Undercover With The Reverb Syndicate

"We got a call from this gentleman known as Unsteady Freddie. He's a guy in his 40s that is, 'Woah' – an 'out there' kind of dude – and he's a DJ in New York who loves surf music. He absolutely loves it; it's his life and breath. He found us on the Internet. We went on at 1:30 in the morning, which is basically the kiss of death in Ottawa. Since we were in New York City, there was a whole whack of drunk people dancing their asses off all night long. It was so much fun," says Reverb Syndicate's Jeff Welch.

- Dara Hakimzadeh
Photo by Sheila Busteed

posted July 11, 2007

Undercover With The Reverb Syndicate

     In the lobby of the Canadian War Museum, bassist and lead agent for the Reverb Syndicate, Ampeg – a.k.a. Jeff Welch – sat down after the band’s debut performance at the Ottawa Bluesfest to share some top secret stories about the city’s only surf/spy rock band.

     While the Reverb Syndicate’s sound is unique to the nation’s capital, the genre isn’t new, says Welch, who compared his band to those from Southern California, like The Penetrators and the Omega Men. “We’re not as original but we’re definitely the only one in Ontario, maybe even in Canada.”

     “We’re finding that there’s a very niche market,” says Welch about their music. “People that love surf music seek it out. We’ve sold records in the weirdest of places. Everywhere from Yellowknife to Serbia, people are buying our records online. We get the oddest requests. A gentleman in his 60s said, ‘I grew up in the ’60s listening to The Ventures and you’re amazing!’”

     In May, a request from a fan in Manhattan, NY, took the band down State-side.

     “We got a call from this gentleman known as Unsteady Freddie. He’s a guy in his 40s that is, ‘Woah’ – an ‘out there’ kind of dude – and he’s a DJ in New York who loves surf music. He absolutely loves it; it’s his life and breath. He found us on the Internet,” Welch recalls. Freddie books bands to play during his surf night – the first Saturday each month – at Otto’s Shrunken Head, a tiki bar and lounge in the Big Apple’s downtown section. 

     “We went on at 1:30 in the morning, which is basically the kiss of death in Ottawa. Since we were in New York City, there was a whole whack of drunk people dancing their asses off all night long. It was so much fun,” he says, adding that the band treated it like a working vacation because it was an expensive trip.

     Self-confessed fans of campy movies, Welch says the band enjoys ’60s spy movies like In Like Flint and Danger: Diabolik. “We also love Frankie and Annette – we can sit down and watch some of that too,” he says laughing, when referencing the Beach Party films.

     On stage, Welch is accompanied by keyboardist and guitarist James Rossiter, guitarist Mike Bradford and drummer Mike Rifkin, along with the go-go dance squad the Soviet Sisters.

     “When you do instrumental music, you kind of need to have some form of information to draw from. You need a scenario to pull from because you don’t have words to tell a story. So by using the spy genre there is a whole lot of imagery to draw from,” explains Welch.

     Although they play surf music, Rifkin is the only member who has actually taken surfing lessons.

     “Mike flew to Hawaii for a vacation for a week so he could learn how to surf at a surf camp,” says Welch. “He’s as good as you can get learning to surf for a week. I think it may have played a role in some of the stuff he wrote when he came back, because I don’t think you can go through something like that without it touching you, particularly for someone who has been a fan of that culture and lifestyle for a while.”

     In October 2006, the band released its debut 11-track album Operation: Jet Set! The album isn’t set up like the complete soundtrack to a spy movie from start to finish, with the exception of the last song “The Hero Gets The Girl.”

     “For the new record I think we’re going to try and put it out that way (in chronological order) so that there is an opening for the movie, this is the love scene, this is this and that, and then we’ll have a second credit song.” 

     This fall, they plan on heading back into the studio to record a follow-up.

     “Because we do a lot of the older surfy stuff, we tend to do it live off the floor. We’re not held up in a studio for months on end because a) we can’t afford it and b) that’s just not us,” says Welch. Paul Granger of the band Ukrainia, also playing at this year’s Bluesfest, has a home studio that the band will be using again.

     “He’s great. He did our last one, and he’s probably going to do our next one.”