Guantanamo Baywatch is undoubtedly one of the most hilariously clever mash-ups for a band name in recent rock ‘n roll history. And singer Jason Powell hates it.
“I’ve been trying to change that fucking band name for the last five years,” he says exasperatedly from the road near Phoenix, Ariz. “But I can’t come up with anything better.”
Powell thought of the amalgamation during a night of debauchery, meshing the name of the American detention on the Cuban island and the lusty 1990s action drama.
“It’s so funny because it’s so outdated now,” he continues. “Young kids don’t even know what fuck Guantanamo Bay even is. It’s like the Dead Kennedys. They’re like, ‘Who are the Kennedys?’”
Powell, along with bassist Chevelle Wiseman and drummer and Chris Scott, has been playing retro-inspired surf rock since 2010. Together as Guantanamo Baywatch, they just released their third LP Darling…It’s Too Late last week. It’s full of gimmicks and sound effects like birdcalls and Flipper squeaks in the opening “Jungle Bride” and swooping whistle toy sounds in the game show theme song mockery “Shennanigans.”
Powell loves the fun extra sounds, referring to them as, “nod[s] to old traditional surf rock.
“If I had my way, there’d be like a thousand sound effects!” he exclaims. “It’d be awesome!”
Wiseman, however, harbors other feelings. “Originally, there were four or five dolphin sounds,” she starts cautiously like she’s still negotiating. “Then we were like, ‘Let’s cut it down to like, one dolphin sound.’”
Throughout Darling…It’s Too Late, Guantanamo Baywatch melds the careless cavorting of a teenage garage band with the clean twang of a Sun Studios recording and everything-but-the-ukulele tone of Hawaiian music. In particular, the instrumentals like “Raunch Stomp” and “Corey Baum’s Theme” honor surf pioneers such as Davie Allan and the Arrows and Dick Dale and the Del-Tones.
But for all the puns of their name and lighthearted summertime fun that the album musically conveys, the members of Guantanamo Baywatch take their roles in the group surprisingly seriously. They’re not actually quirky caricatures of themselves, as might be expected. In fact, Darling…It’s Too Late is the most deliberate album the band has ever made.
Wiseman and Scott call from the road. Scott is at the helm, driving their car from San Francisco back to the band’s house back in Portland, Ore. after their recent tour of Australia. Unlike Guantanamo Baywatch’s first mostly unknown LP (which was recorded after the band had only been together for two months, never mastered, and released on a tiny Portland punk label) or 2012’s last LP_ Chest Crawl_, Darling…It’s Too Late received a professional release.
“We kind of didn’t know what to do or where to record,” Scott begins. But pals like fellow Suicide Squeeze label-mates The Coathangers and Burger Records’ Curtis Harding referred the trio to Atlanta’s Living Room Recording where they worked with Ben Coleman, Justin McKneight, and Ed Rawls
“[Harding’s] record came out really great and that was kind of what we wanted—that old sound,” says Scott. “The Coathangers are friends of ours as well, and they recorded there. So our label was already used to working with them. It was an easy decision. We did a tour from Portland to Atlanta to make it worth our while.”
While in Atlanta, Harding actually came into the studio to record background vocals on “Too Late,” the lovechild of a sultry Marvin Gaye track and druggy Beach Boys song.
As Scott recalls, Harding just came in a couple hours late, “[sang] for about half an hour, and just killed it. He’s a real pro.”
But while Scott and Weisman head north from the Bay Area, Powell is driving back from Arizona, where he worked a quick side job in construction while picking up Guantanamo Baywatch’s new touring guitarist, Jordan Owens of Petty Things. Once they all get off the road, Powell, Weisman, and Scott will reconvene at their shared house in Southeast Portland before embarking on an extensive North American tour.
Living together, recording together, and touring together, Powell tells it like it is. “We totally get sick of each other!” he says while laughing.
Weisman counters with her own real talk: “It’s pretty stinky. There’s a lot of farts. I definitely know how guys talk about girls behind their backs. I’ve some insight on that.”
With a name like Guantanamo Baywatch, though, things can never be taken too seriously. Weisman seems to maintain her mediatory position in the group. “But,” she says, drawing out the word to create a moment of suspense before she asserts, “they’re not shitheads.”