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Surf Monsters

Pablo Jakobson
Preston

"I like music that makes me feel like there's a soundtrack to my life," says Deep Sixes bassist Pablo Jakobson. "And when you're playing spy music or surf music or exotica lounge music, it makes you feel like the film of your life is cool. It lends itself to feeling hip. Nothing's changed since the '50s; whether you're young or old, you want to feel hip. It's about cool."

Jakobson and guitarist Adrian Dunham provide the Deep Sixes with a hefty dollop of cool. The all-instrumental surf quartet passes along panache to hepcats and kitties on a regular basis, taking pains to offer something more than just twangy, reverb-laden guitar riffs over chunky-style rhythms. Live, the Deep Sixes astound audiences with a lowbrow multimedia blitz, featuring dancers, cult films, and beach iconography aplenty.

The group has been around just a little more than a year, headquartering at Jakobson's suburban Delray Beach home. But the two primary protagonists are far from native: Dunham's résumé includes a tour of duty with the Mugwumps, a Connecticut outfit specializing in rock-steady and ska. He also played in that area's tougher, psychedelic-tinged Dementia 13 before moving to South Florida two years ago. Jakobson was born and raised in New York City, growing up with the late-'70s/early-'80s punk scene and then dance hall reggae. When the two hooked up in 1998, they soon discovered they were kindred spirits.

"When we met we made the connection that we came from similar musical backgrounds," Jakobson notes. "The only difference is that I'm 37 years old, and Adrian's 21. For a long time down here, I was looking for a guitar player to play with. I viewed myself as the old, jaded musician with a little bit of attitude. I needed to meet a young, really talented guy who knows what time it is and just wants to play."

In the beginning the two started down the punk road but soon realized it wouldn't take them anywhere interesting.

"It wasn't working," Jakobson recalls. "But Adrian had been toying around with [a song called] "Walk Don't Run,' and one day he just whipped it out and I went into it. When we played the tape of what we had done in the studio that day, everything kinda sucked -- except for "Walk Don't Run.' Adrian and I were, like, "Wow, we love surf, and we can't find a good singer...' Then one day something was channeled. I kicked into a bass line and Adrian came up with a line, and the next thing we knew, we had written this deep, old-sounding surf song. That was it, man."

The duo quickly located some fertile turf between old-school purism and the new breed of rockabilly and surf music.

"Whatever we're into, we're really into the purest, original form of that music," Jacobson explains. "Not that we don't appreciate third-wave ska -- if it's good -- but we're really into the Skatalites. It's the same thing with surf. We talk about surf to people, and they don't even know what we're talking about: "Like the Beach Boys?' The worst thing is when we have to refer to Pulp Fiction and then they go, "Oh, that music. I like that.' But they're not hip to it. We're really into the deep, rare surf, and surf was really the alternative music of that time. Surf was instrumental, it was raucous, there was a whole vibe behind it, so we connected in that sense."

Boning up on Dick Dale and the Ventures, Jakobson and Dunham also studied the new surf vanguard, including the Bomboras, the Mermen, Los Straitjackets, the Fathoms, the Exotics, Man or Astroman?, and the Phantom Surfers. They quickly teamed up with drummer Laurie Nelson to form a trio. To fill in the sonic thin spots, the three cranked it up.

"Dick Dale is a surf trio on his own, an entity of surf power, and one of the keys to that is playing loud," Jakobson relates. "We wrote songs that allowed us to do that. We played surf but almost at a hardcore volume."

After a brief incarnation as Fireball X15, the three quickly completed a short, nine-song album earlier this year titled The Monstrous Surfing Sounds of... the Deep Sixes. The phrase "From the depths of the sea... A TIDAL WAVE OF TERROR!" also adorns the cover. The fun begins with the sharp spiky notes of "Molokai," which campily recalls both the Batman and Munsters TV show themes. "Reef Rash" outlines a Morricone twang with an almost Latin twist. "Andele" is a slinky little number in which the guitar line takes on a lyrical voice and narrates a briny tale all its own. And we mustn't forget "The Shimmy," which evokes the shapely swagger of the band's go-go dancing sidekicks. With only one tune forging past the three-minute mark, the disc is over in a spray of foam and seaweed. The Deep Sixes' proper full-length, which the band is now recording, promises to provide a meatier platter.

That record will feature the fiery fretwork of a second guitarist, Brian Kellenberger, brought in at the beginning of the summer to shore up the simmering surf. "We were starting to write music that really called for a second guitar," Dunham says. When Kellenberger auditioned, following a succession of nightmarishly bad players, he made a strong impression. "He had a bunch of surf chops all ready to go," Dunham enthuses. "He came in and just immediately started rippin'."

But just two months ago, Nelson decided she'd had enough of the SoFla surf scene. "She was very busy," explains Jakobson. "She had a job and a relationship and another life outside of rock 'n' roll. We were playing gigs in Tampa and Orlando, plus we'd play the Poor House on a Wednesday night until 4:30 in the morning, and she'd have to be at work at 7. I think she was starting to get burnt."

Luckily the remaining Deep Sixes were already eyeballing another drumsticker. "Adrian and I had been seeing the Dillingers for years and diggin' those guys," Jakobson explains. "When we first started playing, we used to go watch George [Anderson] play the drums, and we were, like, "That's the drummer we need.' We lusted after him in the background, we got to know him, and eventually we brought him in and rehearsed, and he was really turned on to it. So Laurie quit on a Wednesday at about three in the morning -- between the second and third set at the Poor House. We had to go up to play with Skinny McGee and his Mayhem Makers up in Tampa two days later, but she was just done. We called George up and he was game, so we rehearsed Saturday morning and drove up there that night. It was seamless."

With the new lineup, the Deep Sixes crank into gear, ensuring that each show becomes an event. A month ago at Shakespeare's Pub in Wilton Manors, the group brought everything but sand dunes, sharks, and waves to create a seafaring vibe. Jakobson, burly and tattooed with slicked-back, jet black hair, appeared positively possessed as a gunmetal glint reflected off his Danelectro Longhorn bass -- a four-stringed ringer for Poseidon's trident. The baby-faced Dunham and his vintage Fender Jaguar completed the picture, along with a collection of tiki figures, beach gear, and '60s-era surf films. And, of course, go-go girls.

The Deep Sixes' two-headed surf monster decided early on to follow in the second-wave surf tradition of theatrical gimmickry. Los Straitjackets have their Mexican wrestling masks, the Phantom Surfers their purple tuxedos, Man or Astroman? their whole mad-scientist shtick. To the delight of their audiences, the Deep Sixes answered the call with a bevy of go-go dancers -- two for each show but rarely the same pair twice.

"We go through a lot of them," sighs Jakobson. "It's hard to keep a good go-go dancer, but that's another story. When you're a kid and you go buy cereal, do you want Raisin Bran or do you want Cap'n Crunch with the decoder ring? You have to add treats for people to create a vibe. That's what is so cool about what we do. I mean, we live tiki. We live surf. We like everything that goes along with it. I surf. I have tiki poles in my back yard and '50s bamboo furniture."

The go-go dancers only intensify the sultry seaside aura of the music. The tunes, surf movies, beach balls, and tiki motifs at Deep Sixes shows attract hordes of young women caught up in the surf/ rockabilly tradition of playing dress-up to scandalous effect.

"It's not testosterone-heavy music, so it's not a coincidence," Dunham notes.

"Our music is chick-friendly, and that's a good thing, you know what I mean?" Jakobson interjects, sounding very much like a dirty old man in training. "It keeps that sexual energy going."

"And go-go dancers set the pace for other women coming out and dancing," Dunham continues. "By being there and being sexy, they've become part of the performance."

Jakobson says the dancers have been unpaid, volunteering their skills for the cause. "I believe the girls who've danced for us have done it out of kindness and love for the music. They have our eternal gratitude -- and the gratitude of all the men who have watched them shimmy and shake their hips."

OK, so these guys' retro sounds are a lot more appealing than their retro views on gender relations. Nevertheless the entire Deep Sixes experience can still be summed up with the hipster buzzword that, like surf music, has endured from the '50s to the '00s: cool.


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