Sometimes the best way to build a local band is to move to L.A.
Music | by Gregory Beatty
Surf Dads’ band origin story has a kinda “absence makes the heart grow fonder” thing going on. Or maybe it’s “absence makes a band get stronger.”
Principles Gage McGuire (guitars, vocals) and Chris Dimas (drums) both have roots in Regina’s music scene dating back to their pre-teen years. They’ve been fans of and guest musicians with Alexisonfire and Billy Talent, respectively, and eventually formed their own hardcore band, Bermuda Love.
Then, after playing together for a couple of years, Dimas moved to Los Angeles to live and study. Was it the end? Durr, obviously not since they’re on the cover of this newspaper.
“We kept in touch and started talking about putting together a more popular project instead of harder stuff,” Dimas recalls. “We made our first EP when I came home for Christmas in 2014. We put it out, and our friends really liked it.”
Dimas returned to L.A. but the two continued to collaborate.
“Gage sent me his vocal, guitar and bass recordings, and I put drums on it and mixed everything on the computer, and we made our second EP,” says Dimas.
As the band’s name implies, Surf Dads was conceived as a surf rock project, an infectious genre Dimas contracted in L.A. But as they’ve continued to record and perform, their sound has continued to evolve — one music journalist recently described it as “Weezer on speed”.
Some of that evolution is surely due to Dimas returning to Regina to live and work. The long-distance rock affair has come home. The result: Surf Dad’s catalogue currently stands at four EPs and one full-length. The group plays the release show for its fifth EP, Long Weekend, at the Exchange on July 7. Surf Dads also hits the Gateway festival later this month.
“I feel like maybe we got the best of both worlds,” Dimas says. “Gage and I do different things and don’t see each other every day. So we do get that separation we had before. When we saw each other then we had so many ideas to bounce back and forth, but when we’re in the same city we can just do them and it’s quick.”
Dimas has a home studio, and that’s where Surf Dads practice and record.
“I’m not the strongest lyricist, so Gage handles most of that,” he says. “The songwriting process for us is we figure out the music and sit on it for a few days, then the vocal melodies come into our heads and the lyrics come last. Then when we start recording, we might decide a tambourine would sound good at a certain point, or an extra guitar part or vocal harmony.
“We’ve kind of found our way of doing things. It works really well for us.”
Surf Dads did switch things up with their 2017 full-length All Day Breakfast.
“We went with our good friend Rob Morrison [as producer],” says Dimas. “We did the drums at CBC and guitars at the Exchange, and everything else at his house. He taught us a lot, and it was nice to get out of our comfort zone of recording in my basement. We had some collaboration with members of Library Voices and Rah Rah too, so that was a sweet learning experience.”
Long Weekend Love
Dimas and McGuire are joined on Long Weekend by Nolan Grad (lead guitar) and Daegan Harper (bass). The EP has four songs, and Dimas says there’s a dual theme.
“There’s definitely a [sense] of loss, but also the idea of things not being so bad. In the band, we’re all pretty much party people so with the first half we tried to have a party vibe. It’s like, you’re at the party and things are great, then the second half is when you’re leaving and you’re starting to think a bit.
“In the third song, “Such a Dream”, there’s a sweet contrast where the first half is happy-sounding and the second half has a more serious tone,” Dimas adds. “I like that our band is able to do that because I feel like people who are usually genuinely happy have some days where they’re not necessarily sad, but they do think about things.”
Andrew Perry has directed a sharp-looking video for “Hold On To Me”. It has a dating site concept.
“Andy’s really into colours, and had all these paper sheets,” says Dimas. “Then we improvised little skits. We shot it in about four hours, and it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had. Sometimes making a video isn’t fun, but that one was.”
Into The BBQ
Surf Dads are doing it up big for their Exchange gig, with a pre-show barbecue and two stages: one inside, the other outside under a tent. Some of the bands on the 10-act bill are on Dimas and McGuire’s label Grind Central Records, while others are local favourites.
Dimas describes Grind Central as something he and McGuire started for fun. But in cities Regina’s size, small labels are a key part of the music ecosystem.
“Harvest King Records helped Gage out when he was in his first hardcore band, and they helped my hardcore band book our first tour when we were 16,” Dimas says. “Our label hasn’t been around long enough to do that, but I hope we can continue to help bands in Regina and maybe eventually from outside the city release their music.”
Dimas and McGuire have already tested out their new material at Canadian Music Week and NXNE showcases in Toronto in May and June. Those shows came on the heels of visits to Germany and the United Kingdom to play shows and festivals in 2016–17 with support from SaskMusic and Creative Saskatchewan.
“We actually played the first two songs on the EP live in February, and they became favourites to include in our set,” says Dimas. “Then we played “Liars” at our Toronto shows and it went over really well. For this show we’ll be throwing in the fourth song, “Such a Drain”.
“We’ve been playing our other songs live for quite awhile now, so it’s refreshing to have some new songs to play.”
The Queen City scene couldn’t agree more.