On the Central Coast of California sits Santa Cruz, home of saltwater rock band Stormy Strong, who released their latest lyric video, “Never Say Never,” just a few days ago.
The band’s sound, which they describe as “saltwater rock,” blends elements of alt-rock, pop, and punk with suggestions of mariachi and flamenco, as well as heady whiffs of the ocean.
Because of their distinctive sound, Tattoo sat down with frontman Stormy to find out more about the band’s influences, writing process, and what defines ‘saltwater rock.’
How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?
Ahoy Tattoo.com! When I was about 5-years-old in the summertime (when my Dad was home and wasn’t out at sea commercial fishing), I would go hiking with him and start humming melodies that seemed to just enter my head. They compelled Dad to hum along and he often complained that he just couldn’t get them out of his head. As I got older I started teaching myself punk guitar, writing lyrics and playing in neighborhood bands. I would try to study with guitarists I thought were better than me so I could learn faster. Through experimentation (pissing off neighbors and shortly thereafter the cops) and trying out my song ideas, I met some Italian dude working at a Wendy’s drive thru window who said they were looking for singer for their band. I auditioned and became lead singer of a melodic punk band that later played with bands like Blink-182, No Use For A Name and Good Riddance and so on. After that project ended, I started making the kind of music I heard in my head, inspired foundationally by punk and experimenting with an alternative and classic rock sound. The project organically took on a nautical theme (more on that later) and started growing with hooky quiet/loud song structures and lyrics about life, love, and my experiences with the sea. I always loved songs that made me want to sing along, and that’s what I wanted to create.
Who’s in the band and what instruments do they play?
Myself and multi-talented musician Surreyya, who sings and writes with me. Every musician that performs as part of the project is an amazing multi-instrumentalist and songwriter in their own right who all add their character and magic. Tai Ma rocks guitar live and in recordings and not only has more music theory and training than I will ever have in 3 lifetimes, has played in many punk bands. Douglas Polhamius is a monster bass player (and guitarist!), who knocks out tunes (and artwork) like a leviathan and is a bass Tone Oracle. He understands the musical vision and just knows what to play, while also the first to call out I may be certifiably insane. Justin Imamura is a true Rock Star punk-influenced drummer without parallel who is in many projects and plays drums at most of our live shows. CJ Storm joins us on bass, guitar, and drums (as needed) and is extremely versatile and talented. He literally does it all and is a crucial crew member and has his own project he is rocking. Although not musicians per se in the live show, we have a retinue of amazing female artists and dancers who join us on stage as mermaids and sailor girls. Want to see mermaids? Youtube “stormys strong.”
What musicians influenced you the most?
There were two types of influences, those forced on me (parents listening and me overhearing) and my own discoveries. Self-discovered influences include Tom Petty, Pixies, Elvis, Nirvana, Weezer, The Cars, Blondie, Blink-182, Social Distortion, Frank Black, Bob Dylan, Del Shannon, Roy Orbison, Queen, Jeff Lynne and ELO, Tina Turner, They Might Be Giants, Silversun Pickups, Green Day, Lagwagon, and of course The Beach Boys, Dick Dale and Jimmy Buffet. From my parents’ influence, My Dad played a lot of flamenco guitar legends and mariachi band records that had such amazing energy and emotion (probably why I was drawn to punk at an early age). In the car with my mom, I seem to remember on the radio a lot of yacht rock songs and ‘70s easy listening hits (many of which had great songwriting).
What is your songwriting process? Do the lyrics come first, or the music?
Ninety-percent of the time for me the music comes first. It’s how I enjoy writing, being moved by the music to bring out the feelings or the story. This method draws out emotions and ideas. The reverse is a different and rewarding journey as well painting the musical picture to fit the emotion of the lyrics – I just lean towards the former.
I really like your new song, “Never Say Never.” What’s the story behind the song?
The song is about impossible things happening in life and taking a chance, not limiting your options even while the world may be collapsing around you. In this case, it is about choosing love. How could you ever “say never” to your heart? The story is that my co-singer and I fell in love and got married and that’s what the song we co-wrote is actually about – written during that magical journey before we even knew how life’s chapter would be written.
You have a distinctive tone. Has your tone changed over the years? If so, how?
The tone of everything in the project from vocals to guitar tone and overall music has changed with three things: time, influences and technology. I’ve started to sing a little lower on occasion to accommodate the added female vocal and cool arrangements. I have always loved the Pixies and a female singer in the project has ALWAYS been the plan. So with time has come wisdom and know-how from experience. The original influences remain the same (and naturally everyone involved grows the earlier list substantially) but there are some really cool new bands that catch our ears and one for me has been Twenty One Pilots. I can’t ignore great songwriting no matter presentation or genre. We also like Spanish, Middle Eastern, some ‘80s synths music and of course ALL things nautical so expect over time to hear new things with the natural evolution. The only thing I will never say no to is change, everything is changing all the time and music should be an adventure! Also with technology we are able to record pretty much everything in our own setting. No need for a fancy expensive studio and no need for tons of expensive gear. I always believed in computers and technology and for music even though I love all the old vintage gear more than anything, the future is now and it has delivered! The one thing that hasn’t changed is we continue to work with an amazing record producer and mix engineer, Chris “Von Pimpenstein” Carter. I have worked with others, but I believe to make great records you must also simply love making great music and want to help take songs where they want to go. Von Pimpenstein is world class and since he does a lot of other styles of music what he lends to Stormy Strong makes it unique and adds more excitement to what we will end up with recording records.
Your sound is described as “saltwater rock.” Can you explain what that means?
Imagine during your pre-adult life you spent a lot of time on boats and docks in harbors and then through your 20s from time to time you got sent out on these commercial fishing trips with your Dad for increasingly longer periods of time (with work getting harder and further from home) out on the Pacific Ocean. When not long lining for albacore, trolling salmon or rock cod you’re listening to Tom Petty and punk bands … but your Dad plays lots of flamenco and mariachi and … Jimmy Buffet. You are surrounded by the sea (or when in port right on it), ever surrounded by boats and edgy, salty fishermen. Fishermen who are named after dangerous sounding things, or of pirates because of the real colors of their beards. I was named Stormy after a crazy and hilarious fisherman named Stormy. These men (and women) are tough, intelligent and all comical in their own ways. It is a way of life. You are surrounded by nautical EVERYTHING including people. Every day while you may see stop signs, out there it’s buoys. You see cars, out there … boats. You see coyotes or mountain lions, out there sharks and whales and stranger things. You wait for your Dad with your sister at the jetty mouth instead of at home for your parent to come home from work. But rather than being gone for a day they are gone for months at a time. This life is very different and the one commonality I found is they all LOVE the sea. It’s what they know. The ocean is more beautiful, dangerous, powerful and more mysterious than anything I’ve experienced and I have been touched by it in the same way. It can go from dead calm to a ship swallowing storm, it can sweep you away without trace and as far as what lives in it we are still just scratching the surface on those discoveries. I love sharks, and having one snapping its jaws at me and looking at me blew my mind as a kid. So back to the main question, have you ever spent much time in or around saltwater? It gets into EVERYTHING! Even sealed packages. It sticks to you and for metal it also is corrosive. Saltwater rock describes the music as just like the sea, the music has calm parts (often verses) and explosive epic choruses. The melodies sink in deep and you can’t get them out of your head as the guitars and bass chug along over the swells. I often can’t get my own new songs out of my head! I literally love when the palm muted guitars sound like stretching rope on a boat moored to a dock cleat moving from the current, because at sea, the world you experience on land does not exist and I want to try, if just a little bit, to take you there even if it’s not obvious to the listener. Some have said some of the songs sound more like “Saltwater Pop” or “Saltwater Alt Pop” and we won’t argue. If we can take our favorite influences and make music we love, and it just so happens to be inspired by the sea and the lives experienced, why wouldn’t we?! Not every song is about the sea, but you’ll see….
Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?
We use whatever tool gets the job done to achieve the highest quality and above all serve the song. If I had it my $way$ I would use all vintage equipment and record with Jeff Lynne (ELO & Travelling Wilburys). Maybe someday I’ll try and crowdfund that and get his attention, I know he is not cheap. Foregoing that option, we have the absolute next best thing. Real hardware we love and cutting edge software to emulate our favorite tones as needed. Originally I recorded in recording studios; now a lot is done at home. The quality is kept high by members of the crew and by our record producer. I like the songs to cook like a stew as they get closer to recording and try lots of ideas (many of which get scrapped for better ones). In the end the instrumental recording technique always serves the song, and letting the vocals and lyrics be served up to the listener by them. Recording is the art of trying to hit a moving target and it should start with a great song, that’s why I got into music.
How does the band keep its sound consistent on stage?
The crew has specific gear it likes to use consistently which by default has a punk and edgier tone. So while often the vocals are smoother and harmonious, the music has a salt-grit roaring biting element in stark contrast. Of course it ebbs and flows depending on the song, as a comparison flat calm seas might require a clean electric or acoustic guitar strummed, whereas waves crashing on a beach would call for a vicious distorted or crunchy electric guitar.
What’s next for Stormy Strong?
We plan to release an increasing amount of online musical and video content including: new singles, music videos, nautical videos, lyric videos and other exciting salty online content. We anticipate making the live show even crazier and eventually (with demand!) would like to have the mermaids in real tanks filled with water! We love writing songs, recording songs, performing songs, creating video and photographic content and getting them out there to our fans around the world, so the future holds a lot of exciting new music. If you love the sea and edgy music with meaningful lyrics and lots of sharp hooks, welcome aboard!