The Aqua Velvets play surf-styled music in the classic sense: driving beats, simple melodies, and lots of reverberating boss guitar. The brainchild of guitarist Miles Corbin, they keep the spirit of surf alive by mixing classic tunes with new Corbin creations to establish a cool vintage sound which is undeniably retro. Their latest album is a collection of 23 live tunes as performed on two California radio shows during the 1990s, namely the Phil Dirt Show on KFJC and Sandy Miranda's show on KPFA. Also included is a bonus disc which contains the Velvets' rendition of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.
So how does a band meld the sweet surf sounds of Walk Don't Run to the grunge angst of Nirvana? Only Miles Corbin knows the answer...
I guess the first natural question is why instrumental surf music?
Actually, I would describe our music as neo-surf spagetti western secret agent b-movie soundtrack music. We play it, 'cause it's fun and it sounds cool, and people seem to really dig it.
How did the Radio Waves disc come about? How does it feel playing live on the radio as opposed to playing in front of an audience or in the studio?
I was literally cleaning my garage about a year ago and came across a box of tapes from various radio programs we had performed on dating back to 1992. I had the idea of putting the them all on one CD and the title came to me...seemed appropriate. After 4 studio produced, polished albums, we thought it would be cool to put out kind of an anthology of live stuff. Playing live on the radio is interesting, there is no audience in front of you, but a huge audience listening in, so you reach thousands of people in one performance. It reminds me of the early days of radio when big bands would perform live on the radio from NY, before the days of television. It's all live, no retakes, so it's exciting and I think you get an energized performance, and the recording equipment in radio studios is usually pretty good, so we were able get quality recordings.
I see a few standard classics on your disc like Walk Don't Run and Pipeline along with your originals. Do you find your audience gravitating to the old familiar tunes, or do they respond well to your stuff?
We do almost all originals when performing, we throw in a few oldies for fun, in the beginning of the band, these are the ones that people recognized, but now most of the people who come to our shows have several of our CDs, and know all our originals, which is very gratifying.
Is your audience mostly old surfer dudes, or do you have a good mix?
At our most recent shows, i would say its an even mix of dudes and dudettes, mostly between the ages 0f 21- 40. thats the club going crowd, you know.
How does one translate Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit into surf?
When sifting through the old live tapes, I heard a short version of Teen Spirit we jammed on for a soundcheck on the Phil Dirt show. This was in '92 and it was still a current song on the radio & MTV. I thought that sounds cool, we should really do that, so 10 years later we performed it live for the first time at the Sweetwater, and it was recorded, and made it onto the bonus disc on Radio Waves. Any great song will translate into a great instrumental. Ive heard jazz covers of Nirvana as well. Kurts tunes I think are particulary good, he was a very talented writer.
Besides Nirvana, your more obvious influences would appear to be the Ventures and Dick Dale. Who else would you consider to be important inspirations?
Other inspirations would be film composers like Ennio Morricone (Good, Bad, the Ugly), Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks) , John Barry (early James Bond), people like that. I actually started the Aqua Velvets as a studio project to demonstrate my ideas for film composing. It later became an actual live band. Our recordings have ended up in a lot of TV and indie film scores.
Do you have a particular songwriting method?
With the writing, I generally start with a rythm and a chord proression, and then write a melody to it. I make a 4 track demo of the song and then show it to my producing partner Michael, who plays bass in the band. The song evolves from there and when the full band plays the song , it evolves more and more. When we play live, we improvise alot, turning a 4 minute song into a 10 minute one. The AVs are a great jamming band, that's the part that's pure Fun!!
Do you use vintage gear to get that sound?
We use a lot of vintage amps, and some vintage guitars. In the studio we combine older recording gear with the latest technology.
Where are you touring? What about your next studio release?
We plan to play live a lot this year on the West Coast. We spent many years close to home, in the recording studio, and are just now getting out of town. When we played in Los Angeles recently, people were seeing us for the first time, and they had all 5 CDs, plus my solo CD Tiki Hut. It was amazing. We have a lot of fans out there, which I am very greatful for, and we look forward to seeing them more this year. We are about 1/2 way thru our next CD, which will be a double studio CD, to be released probably in summer of 2003. I think the audience for this kind of music is growing more each year. Its a Tidal Wave in the making!