Surf kings

The Catamounts talk style, influences and keeping the dance floor moving

Every Winnipegger could use a nice ocean breeze this time of year, and we don’t mean the delicious blue Malibu rum-based cocktail (although, one couldn’t hurt, right?).

Classic/psychedelically infused local surf-quartet The Catamounts has made a splash in the Winnipeg music scene. They’re arguably the most beloved modern instrumental surf band to emerge from the city since the genre’s peak in the 1960’s. 

The Catamounts’ Michael Henderson-Castle and Grant Trippel adore the niche they’ve carved for themselves, but admit mainstream popularity was never their goal. For them, it’s more
about style.

“It wasn’t just surf, but R&B groups as well,” Trippel says. “They would dress so damn sharp!”

“Frankly, we did it all for the clothes,” Henderson-Castle says jokingly. “We just wanted to form a band so we could wear suits. So if anyone out there wants to tailor some suits for us, it could be great publicity. We’d plug you at every show!”

They’re even known for customizing their sound and setlist to whichever venue they happen to be playing. At the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, they will break out the “barn-burners and Spaghetti Western tunes,” also noting their adoration for the work of composer Ennio Morricone. 

For more refined dining affairs, they play a dialed-back, lounge-act set. Their upcoming Mar. 7 show at the Windsor Hotel could prove totally unique, even to audiences who have seen them perform previously.

They take the stage as if exiting a time machine, clad in brightly coloured matching suits and perform a set that would seem culled from the Jack Rabbit Slims jukebox. The band’s stylistic aspirations don’t end with their threads. Since forming in 2012, they developed and honed their sound to include such varied elements as Greek folk music and space echo. 

The Catamounts cite a refreshingly vast array of influences, including Dick Dale and The Del Tones, with more unexpected choices such as Laïkó legend Stelios Kazantzidis and even the late, great J.S. Bach.

“It’s about taking those surf tones and implementing them in all these different ways,” Trippel says.

The same attention to detail applies to their instruments: Henderson-Castle’s Fender jazz bass, Trippel’s Fender 52 Telecaster Reissue, Graham Epp’s Farfisa Organ and Andy Rudolph’s black Gretsch Maple custom drums. 

It’s no surprise that The Catamounts is just one of many creative endeavors orchestrated by members of local experimental bands Mahogany Frog and The Calculus Affair. The surf genre allows the eclectically-tasted musicians to play for audiences who actually want to move around to the beat.

“The dancing was new for a lot of us,” Trippel says.

“Mahogany Frog and The Calculus Affair are bands that I love, but you’re not really gonna dance to them,” Henderson-Castle says.

“Yeah, you sort of stand there with your beer and the crowd is just stationary the whole time,” Trippel says.

The Catamounts also has the wonderfully endearing distinction of being the only contemporary local band to chart on Winnipeg’s CJNU 93.7 Nostalgia Radio. Hardly a small feat, though Trippel jokes rather humbly:

“We just tell them it’s from 1963.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 4, 2015)

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