The Vandelles ride a different kind of wave

Technicolor noir
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  October 5, 2011

SURF’S DOWN Rather than singing about catching waves, the Vandelles want to make music that hits you like one. 

If you were listening to the audio version of this interview, you might find yourself sifting through lots of reverb and the rumble of a passing motorcycle. You might have to strain your ears a little bit. But lucky for us, the words are behaving themselves well enough to give us a clear snapshot of the fast-moving Vandelles, Brooklyn's spookiest "surf" band, which rides into P.A.'s Lounge this Friday.

With only one full-length album (last year's self-released, fuzz-infested Del Black Aloha) and two EPs under their belt (including most recently, the poppier Summer Fling), the Vandelles have a history that goes back further than their catalog and recent SXSW acclaim suggests. Main songwriter/architect "Jasno" Suarez (guitar/vocals) and "Lulu" Lapin (bass/vocals) have logged enough shows in the back-biting New York/Brooklyn rock scene to have earned a little attitude, but fortunately they are still green enough to be as nice as pie. Talking from their publicist's office in New York, they even laugh as they catch themselves forgetting their stage names. No, kids, you're not the Cramps yet.

The Vandelles' name accurately conjures a cross between the downtown smarts of Martha and the Vandellas and the surliness of a B-label early '60s rock-and-roll band. Their roots go back to undergrad years at Rutgers in the early aughts, but by mid-decade, Brooklyn became a logical base for the quartet (drummer Honey Valentine and guitarist Christo Buffam, formerly of Boston's Sanguine Drone, round out the stylish outfit). Suarez was the last to make the transition to the city, reluctant to give up the waves around the New Jersey coastal town of Rumson. Unlike most of the Beach Boys, Suarez actually surfs. And along those waves and during long drives to shows around the New York metro area, a sound was building in his head.

"We are really trying to touch on this oceanic version of surf music that encompasses a larger feel than the beat sound of the early 1960s," says Suarez. By "oceanic" in this context, one might liken the ocean's incessant wash to the heaping shovels of sympathetic white noise evident in groups like Jesus and Mary Chain and Suicide — groups whose influence has no doubt had an impact on the Vandelles' dark, loud, noir-pop sound.

Early on, the Vandelles got a lot of funny looks when they told people they were interested in the primitive early surf of Link Wray and Davie Allan. Although the popularity of Wavves and Best Coast help the Vandelles describe their surf hook a little more easily, the more rocking Vandelles often got lumped into the "psych" genre just because they have a lot of fuzz pedals. "There was nothing else that we fit with," says Lapin. "I think actually being in that [scene] changed the way that we write a little bit and the way that we were going."

Sometimes defining a sound just requires a little bit of reclaiming. Suarez remembers watching a YouTube clip of the Beach Boys being interviewed during one of their first trips to England, when a journalist asked Brian Wilson to describe "surf music."

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