If this article were written last year, we might have started with “Huntington Beach reggae-punk mainstays HB Surround Sound are touring again.” But in 2013, the story is that HB Surround Sound have a new sound. On their new EP, Turn It On, the reggae is all but gone, replaced by a somewhat slicker punk element. This is a deliberate move for the band, the members of which are now in their 30s and have played together since before graduating from Marina High School in 1999.
“We've done so much in this ska and punk-rock world that we want to venture out of it,” says lead singer Jake Bushnell from a tour van traversing upstate New York. “That scene was great for us; reggae rock was where we started, and we'll always respect that. But we want to stand out. We are very concerned with being unique and original, and we don't want to blend in.”
In a context in which seemingly every other new band is a Sublime copy, that meant bringing a more straight-up rock approach to the table. For Turn It On, the band have adopted a sound they liken to a beefed-up early Offspring, with heavier drums provided by their newest addition, Tim Tintari. Bushnell says the “My Radio” single they are pushing has begun to get some rock-radio airplay, and he's proud they were able to execute the new direction.
The guys are giving away free copies of the EP while out on tour supporting Pennywise and Sublime With Rome, whom they also supported last year. At the time of this interview, HB Surround Sound were only two dates into the tour, but, Bushnell claims, it's been so far, so good. “Last night, we played the Saranac Brewery in Utica, New York,” he relates. “It was a packed crowd; no one had ever heard of us before, and we got encored. The sound guy said, 'All right, play one more,' so we played a cover of 'Another Brick In the Wall,' and the crowd lost their shit.”
Bushnell continues: “The tour is young; there's plenty of opportunities for mischief to ensue. The van is running great. We toured with Sublime With Rome last year, and jeez, dude, we were pulled over, we were searched, we hit a road cone and took out our front light. . . . You know how you can back up your van and turn it too tight and smash into your own trailer? Well, we did that last summer. Give us a minute, I swear we're gonna lose a tire here.”
Thankfully, none of that has happened so far this year for Bushnell and company, a group of guys who grew up playing music together in Huntington Beach, hanging out at Bushnell's parents' house, where his dad built a soundproof practice room in the garage. His brother, Duddy B of the Dirty Heads, later turned the garage into a recording studio. Aside from a three-year hiatus in which some of the band members pursued more professional ventures (guitarist Doug Cooper is a math teacher at Bolsa Grande High School in Garden Grove, Bushnell ran social media for celebs such as Lady GaGa and Britney Spears, and bassist Mike Broberg is an electrician), HB Surround Sound has been a lifelong gig.
It gets better and more exciting, even 14 years into it, Bushnell says. “I gotta say, though, the crown jewel of this tour is Red Rocks in Colorado. We're playing with the Descendants. For a California band like us, that's insane.”