May 6 2015 02:52 PM

Pioneering garage punks back after crazy hiatus

Clockwise from top left: Rob Lind , Larry Parypa, Gerry Roslie, Freddie Dennis and Dusty Watson
Photo by Merri Sutton

Even on the phone, Larry Parypa's natural cool is unmistakable. The guitarist and founder of '60s garage rock pioneers The Sonics is direct, devoid of pretense and unfazed by his band's astonishing resurgence in recent years.

"I honestly thought most people wouldn't give a shit," he tells CityBeat from his home in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue. "But reactions have been great. I look out and see guys in their 20s and 30s singing the lyrics to our songs. I mean, I don't even know all the lyrics to our songs—not a single one. So I guess you could say we're pleasantly surprised."

While "shaking off the dust and getting the band back together" is a common theme these days, The Sonics have taken it to an extreme.

In March, Parypa and his band mates released This Is The Sonics, their first LP in 48 years.

The quintet from Tacoma, Washington, first came to prominence with the release of their influential 1965 debut, Here Are The Sonics!!! Often cited as the first punk/garage rock band, The Sonics had all but broken up by the time their third album, Introducing The Sonics, was released in 1967.

Different line-ups unsuccessfully tried to capitalize on the original band's vision, but by the early '80s, The Sonics seemed relegated to being known as an obscure influence on artists like Bruce Springsteen, The White Stripes and Nirvana.

That is, until Land Rover decided to use their version of Richard Berry's "Have Love Will Travel" in a 2004 commercial.

As interest grew in the band, so did the original members' desire to give it another go. And by 2007, that's exactly what they did at Brooklyn's Cavestomp Festival.

"Over the years, there were all kinds of offers to get us back together," Parypa says. "We always said No, thanks.' But in 2007, we decided to try—just to see if we could even do it anymore. And we had to re-learn all of our own songs. We needed to make sure we could play them with the same feeling. None of us played with bands during that intervening time."

Instead, The Sonics' three original members—Parypa, vocalist Jerry Roslie, and saxophonist Rob Lind were entrenched in regular lives with regular jobs. Parypa worked in insurance, Roslie ran a paving company and Lind earned his living as an airline pilot.

But it wasn't long before other countries started showing interest, too, and it quickly became apparent to Parypa that major decisions had to be made.

"We didn't have a clue," he says. "Then we started hearing rumors out of Europe and South America that people wanted to hear The Sonics play again. It's still kind of hard to believe, especially after all this time. But it's also been hard to make it work these last several years. It was nearly impossible to maintain my regular job and do this on the side. Finally, I retired. In the end, better to ditch the corporate job."

What's even more impressive than The Sonics' path to recording a follow-up album nearly a half-century in the making is how fluidly the record fits into their canon.

Under the guidance of White Stripes producer/ex-Dirtbombs bassist Jim Diamond, This Is the Sonics was recorded in mono, live in studio and follows the band's original recipe to the letter.

"We kept it simple," Parypa says. "Jim asked me to play like a 16-year-old.' He said, Don't even use vibrato. Don't bend notes. You didn't do it then, so don't do it now.' There was very little overdubbing and we didn't do re-takes. We played like we did 45 years ago—sloppy. We're not great musicians. But we are full of energy."

The Sonics play May 10 at Belly Up Tavern.

They're going to need it. After their U.S. tour— which includes dates in cities the band has never played before— wraps up in July, the band heads overseas for an extensive run in Europe. And lately, in their downtime they've been joined by members of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam for tribute shows. They even hung out with Dave Grohl for an episode of HBO's Sonic Highways.

Not bad for a bunch of guys who are well beyond qualifying for the senior discount.

"I think more than anything, what surprises us is that we're 70-year-olds and still have the energy that this music needs," Parypa says. "When we all got together in the '60s, we gravitated to this sound. Back then, great sound systems didn't exist. If you wanted loud drums, you hit them harder. Our drummer played so loud, I had to play the same way just to hear myself. It just so happens that all five of us approached it that way. No plan. No discussion.

And it really hasn't changed all that much."

Regardless of what happens next, The Sonics are happy to be capitalizing on the moment—even if that moment took nearly five decades to present itself.

"I'm curious to see how long we can do this," Parypa says. "Can we do it at 75? Can we do it longer than that? It should be really interesting to see how it goes. For now, we're just taking it as it comes. But we're not going to stop until the wheels fall off."

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