In booming post-War America, just as Hawaii became an official U.S. state, Californian cool-dudes began making upbeat, melody-driven pop music. Surf-inspired instrumentals by Dick Dale & His Deltones and The Ventures in the late-50s swelled into lyrical ballads by The Beach Boys and The Rivieras in the 1960s. Surf music’s carefully styled tremolo picks, wet reverb and long vibratos later influenced 70s and 80s punk bands like The Ramones, The Pixies, The Phantom Surfers and ultimate surf-punks, The Surf Punks.
So it would seem that the cold, jagged shores of St. John’s, Newfoundland couldn’t be any farther from Malibu; the unforgiving isolation of the provincial island has created one of the toughest hardcore scenes in Canada. But with 10,000 miles of coastline, Newfoundland actually catches some killer waves.
That’s how surf-punk five-piece Jonny & The Cowabungas blend abrasive garage punk with harmonious surf jams. They’ve put out a couple singles on tape and this July, they’ll release a full-length album on Lawn Chair Records in Minneapolis, the hometown of The Trashmen, famous for 1963 hit “Surfin’ Bird.”
After playing sweaty shed gigs and a bunch of parties, Jonny & The Cowabungas were featured at St. John’s festival Lawnya Vawnya in April and played their set dressed in full floral drag. “We’re goofy and silly,” says lead guitarist Jonny May. With synths, bongos, bass and drums, Jonny & The Cowabungas hit the mainland for an eastern tour next month. Geographically speaking, says May, “It’s harder for bands from Newfoundland. It’s totally blowing our minds that anyone outside of St. John’s would give half a fuck.” Listen to Noisey’s exclusive stream of “Lady Death,” the album’s first (and only lyrical) single.
Adria Young is a writer living in Halifax - @adriayoung