Half a century has passed since The Sonics first exploded onto the Pacific Northwest scene with their raucous garage punk sound. The original guys are all in their 70s, having conquered both the music world and the private sector as well. Last year, a year after the release of their latest album This Is the Sonics, the band announced the retirement of founding members Gerry Roslie and Larry Parypa, who were replaced by long-time Sonics fans Jake Cavaliere (Lords of Altamont) and Evan Foster Tthe Boss Martians). Saxophonist Rob Lind remains the only original player, and as the band enjoyed a short break between two sold-out shows at Austin’s South by Southwest and their European tour, he took some time to reflect on the Sonics’ success of the past and plans for the future.
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Here’s five facts you should know if you plan to catch them live on their return to the States:
The Sonics haven’t lost a step since their humble teenage beginnings. Even before Roslie and Parypa retired, fans needed to prepare for a loud, high-energy show. The band packed Austin’s Continental Club this past March, and “it was an earthquake in there,” says Lind. “We tried to dial it down a little bit because it’s a small room, but we definitely rattled the beer bottles over in the cooler.”
The guys had no clue until recently how many bands they’d inspired over the years, or how often other musicians had covered their songs. Except for one. Lind was an airline pilot for 25 years during his rock star hiatus, spending several of those years flying celebrities around the country on private jets. One night he flew Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa from Los Angeles down to West Palm Beach, Florida. “I had an opportunity to sit in the back and chat with Bruce for a while. He had done a show in Seattle with the E Street Band and he played one of our songs. I said, ‘Hey, I’m glad I got a chance to talk to you, Bruce, because you did something nice for me and one of my friends, so I wanted to thank you for it.’ So he said, ‘Oh, what was that?’ So I said, ‘I’m Rob Lind, I’m the sax player for The Sonics,’ and his jaw dropped. And he said, ‘Oh my God, what are you doing here? Let’s talk music!’ So I sat and talked to Bruce and Patti for about half an hour, 35,000 feet above the middle of the United States.”
Swedish band The Hives is in many ways a direct descendant of the Sonics. The two bands have shared the stage several times, and their members have remained close friends. “The lead singer [Pelle Almqvist] told me a couple years ago, ‘Well, to be honest with you, when we were in high school, I brought a stack of Sonics albums into the cafeteria, showed the other guys, and said, “This is what we’re gonna do.”’ And so they play riff-based music, which is exactly what we do. That’s what ‘Psycho’ is, ‘Strychnine,’ ‘Have Love Will Travel.’ So they are very polished and probably my favorite band performing right now. They have the energy and the power that we do, and I love listening to them.” And for Lind, joining The Hives onstage feels just like playing with his own band. “I can feel the vibrations through the bottom of my feet like I do when I play with The Sonics,” he says.
The Sonics are grateful for every fan that shows up. If you want an autograph, watch for Lind and company to walk out before or after a gig to sign autographs. “The European kids line up in the snow out the door and down the block and around the corner to get in and see the Sonics. I’ll put a coat on and walk down and talk to them and thank them for being there.” And in the States, the fans beckon with Sharpies and albums as well. “We’re not going to turn our backs on them, of course.” In Austin, “We signed a lot of autographs, took three inch steps one after the other, working our way toward the alley,” on their way from the club to the bus.
If you missed them this spring, and their remaining Stateside dates skip your town, don’t panic. This time, there’s no end in sight. The late Sixties brought the demise of The Sonics, as Lind went off to fly planes over Vietnam and the rest of the guys went corporate. But after reuniting in 2006, Lind and his current bandmates are in it for the long haul. “I’m in my 70s; there’s a lot of things I could be doing. Somebody asked me, how long will you keep doing this? My answer always is, well, as long as it’s as fun as it is now, I see no end in sight. If we ever walked out on a stage and there were a bunch of people with their arms folded and they were staring at us looking bored, that would be the end of the line.” Until then, The Sonics will continue their tradition of playing loud and dirty. “It doesn’t make any difference if there’s 10 people there or 25,000. You paid your money to come see us, we’re going to lay it on the line for you for an hour. We’re gonna come off the stage soaking wet and out of breath, just give you every single thing we possibly have in Sonics music by the end of the night, and we’ll end with ‘The Witch,’ and we’ll shake hands with the crowd. And then we’ll go back to the hotel and go to bed.”
— Stephanie Wargin