We recently had a chance to sit down with Boston-based indie alt-rock-pop(ish) band, Surf Vietnam. We talked about Funambulism, Apocalypse Now, streaming music and their Indiegogo campaign.
Huge thanks to Adam and John for taking some time out of their schedules to answer our questions. Sit back and get to know Surf Vietnam!
Adam Salameh – co-songwriter; drums and percussion
John Godfrey – co-songwriter; piano and vocals
Indie Minded: For those who may not be familiar with Surf Vietnam, tell us a little about yourself and your sound.
Adam Salameh: We’re a 4-piece indie rock band that balances frantically between pop styles. Our upcoming record Funambulism is a concept album about the battle between a man and his ego, so lyrics are very much at the forefront. Generally our arrangements will gravitate towards piano, drums, guitar, bass, organ, and lots of vocals. We tend to stay away from drum machines, synths, and other electronics.
IM: How did you come up with the band name?
AS: HA! We get this one a lot. It’s a reference to “Apocalypse Now.” None of us actually surf or have ever been to Vietnam, but there’s still time and we’re still crazy.
John Godfrey: I’ve seen the “Back To The Future” movies 1000 times, but there’s this scene in Part 2 that I never noticed until a couple years ago. There’s an advertisement on the wall in 2015 that says “Surf Vietnam – US Air” with a picturesque suntanned couple. The phrase stuck with me and it turned into the band name as well as one of our first two songs!
IM: You’ve been in bands together (and some bands without) for quite a few years now, how has the music scene changed since your humble beginnings?
AS: It seems as though a lot of venues in the Boston area are shutting down. That’s the negative. But the positive is the remarkable shift towards DIY. Even 5 years ago, all the newest hippest bands were signed to some trending indie label. These days it seems you can be successful with much less sponsorship. All you really need to augment (very necessary) talent and hard work is a computer and a microphone.
JG: Even 5 years ago we still had WFNX as a terrestrial radio station that like-minded people gravitated to. Now we’ve seen a shift to almost exclusively online-only mediums, which have a lot of potential and are super tailored to their audience. I think it’s tricky to bridge the gap between real people and online entities, but that just means going out to shows and talking to people.
IM: What should people expect when they come to a live show?
AS: Where our recorded sound is a thick, vivid, and colorful orchestration featuring many instruments, our live show is a little bit more minimal and a lot more rock n roll. 4-piece grit is the vehicle for our energy as a live band. There’s also a visual element to the show. You’ll see us all in Hawaiian shirts, and sometimes we experiment with projections.
JG: There’s a trend in our live shows for someone in the audience to yell “one more button” between songs. By the end of the show I’m pretty much naked.
IM: You’re from Boston, the indie scene is alive and kickin’ in Boston, but do you still find it difficult to get people to come out to live shows?
AS: We have had problems with getting people out to shows in the past, but we’re starting to figure it out. Play less. Play well. A lot of younger bands flood their markets, and we’ve been guilty of it too. We’ve been playing live about once a month. We also respect our audience, and we understand that they paid to see a SHOW. So that’s exactly what we try to give them.
JG: Definitely. It’s hard to get people to come out, especially on non-weekend shows. But the secret is to get on shows with a bill that’s more than just 4 bands stuck together with nothing in common trying to out-draw each other at the door. Teaming up with blogs, promoters, etc. is important because audiences will often come out because of the brand alone. Check out Sofar Sounds: Boston, they’re doing that and it’s really amazing.
IM: Who are some of your musical influences?
AS: Lyrically, we’ve learned a lot from Paul Simon. The way he sets a scene and develops a story has me on the edge of my seat every time. Musically, our influences go all the way from The Beach Boys to the newer pop-punk outfit The Front Bottoms.
JG: I grew up on the Beatles, spent my adolescence with Weezer and Ben Folds, and have a real fondness for ‘90s emo like Braid and the Promise Ring. The 4 of us are really diverse and compatible with our tastes and that contributes to the “funambulism” of our music.
IM: What got you started in music?
AS: Everyone in the band has their own story about how they first picked up an instrument, but I think it boils down to one thing: Somewhere along the line as a kid we heard music and had that pivotal moment where we said to ourselves “I have to be a part of that.”
JG: I don’t remember why I started taking piano lessons and neither do my parents. Glad it worked out in the long run though. Playing is the only activity that makes me truly happy.
IM: Do you have an opinion on what’s going on right now with streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music?
AS: I really do think up and coming artists should be paid a little more than what the industry standard really is. A lot goes into this: the time and effort, the money it costs for lessons and literature, the cost of instruments. Nobody understands more than us how an artist needs to cut their teeth and put their time in, but hopefully we’ll see a transition towards artists being rewarded a little more justly for their contribution.
JG: It’s still working itself out. I love Spotify and have used it since before it even came out in the States. I’m happy to pay $120 a year for unlimited music but there’s a couple albums that I always wish they had.
IM: What has been your biggest challenge when it comes to the music business?
AS: Our biggest challenge has been spreading our music past our immediate network towards a more national market. We know it’s not impossible though. We’re coming for ya, Bieber.
JG: Nothing about it’s easy – finances, promotion, scheduling, recording, rehearsing, etc. Once you get up on stage or release new music you remember that it’s all worth it.
IM: If you could play with any musician or band (dead or alive), who would it be?
AS: You guys know the legend of Buddy Bolden? That would be cool.
JG: Harry Nilsson. I’d love to be a fly on the wall during the Pet Sounds sessions too.
IM: What is your writing process like? Does the music come first or the vocals?
AS: For “Funambulism”, John and I spent the better part of 6 months locked in a basement with only a piano. No drums, no guitars, nothing. We wrote all the lyrics, melodies, and chord progressions this way before the songs ever got to the arrangement phase. Our goal was to write an album that reads lyrically like a book, and musically underscores the story boldly and cinematically.
JG: When I write a song, I usually start with the chords and start structuring them into verses and choruses and bridges. The melody sometimes comes right away and sometimes it takes a bit of experimenting. Lyrics are almost always last. Tweaking is endless, from the beginning of writing til the last day in the studio.
IM: What can we expect from you for the rest of 2015 into 2016?
AS: You can expect the release of “Funambulism” and an additional single (or a few singles). We’ll also be seeing you guys at some live shows in the Boston, New York City, and Seacoast New Hampshire areas.
JG: We just released the second single from Funambulism today, it’s called “Fallingwater” and you can listen to it at http://surfvietnam.bandcamp.com. We’re also running an Indiegogo campaign to finish the record, and you can donate to it HERE <——-
IM: Guilty pleasure (music-wise) – everyone’s got one, who’s yours?
AS: Give me the 80’s. Give me a mile of reverb on the snare drum. Give me screaming non-melodic, not so tasteful guitar solos. Give me ear-piercing vocals. Put it in a doggy bag to go please.
JG: All of the best-worst old-school pop songs in the world. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree.” “It Never Rains in Southern California.” Seconded on the 80s, I wish I could go back in time and see the sights.
IM: How important do you find social media and engaging with your fans to be? Are you active on social media?
AS: The way I see it, Surf Vietnam is a two-way street. We want you to hear our music, but we want to hear from you as well.
JG: We’re active without being overbearing. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and recently YouTube are updated semi-regularly depending on news.
IM: What do you think your “biggest break” or “greatest opportunity” has been so far in your musical journey?
AS: We’ve had a few awesome opening slots. Recently we’ve supported Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Air Traffic Controller, and Ava Luna. All great people.
JG: Working with Brian King from Parks – he’s been producing our record and I can’t imagine how it would sound without his influence now.
IM: Before we let you go, who’ve YOU been listening to lately?
AS: I’ve been obsessed with Leonard Cohen’s “New Skin for the Old Ceremony”. As far as more current stuff goes, Delta Spirit has me dancing around the house.
JG: “Boys Round Here” by Blake Shelton. Really though, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats are an excellent throwback. “SOB” is a killer tune.