Guantanamo Baywatch talks butts, Seinfeld, and Californian surf-rock genre

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Bassist Chevelle Wisemen, lead vocalist and guitarist Jason Powell, and drummer Chris Michael make up the surf-rock band with the questionable name Guantanamo Baywatch. Photo courtesy @GuantanamoBW
Bassist Chevelle Wisemen, lead vocalist and guitarist Jason Powell, and drummer Chris Michael make up the surf-rock band with the questionable name Guantanamo Baywatch. Photo courtesy @GuantanamoBW

The focus of the July 5th “Duval LUAU” was Guantanamo Baywatch, the third band who took the stage. Based out of Portland, Ore., they gravitate towards the oldies and play simple but tight riffs that form a familiar, fast punk sound. Guantanamo Baywatch isn’t doing anything new, but they do have fun.

A tiny receipt laid beneath lead vocalist and guitarist Jason Powell’s feet. The band would look at it and agree to play a song on it seconds before they started to play. Nothing was planned out. They just let things unfold naturally and let their raw enthusiasm show.

The three-piece is all about fun and games. We got to speak to them outside of Underbelly before they went on. We hit record, got a feel for their personalities, and found out they mainly just want to see some butts in every city.

Portland-based Guantanamo Baywatch played a spontaneous set from choosing songs written on a receipt. They were the third band to take the stage at Underbelly's Duval LUAU. Photo by Michaela Gugliotta
Portland-based Guantanamo Baywatch played a spontaneous set from choosing songs written on a receipt. They were the third band to take the stage at Underbelly’s Duval LUAU. Photo by Michaela Gugliotta

Spinnaker Radio: It seems like your music is both inspired by surf-rock, and then like weirdo Zappa music. Would you say you notice that in your music too?

Jason: I guess. I always think of our band as kind of an oldies band. But it’s like a modern oldies band, a punk oldies band.

SR: What do you guys do to keep it relevant?

Jason: I don’t know. I mean it’s faster I guess.

Chevelle: We play sloppier.

Jason: We’re not as good as our instruments.

Chevelle: Oldies are played by people that are really good at their instruments. We get drunk and then try to play our instruments and jump around.

Chris: We all listen to oldies, but we’re also influenced by our friends’ bands who are modern bands. We can’t help but be influenced by modern music, because it’s here. We love it. We listen to the radio.

SR: If you guys only had like one record to bring with you on a deserted island, between all three of you what would it be?

Chevelle: We have to agree on it? We don’t even agree on where to get food. We can’t agree on anything.

Chris: I would bring like, I don’t know. Like a Beach Boys record or something.

SR: Smile?

Jason: Yeah!

Chevelle: Like a Dick Dale record would be cool if you’re on a deserted island. That’s appropriate.

SR: I want to hallucinate and sun stroke to that record.

Chevelle: Even when you’re down in the dumps and like sun stroked, you put on surfing music and then it’s like alright. That makes sense in that situation.

SR: Is that what you guys would say your music is like? Sun-stroked, surfer music?

Chevelle: [Laughs]

SR: A lot of people pinpoint you guys as a California thing.

Chevelle: We’re in California a lot. We play there more than Portland a lot. Our shows in California are a lot better than our shows in Portland.

SR: Really? I thought there was a huge scene there.

Jason: There are bands there, but no one is really doing anything.

SR: What about that California vibe attracts you?

Chevelle: People are stoked.

Chris: You got the beach, babes, tacos…

SR: What’s the butt scene like for you guys?

Chevelle: In Portland?

SR: You guys posted a status that said you wanted to see some butts tonight.

Chevelle: Oh, yeah. We wanted to see some tonight.

Chris: I’ve seen a few butts that I’d actually want to see.

SR: Have you actually seen like a butt?

Jason: Butts? Yes?

Chevelle: He lies, he tells everyone about all of these butts he’s seen. He hasn’t really seen one before.

Jason: You want to see a butt right now? I will show you. [motions to take off pants]

Chevelle: I don’t want to see that butt.

Chris: You know that band Peach Kelli Pop? They’re from California.

SR: Maybe.

Chris: We were on like a mini-tour with them on the east coast and played Orlando with them, and it was like four days or whatever. And the entire tour we had a butt off, where we would like text each other pics of our butts (they were an all-girl band) to see who has the best butts.

Chevelle: [points to Jason] You were the loser of the butt-off.

SR: How does it feel to be the loser?

Jason: It sucks. It made me want to start working out my butt more. When I got home, I did squats. Waxing, shaving.

SR: You’re ready now.

Chevelle: He brought a hand mirror on tour.

Guantanamo Baywatch’s latest music video captures the band’s playfulness and oldie sound.

SR: You guys have also been involved with Shannon and the Clams?

Chevelle: Yeah, they’re our good friends.

Jason: I went to school with them before either of our bands were around.

Chevelle: They definitely helped us. Like when we were first playing California, we didn’t really know where to play. They’re sweet little babies.

SR: That’s what it’s all about, right?

Chevelle: Sweet babies, yeah.

SR: There’s a certain type of baby that’s just sweet.

Chevelle: There are some bad babies out there.

Chevelle: Sour Patch Kids.

Jason: Right, I agree.

SR: How would you guys say your songwriting process works out?

Jason: Usually I just kind of come up with some ideas and then maybe record some demos on a four track. And then I’m like, “Check this out do you like it, or do you not like it?” And they’re like, “No we don’t like it,” and then uhhh we have to start over.

SR: Do you guys have day jobs?

Chevelle: None of us have jobs.

Jason: Not anymore. Well, I guess I do construction sometimes. But not really.

Chevelle: We don’t make a living. When you’re on tour you just like support each day. Like we can buy our fast food and gas, and we have like subletters at home. We all live in the same house. None of us really have jobs in Portland.

SR: How often do you guys tour?

Chevelle: Like half the year.

SR: What’s with your infatuation with Seinfeld?

Chevelle: He’s got a fetish, a Seinfeld fetish.

Chris: It’s just on our TV all the time.

Jason: We have a giant projector TV screen in our house, and it’s like a whole wall that always has Seinfeld on it.

Chevelle: We obviously have to watch Seinfeld as big as possible.

Jason: It’s way better that way. The laughs are bigger. The jokes are more intense.

Chris: Their faces are more intense. You can see their pimples.

SR: Alright, last question. What’s your mission statement?

Jason: Like a fart sound. I don’t know how you’d spell that.

SR: What’s behind your band name?

Chevelle: The band name. Jason’s grandfather used to call him that when he was a child.

SR: Why?

Jason: I don’t know.

Chris: [laughs]

SR: It’s a f—– up thing, because Guantanamo Bay is a terrible place where people do terrible things, but then Baywatch is like a staple.

Chevelle: It’s like his farts. It’s a terrible thing, but it’s also funny.

SR: It’s a mix of like David Hasselhoff and, like, water boarding.

Jason: Right, there you go.

Chevelle: It’s a metaphor for his butt.

Chris: It’s very deep.

Chevelle: Everything we do is really deep.