When the guys in the Sonics, the proto-garage rock band that formed in Tacoma, Wash. in 1960, first got together, they weren’t particularly good.
“We just played to our capacity, which wasn’t all that great in terms of our musicianship,” says founding guitarist Larry Parypa via phone. “We all just wanted to be aggressive. [Singer] Gerry [Roslie] and I always felt like we weren’t legitimate because we couldn’t play the tricky things that other people could play. We couldn’t play the rhythm and blues the way it should feel.”
And yet, the band’s unique approach meant that its music sounded drastically different from everything else that existed. The vocals were harsher, the drums were louder, the electric guitars were more distorted.
“We were doing things that nobody was doing back then,” says Parypa. “We had really loud drums. Back then, you didn’t have microphones in front of your drums. If you wanted to be loud, you had to hit them loud. I don’t remember anyone screaming like Gerry. We would do a minor chord progression whereas most people were doing major chord progressions. We were doing 1, 3,4 instead of 1,4,5 on most songs. It was different. When we played with the local bands who had top notch musicians with horns and everything else, we felt we couldn’t compete.”
Even without the ability to play their instruments as well as they would have liked, the guys still wanted to put forth their best effort. So when it came time to record 1967’s Introducing the Sonics
, they knew they should have had an arsenal of songs ready to go. But they didn’t. The album represents a low point in the band’s history. The group would dissolve in 1969.
“It’s a piece of garbage, but that didn’t make the band break up,” says Parypa when asked about the album. “It was just a symptom. We weren’t into it anymore. You can tell by that album. We changed labels and knew we had to go to Los Angeles to do an album. We didn’t exercise due diligence. We didn’t learn any songs until we got there and then we did a half-baked job at it. Larry Levine, the producer, didn’t know anything about how to create distortion, which is what we were searching for. The album is still out there but we wish it wasn’t.”
For years after the band split, Jon Weiss, the promoter behind the garage rock festival Cavestomp!, tried to get the group to reunite to play his festival. Back in 2007, Parypa said he’d think about it.
“We would always say no because that was another part of our lives, and we didn’t want to do that anymore,” he says. “He called in 2007 and, for whatever reason, I decided to talk to the other guys. Gerry and Rod came up to my house. We had to relearn everything. We told Jon we’d do some rehearsing together and would let him know by September if we could do it. It was a close call. When that time came, we told him we’d do it. It stemmed from that. When we got to that show, they had stage monitors. We never heard that before, and that freaked us out. Everything was really, really new.
This year, some 50 years since the release of their debut, they issued This Is the Sonics
, their first proper studio album in decades. Recorded in mono by Jim Diamond (White Stripes), the album still retains that raw power for which the band is known.
“[Diamond] seemed to have a good idea of what he wanted,” says Parypa. “Everyone has their own opinion. There are things I would have done differently and maybe they would have been a failure, I don’t know. But in terms of mixing, he was good at capturing the raw sound. We didn’t go in fully rehearsed. We didn’t know what songs we were going to record. Some we decided to do right there and did our version of a cover song. A couple of others we wrote. It was a process. It was real basic and real unprocessed.”
Parypa says the band is now in a good place and the acknowledgement from contemporary acts has been flattering. The guys in the Swedish garage rock act the Hives have befriended the band, and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder has been a vocal fan.
“We’re playing far more than we did back then,” says Parypa. “We were a Northwest band playing dance halls. They could hold 800 people, all paying a dollar apiece to get in. There must be more people now who are aware of the Sonics.”
So how much longer does Parypa see the band playing shows?
“That’s always the question,” he says. “Some of the guys are 71 years old or almost 72. It’s almost laughable. A bunch of old codgers up there trying to play rock ‘n’ roll. Who knows? I ask myself if I could do it at 80. That would be really funny. If I saw that ad that there was a group playing in town [with members in their] eighties, would I go? Maybe I would want to see if they could even do it. That would be fun to watch.”
The Sonics, New Salem Witch Hunters, Archie and the Bunkers, 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 12, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd, 216-383-1124. Tickets: $25-$50, beachlandballroom.com.