jason Powell has a lot of things to do ahead of his the first night of the band’s quick West Coast run. He’s busy zipping across town getting band’s gear fixed and all of the little things that comes with prep for a quick tour.
“It’s always like this before we go on the road,” Powell says from his car. “We make all our own merch and shit so everybody’s screen printing and trying to fix all of the stuff that’s half broken that we need to take with us. It’s nerve-wracking but we’re ready to play.”
This DIY attitude has helped the band as they’ve forged ahead with their career. Initially doing everything themselves from booking shows to recording, Guantanamo Baywatch have grown to where they have a small team around them to ensure that things get done, merch designing and tour travel withstanding.
“I like having control over our stuff,” the singer says. “We don’t have to do anything anyone tells us to do. We can just do it however we want, which is really nice.”
Inspired by the desolate nature of suburban Phoenix, Powell wrote most of the band’s new album, the aptly titled Desert Center over his year residing in the Southwest. Laughing that he only wrote there because he lived there, Powell was working with his father and brother at their concrete business. That job allowed him the freedom to work for both money and to knock out the band’s latest album. Working during the morning and writing the rest of the day gave Powell the freedom to write the album at his leisure.
As the band’s fourth album, Desert Center sees a band that knows what they do best and are sticking to that formula. They’ve collectively grown more cohesive and their label, Suicide Squeeze allows them the creative and personal freedom to do as they deem fit. Retaining the same vintage surf rock sound (“I’ve always been into that ‘90s resurgent surf rock,” Powell says), the record’s twangy sound and fast instrumentals leads to their best collection of songs yet. It would be easy to point at the record’s themes as being inspired by the Arizona desert, but Powell doesn’t see it that way.
“It wasn’t like we’re going to do a desert-themed album, it was more like I fucking live here and I have to work outside all the time,” he says.
Following a period of working on the tracks in Arizona, the band headed back to Atlanta to record the album with with Justin McNeight and Ed Rawls. Beginning-to-end, Desert Center took two-and-a-half months to complete.
“They already know our vibe and what we want to stuff to be recorded and sound like,” he explains. “It was easier than last time because they know us and what we want to do. They got us to try some new stuff, which we were more open to.”
Now residing in Paso Robles for the time being with his girlfriend before the band’s upcoming tour — which will also take them to Europe for six weeks — Powell says that the change came ahead of the notoriously scorching desert summer. With the band’s schedule picking up, it’s proven to be a prudent decision.
Though this is the band’s final album due for Suicide Squeeze, the relationship has been fruitful on many levels. With Guantanamo Baywatch’s accolades pouring in from many outlets, Powell is optimistic about the band’s future with the label, and expanding their audience.
“What’s most important to me is is this cool to me and is it tight,” Powell says. “Everything that we’ve done, I feel a little more happy with it. It’s not that much, but I think it’s a more fun album to play. It seems like fans are stoked on it too. It shouldn’t matter but it’s important to me and hope they dig the new album.”
Guantanmo Baywatch performs Saturday with Susan and Distractor at The Wayfarer. For more info, click here.