Guantanamo Baywatch started with two movie theater ushers with a burning desire to play surf rock.
Jason Powell was in Portland, OR for school. He was working at an art movie theater and had a taste for shredding surf rock melodies. His fellow usher Chevelle Wiseman also had a feel for sea-punk grooves, so he asked if she wanted to play a show sometime together. He gave her a quick lesson on bass and decided to pick up the guitar. They played what he called the worst show in all of Portland—but it didn’t matter, they caught the surf rock bug.
“It was like, ‘let’s do another show and then another one,’ and we were terrible, like the worst band in Portland, seriously, really really bad—you could ask anybody, just so terrible,” Powell tells BTRtoday. “Then we just kept doing it cause it was fun and kept learning … and after a while it was like we were actually playing shows at bars and stuff.”
Drummer Chris Scott later joined and Guantanamo Baywatch has since blossomed into one of the best surf rock bands on the scene today. They released their debut record Postcard From The Tar Pitz in 2010, preceded by a very DIY tour, and then their sophomore album Chest Crawl in 2012. They were signed to Suicide Squeeze Records where they released their third album Darling… It’s Too Late in 2015 and their most recent album Desert Center just last year.
Guantanamo Baywatch, “Too Late”
Darling… It’s Too Late is composed of intricate surf rock tunes that set the mood for any beach romance. The guitars shred like Dick Dale while the melodies stay smooth like Elvis in Blue Hawaii. Their songs can be tragic, romantic and comical all-in-one.
Guantanamo Baywatch’s heart is in their high energy and rowdy live shows. “It’s such an important part of the band [playing live], that’s mostly what the band is,” Powell says. He adds that Darling… It’s Too Late was difficult to translate onto the stage.
“It was super cool to do an album [Darling…It’s Too Late] like that—like, ‘let’s just do whatever we want to do,’” Powell says. “But with Desert Center I was like, ‘man, I want to write songs that are really fun to play live and will go good in a set.’”
Desert Center, released last summer, dives deeper into the dark depths of this punk rock beach Guantanamo Baywatch has created. The songs are simple surf rock instrumentals with a dark edge of fuzzed-out guitars and beats sounding like the drums of war. Of course, it’s still surfy as hell. Starting with the melodic Conquistador and ending with the lively “The Australian,” the album is like an enthralling book that leaves you on a cliffhanger. Tracks like “Neglect” and “Blame Myself” in between bring a more sensitive feel, but in the fun and relatable way of doo-wop songs of the ‘50s.
As for the band name, Powell says it was just a drunk choice that he thought was funny. “We get so much shit for it, it’s funny—I just think it’s dumb,” he says. “If you think you don’t like the name, I definitely like it less than you do.”
Guantanamo Baywatch, “Video”
Guantanamo Baywatch is spread out in the world, but still going stronger than ever. Wiseman now lives in Australia, Scott is in Long Beach, CA and Powell moved to Los Angeles. Powell says they’ve been a band for so long it’s easy for them to be apart for months and then meet up one day and get right back into the swing of playing.
“We’ve played these songs like a million times,” he confesses. “It takes us like a few hours and then we’re like, ‘oh yeah, I remember how to play this stuff’—mostly our practices are just like trying to learn some new stuff so it’s fun and stays exciting.”
The trio had a busy 2017 touring all over the U.S. for Desert Center. This year they played SXSW and have since returned to their perspective homes. Powell says the band has a tendency to go a few years before releasing new material, but he is constantly writing.
In the meantime, he suggests checking out the rest of the family on Suicide Squeeze. Also, tune in to this week’s The Music Meetup to hear the entire interview with Powell and to listen to all of Guantanamo Baywatch’s Desert Center.