In the modern day, surf rock is presented with all types of different variations and heavily distorted guitars; however, the Flusters like to keep their surf rock genuine, with a little bit of singer-songwriter thrown into the mix. They’ll be playing at the Mary Pickford Theatre this Friday, July 31.
When I showed up to an apartment complex down the street from The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert to interview the band, I had no idea that I would get to hear them play during what the band calls “silent practice.” All of the members play through a mixing board connected to headphones, and the drums are electronic.
While the Coachella Valley is known for its desert rock past, the Flusters are winning people over with their top notch surf rock sound and have been gigging around the desert, including playing DooWop in the Desert back in February.
Lead vocalist/guitarist Doug VanSant talked about what makes the Flusters genuine. He explained that it derived from watching Quentin Tarantino’s films such as Pulp Fiction, which features a heavy surf rock soundtrack. “I saw Tarantino’s films and I liked the cool vibe; it was cool and it will always be cool,” VanSant said. “In my opinion, there’s been nothing tacky about surf rock. I don’t know what made me want to capitalize on that more once I moved out here to California from Philadelphia, but for me, it really started with Roy Orbison and Dick Dale. They were 2 very big influences for me.”
Speaking of Dick Dale, guitarist Danny White recently toured with Dick Dale as a roadie/tech. “I was lucky enough to get to do that in April. It was a trip, it was a lot of fun, and it was a huge learning experience,” White said. “I wasn’t playing; I was doing roadie work and guitar tech work. It was a lot of work and it was long days and non-stop driving, loading, and unloading. To be honest, I had never heard of Dick Dale until I moved to California from Mississippi. There’s a lot of blues influence with the way I play, some jazz, and some rock and roll.
How did the Flusters build their sound? VanSant said it was from one of the songs in their repertoire.
“We just kind of came together and the project really started with our song ‘Everyday Dreaming.’
I knew that I was really good at doing tones, rakes, and that stuff. But I really didn’t want to do that reggae singer-songwriter thing that everybody in the fucking world does, and every starting out band says they’re a reggae rock band. That shit is cool – don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to take those kind of techniques and add a different aesthetic to that. I had the Fender guitar and it offered the perfect tone, and I kind of had the voice to sing these kinds of ballads. From there, we just kind of built the Flusters.”
The Flusters aren’t out to modernize surf rock, they aren’t into heavy distortion; they’re into the cool vibe of it.
“Anybody who does it – Reverend Horton Heat does it, and all those modern surf rock bands really wail out,” Van Sant said. “Ours is definitely a lot leaner and more of a surf rock/pop sound. The Beach Boys were a huge influence to me, and even modern bands like Grizzly Bear, you can hear the Brian Wilson influence in that. Their arrangements are genius and that surf rock aesthetic is just super cool. I love power girl bands like Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast; they’re new bands out there now and I fucking love that, they’re definitely an inspiration to me.”
The other members of the Flusters didn’t come from surf rock backgrounds. Chris O’Sullivan, the band’s drummer, has a different background altogether.
“I’ve played music since I was 16, I went to Musicians Institute in Hollywood, and I was on tour in Europe for a while for almost 4 years,” O’Sullivan said. “Before I went to school, I played mostly metal and was a total metalhead. After I went to school, I started learning samba, jazz, and blues. I stopped listening to metal and I ran into Doug; he wanted to start a band and I just kind of started trying to pick it up as much as I can.”
Coming back to the band’s “silent practices,” the reason for them is the fact they practice in an apartment. VanSant said there’s a payoff to them.
“There were a lot of reasons, but mostly so we could play whenever we want and not have to worry about being kicked out of the place or be bothered by neighbors. Chris also has this electric kit on top of his other drum kits. This is not what you’d call an active playing space, and in places like Philadelphia or Seattle where I’ve had bands before, there’s a lot of active playing space in the communities. The art scenes in both those cities have active spaces for this kind of thing. In the end, this is a money saver and we’re building on our self-sufficiency. We have a P.A. system, we have an electronic kit, and a lot of what we do is vocally driven. So for me to dial in my vocals along with my effects to how I want to hear them in practices is really nice. We can export to a Mac and have live recordings of all our rehearsals and put out a decent demo.”
VanSant said that the response they have gotten from their music has been welcoming.
“People don’t believe what they hear and not in the sense of ‘Oh my god, you’re metal gods melting our faces with your craziness.’ They don’t expect to hear what the Flusters produce. It’s such an authentic surf rock sound mixed with an indie and psychedelic sound. I don’t know what they expect, but they don’t expect what they hear, and people have been great to us. People have asked to play, play again, and play again.”
Chris O’Sullivan grew up in the desert, and he knows what the majority of local venues and the people who go to them expect to hear.
“When people go to shows, they expect to hear a certain sound out here. They either expect metal or some kind of desert rock. We don’t meet that criteria at all. People don’t expect it and I think it really works.”
There is a new member in the band. Mario Estrada is the band’s new bassist.
“I come from more of an alternative and progressive rock background. I’m always playing weird shit and when I started playing with these guys, they were like, ‘It’s going to be some more mellow stuff.’ It’s slower, it’s not as complex, but it’s nice. I can feel out the notes, go all over the place, and it feels a lot more authentic.”
Van Sant said that Estrada has been a great addition for the band in the short time he’s played with them.
“Mario has been really good and he’s a total professional, and I’m not just saying that to kiss his ass. I’m just saying it honestly. He stepped into this band like 2 weeks ago and learned our pre-existing tunes, which helped us flush out our newer stuff. Our original bass player got too busy with work moving around million dollar art pieces all over the country. He got really busy. With Mario, we not only have bass, but we have vocals from him too. It’s really helped me out because a lot of our songs are vocally driven. He’s really a good addition and we’re happy to have him.”
When will we get to hear an actual recording of the Flusters? VanSant said it’s in the works but that they haven’t started recording yet.
“It depends on what we do. I’m hearing 2 albums spring to life here, and one is going to be a heavy surf EP, and from that is springing another one that has this Mazzy Star, psychedelic pop album. There’s an obvious divide from both of those styles, but it’s 2 albums. We’re already growing as a band and we haven’t even completed one album, which is a good sign. I’m so happy we’re rooted in the sounds we’re rooted in as a band.”
VanSant also said that the presentation of the music is also important to him and something he’s passionate about.
“I want to record as much in analog as we can and I want to press some vinyl. I want to make something. An MP3 is a file, and it’s cool and I get it, but I want to make a fucking piece of plastic that is a real thing we made, and no matter where we go in life, we can say, ‘We made this fucking record!’ These amps, this equipment – this shit has been used since the fucking ‘50s, and I love that. It hasn’t changed because the shit works. I’m so die hard about that timelessness and those types of things. The richness that comes out of that music if you do it the right way and you let others hear it the way it should be heard. I’m not saying I won’t put out MP3s, but I want to be able to transfer to vinyl and have it sound good. It’s really important to me to have an authentic sound.”
While it sounds like we may have to wait awhile, the wait will be worth it.