Published on July 22nd, 2013 | by PRESENCE0
Since they formed six short years ago surf-punk group The Drab Doo Riffs have accomplished plenty. The Auckland-based five-piece has opened for a string of big name acts including The Cult and Blondie, toured the country extensively, and apparently they have even licensed music to Mountain Dew soda. All fine notches but, somewhat surprisingly, they haven’t yet released an album. There is a method to the madness. The group, which is becoming increasingly known for its brand of 1960s throwback rock ‘n’ roll on hyperdrive, has just release the fourth in a series of well-received EPs. Speaking from his Thames home following the sell-out release party for the Aquatic Ape Theory EP, Drab Doo Riff ringleader Karl Steven explains that the shortened format suits the group’s punchy style.
“I guess it’s just unpretentious, that’s the way I feel about it, and it’s not intimidating for us as artists,” says Steven. “With an album you usually empty out your whole catalogue, unless you are incredibly prolific. You know, you take all your best songs and you use them up and then you are left with nothing and you have to start again. I don’t like that rhythm so much. By doing EPs we are always able to have a few up out sleeve for the next record.”
This latest release is a darker affair than the group’s previous offerings. Strong surf riffs rip through the 18-minute EP that could be considered a return to the group’s roots on the heels of 2011 release A Fistful of Doo Riffs – a record noted for its nod to the Spaghetti Western. From start to finish Aquatic Ape Theory explores the somewhat stunted progression of the human beast. The Doo Riffs even created their own genre to describe the sound: surf-noir. However, when pushed a little further about the origins of the calamitous songs, Steven clams up. “They come from the place where songs come from … It’s just regular person’s problems turned into a regular person’s music, I guess.” Missing from the new EP is Steven’s distinctive harmonica, an instrument that has featured heavily in previous recordings. “It’s totally an accident,” he says. “I just forget to write it in to the songs. The same thing happened in Supergroove, I just forgot to put it in, but ah, I’m going to make a renewed effort to put the harmonica in.”
While on the subject of his former group, Steven says despite the creeping success of The Drab Doo Riffs he isn’t too worried that he still gets pointed to as “the skinny white guy from Supergroove”.”The past never goes away, I’ve discovered. I guess it was a popular band, and when I die if I get to have a little thing on the news then they will probably play ‘You’ve Got To Know to Understand’ or something. I’ve come to terms with that.” In 2010 Steven told New Zealand Musician that ultimately the major success of Supergroove was what resulted in the shine wearing off. With the Doo Riffs he has managed to walk the line between commercial popularity and alternative airplay. And they definitely look like they are still having fun.
On stage Steven comes to life, dressed in a slim suit and wearing small round tinted spectacles he constantly bends and warps his microphone stand as he carries out his madcap performance. “I don’t know where it comes from,” he says. “It’s just me being myself while the music is playing. Sometimes I worry that it’s too friendly and it almost breaks the spell of the music, and then I think ‘ahh fuck it just be yourself and everyone else can deal with it’.” Meanwhile, the rest of the band is just as much a twisted spectacle. Beside Steven on centre stage, back-up singer Caoimhe Macfehin (Heart Attack Alley) goes into full evangelical-esque trembles. Bassist Marcus Joyce (The Boxcar Guitars) flings around his long blonde hair and drummer Mikey Sperring (Don Julio and the Hispanic Mechanic) goes to town on the skins. Lucy Stewart (Evil Twins, Las Tetas) on guitar probably appears the most stoic on stage – ever the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll cool. The band’s notoriety for live wire performances means they pack-out joints like the Kings Arms and Galatos with a broad mix off people. “I think maybe sometimes people come out of morbid curiosity. Like its a band that’s like a circus act, like ‘see the bearded woman’ or something’,” Steven says. “But we do get people introducing themselves afterwards and saying how much they enjoy the surf music and it’s not just some music of now that could only appeal to the people of now.”
The five talented musicians don’t only impress on stage, they do a remarkable job of translating that energy to tape, as proved on Aquatic Ape Theory. Recorded between the well-equipped York Street and Montage studios the EP oozes exuberance.
“I think it’s the one we are the most proud of. I think its got the best songs on it.” says Stevens. “Everyone is playing better too… both the songwriting becomes a bit stronger and pushes us more as musicians.”
In their continued homage to the old school the group have also made the decision to release the EP strictly on vinyl, with the assistance of 1:12 Records who have conducted Tennessee pressings of records for Auckland bands Gaytime and The Raw Nerves, both of which were mastered by Steven.
“We think it’s the best format. That’s how we like it to sound. It does sound quite different off digital and off vinyl. And when we listen to it on vinyl, we go ‘yes this is correct’.” The 10″ record sleeve is wonderfully illustrated by bassist Joyce, who also created a promo video for Aquatic Ape Theory.
“I encourage people to watch that because we are very proud of it, but he is making a video at the moment, it is nearly finished, for the song ‘Tesla Girl’, which is like a sequel. That will be something to keep an eye out for.”
Beyond that, only time travel could help predict the next stage of evolution for the Drab Doo Riffs … but it’s unlikely we will see an album in the near future.
Written by Danielle Street