It’s the consensus of the team here at hissing lawns that the relatively recent release of Wet Socks‘ album Drips on the Retro Futurist label (founded by core members of Kylesa) was one of the biggest developments for the Savannah scene in 2014.
Andy Berger wrote: “Anyone interested in the West Coast scene — loosely centered around Burger Records — that fuses elements of skate punk, surf rock, garage rock, and psychedelic rock, should know we have a band living that dream in our own backyard. The band is Wet Socks, and these dudes are the Real McCoy. Folks who like their guitars fuzzy and their melodies catchy need to procure Drips. It’s my favorite Savannah album of 2014. Just make sure you — to cite an old Rock & Roll cliché — turn it up to 11.”
In his year-end post, Tom Cartmel asked, “Does anyone get the Savannah crowd moving as much as Wet Socks? Spoiler. The answer is no.”
I met up with Hunter Jayne and John Zimmerman of Wet Socks a couple of nights ago on West 35th St. here in Savannah in the apartment Hunter shares with his bandmates in Triathalon.
It’s an old wood frame house across the street from a mechanic’s garage, near a convenience store that sells tiny ziplock bags, and a couple of blocks south of where the city of Savannah has decided to demolish historic workers’ cottages to build a police station.
Hunter had spent much of that afternoon recording Trophy Wives in his bedroom, which is also Wet Socks’ practice space. On my way inside, Trophy Wives’ guitarist Van Tyler Mills, who also fronts The Anxiety Junkies, was stopping by to borrow an amp for a house show that Hunter and John headed out to that show after our interview.
Savannah is best known for its metal and Americana scenes, but right now there is also a thriving scene – fueled by house shows and unselfish collaborations – of young garage rock and punk bands.
Wet Socks has been riding the wave of that burgeoning scene for over two years. The band began as a side project for Hunter, who was originally joined by Triathalon bassist Mike Younker and drummer Chad Chilton. After a few times out, Hunter didn’t plan to keep booking live gigs as Wet Socks, but then he was asked to play a fundraising party in January 2013 at The Sparetime (now Ampersand). John, with whom Hunter worked at the dive-y liquor store Cha del’s (if you live in Savannah, you know it), played drums. I was there, and I think it was obvious to all of us that the duo was on to something. Soon the band was playing wherever and whenever they could — essentially becoming the house band at Hang Fire for months — and released work via Soft Science and Furious Hooves before recording with Retro Futurist.
Finally, despite all sorts of interruptions – including Triathalon tours and John’s four trips to India to edit a feature film (no joke) – Wet Socks is headed out on tour. Look for some of those empty dates to be filled in while the band is on the road:
Hunter and John answered a few questions about the Wet Socks sound:
hl: How did Wet Socks hook up with Retro Futurist?
Hunter: Kylesa asked us to open up for them a while ago at the Dollhouse. Laura (Pleasants) seemed to have a soft spot in her heart for garage rock and when she heard about us, she wanted us to open up for them at a Savannah show.
John: At a house show later, Philip (Cope) was working with this band Burnt Books and we opened for them. He saw us there. I don’t know what went on in their minds, but after that show they were like, “Let’s try and make something happen.”
hl: You’re a two-person band — what’s that like in the studio?
Hunter: Well it was an interesting process. We had three days to track everything, and by the end of the first full day we had finished all the live tracking. So after one day, besides some tambourine stuff and some auxiliary percussion, John was pretty much done.
John: It was more work on Hunter than it was on me.
Hunter: Philip has a pretty intense work environment. We didn’t leave. The studio (Jam Room Studio in Columbia, S.C.) has no windows so there’s no perceived change time of day, so we’d wake up at 9 a.m., and one night we recorded till 4 a.m. It was constant working, working, recording, recording. I’d never recorded in such a focused, intense way, and I think that was a good thing. It made us think about what was essential for the songs.
hl: Maybe that intense process contributed to the cohesiveness of the album?
Hunter: It felt like one long day that was three real days. In the past, we’d recorded with Peter Mavrogeorgis at Dollhouse and had a studio sound, and then we had done a lot of home recording, so it was interesting to be back in the studio environment. That definitely contributed to the overall vibe of the album, especially opposed to if we’d recorded it at home, and it touches on some new sounds that we’re going to explore in the future — like psychedelic elements on some songs. It’s a good starting point, thesis, for Wet Socks — it has a lot of different sounds we’ve played with in the past.
John: The different sounds are going to be more fine-tuned later on. It keeps the Wet Socks live sound but it’s produced in a good way so that people can hear everything. (laughs)
hl: So you perform without a bass but added bass in the studio — talk about that.
Hunter: For the studio we engineered this bass sound that’s not like a trebly attack bass guitar kind of sound. Usually I play the bass in the upper register but still have the low end, because when I play guitar live, I run it through a bass amp that boosts the sub frequencies, and then John’s kick drum kind of makes this attack, so it makes a phantom bass guitar sound with the kick drum and my woofy lower end. So when we record bass in the studio it’s usually an octave up and made in a way that sounds like the low end of my rig. It doesn’t sound too different than when we play live.
John: So there isn’t really a bass lead. The bass just follows what the guitar is doing.
hl: Any particular bands that are influencing the sound?
Hunter: Definitely a lot of garage rock bands, contemporary people like Ty Seagall, Thee Oh Sees, White Fence. But also some 70s music like The Stooges, The Ramones, a lot of the New York stuff — we play garage rock but lately I’ve been listening a lot of the time to 80s new wave music. I really like Cleaners from Venus, who makes bedroom-fi pop songs, and I’ve been listening to the Cocteau Twins. That music is more like other projects I’m into, like Triathalon.
John: While we were making this, we listened to the new Thee Oh Sees album Drop, not so we could mimic their songs, but so we could see what kind of sounds they were messing with — the fidelity of how this garage rock band can sound so heavy and full. So we’re like, “We want to sound that heavy and full when we’re playing.”
Hunter: In a lot of garage rock there’s sort of a purist mindset — recording live, only to tape, not having super high fidelity or contemporary studio sounds — but I really respect Thee Oh Sees because they break a lot of conventions. They have some lower-fi albums but Drop is a really nice production.
hl: I guess you had a lot of options working in the studio with Philip.
Hunter: Working in a studio environment with somebody like Philip Cope, it’s a true collaboration and it was a really good experience because Philip offered something we couldn’t achieve on our own but also let us be ourselves. When you know you’re in good hands, you can just play and know that everything’s going to be cool.
hl: How much did your sound change through all of those shows at Hang Fire?
Hunter: I feel like Hang Fire is where we started carving our chops as a band and started getting on the same wavelength, and built confidence as performers. That’s where we ditched the telephone mic. Those months when we were playing Hang Fire every week, we’d play new songs, figure out what we were trying to do.
John: We’d play songs and if that one didn’t work, pffff, we’d arrange a song a different way. We’d play and sharpen our skills but were also seeing how the crowd reacted.
Hunter: We concentrated on the vibe and the flow of the set. There’s probably at least 30 songs that we’ve played live that have never been recorded.
Wet Socks has an EP coming out on cassette in early 2015 on the L.A. label Modern Sleeze. The band has lately been concentrating on booking this tour. Wet Socks is also working on new material for a second album, which I hope they’ll record in 2015.
Here’s a Wet Socks video (directed by Soft Science’s Skip Terpstra) and some of our pics from shows at Hang Fire and one show at The Jinx: