By the time three of the original members of The Sonics — Gerry Roslie, Rob Lind, and Larry Parypa — entered the studio to record This Is The Sonics, nearly a half-century had passed since the garage-rock paragons last made a studio album. The ebbs and flows of popular music tastes that occurred during the band’s long hiatus were intermittently kind to the sounds created by the Tacoma, Washington ensemble in the mid-1960s.
In fact, over the years, a predictable pattern emerged: Every decade or so, for a while, popular music becomes so staid, so predictable, so square, as to elicit a reactionary preference for an emerging sound — usually much more daring, unceremonious, and often frivolous — made by musicians who, when listing divergent influences, often include one band: The Sonics. (Nirvana — whose lead singer was a huge Sonics fan — replacing Paula Abdul atop Billboard charts in the early ’90s may be the most apt example of this oscillating musical trend.)
Menacing attitudes and unconventional abrasive sounds created by The Sonics and their early garage-rock peers (The Kingsmen, The Wailers, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and others of that ilk), have for years been templates for musical counterpunches of punk, grunge, and garage-rock revivals of the ’70s and ’80s.
So it was in 2015, with many musicians from rock-chart toppers The Black Keys to indie music darling Ty Segall singing their praises, the now-septuagenarians entered the studio to record their first album of new material since disbanding 49 years ago to attend college, join other bands, or, in Lind’s case, fight in Vietnam and eventually become a commercial airline pilot. With former Dirtbombs’ bassist and White Stripes producer Jim Diamond at the helm, The Sonics set out to fill the room with their fuzzy, grimy, oft-aped rock. The result is a record that Pitchfork says “spits, snarls, drools, honks, wails, and screams as if it were 1966 all over again.”
It’ll be atop this wave of renewed energy and relevance that The Sonics blast into Northeast Florida in support of an appearance by Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters on Sunday, March 6 at St. Augustine Amphitheatre.
Sonics’ saxophonist Lind talked to Folio Weekly Magazine about how the proto-punks came to pair with the mercurial Plant, as well as the new album and what it’s like to make teenage garage-rock at 72.
Folio Weekly Magazine: How did the whole Robert Plant thing happen?
Rob Lind: For some reason, Robert has had a passing interest in The Sonics for some time. A couple of years ago, we did an interview with Rolling Stone and the writer had to cancel … because he had to run over to London to do an interview with Robert Plant. When he sat down, the first thing Robert asked was, “How are The Sonics doing?” Then last summer, Robert did a full North American tour; The Pixies opened for him. The last four or five days [of the tour], The Pixies had to drop out. So, Robert’s people called us and asked if we wanted to play a bunch of shows and we said, “Oh, sure, of course. Who do we have to kill?” [Laughs.] About two months ago, our business manager called and said, “Robert is doing a tour of the South and he wants you to join him for the whole tour.” Again, we said, “Who do we have to kill?”
You said Plant admired you guys. Was Led Zeppelin something you listened to after you stopped playing with The Sonics?
I was drafted into the Vietnam War and enlisted in the Navy, went to Officer Candidate School was a Navy pilot. The other guys went to college and joined other bands. So we just kind of stopped playing. There was no animosity. That was right at the end of ’67. When Led Zeppelin first got to turning into monsters that was the mid-’70s. I was deep into the Navy. But, to answer your question, I was very aware of what they [Led Zeppelin] were doing. And I’m a rock-’n’-roll guy, so I really loved their songs.
What are some differences recording the new album and recording 49 years ago?
Primarily, the difference is technology. When we did those first albums, when you made a mistake, you had to stop and redo the whole thing. For instance, when we recorded “Keep A-Knockin’,” we just killed Jerry [Roslie], who was screaming his guts out. It’s much, much easier now, because you can just go back to that part where you messed up, and just redo it.
Do you find that, since part of the appeal of garage rock has to do with mistakes and rawness, the technology hindered you?
We were aware of that, but no. One of the mistakes for a band like us is if you try to make everything too perfect. We’re not The Eagles. We’re not going do six-part harmonies and overdub some more. For us, we have to go in there and go for it. We just have to be who we are.
What were you listening to when you made those albums in the ’60s?
Back then, we were doing three or four sets in a show. So we had to have a lot of songs. We loved Little Richard. We liked Jerry Lee Lewis. And some of the R&B stuff, as long as it had power. We did the whole Rolling Stones songbook. [Laughs.] We did some Beatles stuff, but stayed away from the “Eleanor Rigby” stuff. We just liked the stuff that rocked.
Have you listened to any garage-rock revival stuff like The Cramps from the late ’70s, or late ’80s Gories? Have you listened to ’90s Seattle grunge? Are there bands you like now that might influence The Sonics’ sound?
No, we pretty closely guard our style. So we are pretty careful about that. But I’m proud of those Seattle guys. I got out of the service and here are all the guys: Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney. We’ve always been proud of those guys … We were never able to get out of Seattle and those guys did.
All the bands from the 1960s garage-rock era were so young; teens, almost exclusively. It was music made by young kids. Now that you’re older, how has your approach to rock changed?
Well, we’ve gotten back to playing music late in life and we just feel really lucky. We started in the ’60s, got back together after other careers, in 2005. Now it’s 2016 and we’ve got a lot of experience to bring to the music. We’re pretty solid as to who we are and what we want to play.