Garage rock pioneers, the Sonics bring their fuzzy sound to The Blank Club.
These days, when a rock band wants distorted guitars or an overdriven vocal, they can simply kick on a stomp box or apply a digital effect to the mix. But back in 1960, when the Sonics were first developing the gritty sound that would come to be known as garage rock, there was really only one way to get that fuzzy tone—they had to crank up the volume.
“We got asked to turn down a lot,” Jerry Roslie, the group’s lead singer and keyboardist, recalls from his home in Tacoma, Wash., where the Sonics formed, and where he is currently taking a break before hitting the road again on a brief West Coast tour that will bring his band to The Blank Club on Aug. 13.
Back in the ’60s no one was used to such loud, grungy tones, he says. “So we said, ‘OK. We’ll turn it down,’ and then we didn’t.” It simply wouldn’t have felt right if they had acquiesced and heeded the protests of club owners, Roslie explains.
“It’s just the way it sounded good to us,” the singer continues, elaborating on his band’s preference for the loud and the rough. “If we played things lighter, it felt like, ‘Aw … Let’s sit down on a chair.’ It’s no fun. We liked to get up there and sweat a little bit. We don’t play any real spectacular, top-of-the-world jazz notes. It’s all feeling and all high energy.”
Indeed, the energy of the Sonics holds up. Their classic versions of garage rock staples “Louie Louie” and “Have Love Will Travel,” as well as originals, such as “Strychnine” and “The Witch,” have proven influential in the decades since. The sounds pioneered by the Sonics can be heard in the proto-punk of Iggy and The Stooges, the muddy tones of Nirvana and in contemporary garage revival acts like Thee Oh Sees.
Just as the Sonics influenced many bands that followed, they too drew on influences of their own. Roslie says his favorite two piano players were Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, and it shows.
Roslie says he was inspired by the frenetic piano playing and caterwauling vocal styles of both men. He and the Sonics only took that to its logical next step by turning the volume up to 11.