Who Needs Words When You’re This Good? The Story of Jonny and the Cowabungas

It’s safe to say these guys are the St. John’s Breakout Band of 2015.

Local surf band Jonny & the Cowabungas have recently released their much anticipated debut album, Walt and Derek’s Wild Ride — and it’s so good it doesn’t even need words. In fact, only “Lady Death” has vocals.

“Toxic Avengers”

It’s safe to say these guys are the St. John’s Breakout Band of 2015. If you haven’t heard them, imagine if sticking a fork in a plug socket felt good. They’re electrifying, lively, and the songs are unpredictable and relentless in their command over your dancing shoes.

After about a year of getting people hooked on their energetic live shows in local bars and at festivals like Lawnya Vawnya and Shed Island, they’ve released a collection of 9 songs just in time for a growing audience to sample the goods they’ll be playing at Harbourage this month.

The album starts with a man asking “are you ready for this?” And trust me, dear reader: your answer is yes. Every song on the album sounds like trainwreck of fun barrelling right for you. And for a band who call themselves new and just screwing around, they’re writing surf music as good as most any. Stream or buy the album here: https://jonnycowabunga.bandcamp.com

Despite being a relatively new band, they’ve already been discovered across the border, thanks to an assist from Secret East — a fabulous non-mainstream arts blog covering the Atlantic Canadian scene. Secret East have a regular video series, called “A Night With [band name here],” where they shoot a band playing a song or two.

American label Lawnchair Records heard Jonny & the Cowabungas’ Secret East Video online and immediately reached out. Not bad for a band that started as a side project.

“It was never really anything we took too seriously,” Jonny says. “We were already in a bunch of other bands with each other, so this was kind of the back burner project. Mitch (drummer) and I had been on this huge Garage Rock/Surf kick for a while. And I wanted to write music that challenged me, instead of just playing power chords all the time, and it seemed like surf music was a genre that would be fun to play.”

“We got Brendon to play bass, and the songs started to really come together. Then, about a week before our first show, we got Walt and Derek (because you can’t have one without the other) to play with us on instruments neither of them had really played before either.”

“So it was pretty much this big bizarre experiment devoted to playing instruments none of us really played in a genre that we weren’t familiar with playing. I’m still surprised that it all kind of worked out.”

As far as going instrumental goes, it was a product of circumstance. “The reason we decided against having lyrics in the first place was because we didn’t have any by the time our first show came around.”

But not having to worry about lyrics and vocals turned out to be liberating. Removing that aspect of songwriting and performance let them “just get silly and drunk and put on a good live show. Lady Death was the first song I ever wrote, so I always tell people that we’re not actually an instrumental band, it just takes us a year and a half to write lyrics for a song.”

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