A list of Winnipeggers’ preferred sports would likely rank surfing highly only among those privileged and spry enough to get out to their oceanside homes a few times a year. But the tradition of surf music has never been limited to those who practice the sport, as evidenced by the local live act Surf ‘n Turf.
“It’s weird for three guys that are from Manitoba to be playing surf music,” Evan Friesen, drummer for Surf ‘n Turf, says. “I live by Lake Winnipeg, and it’s an inland ocean, basically. It feels like surf and the open ocean in the middle of Manitoba.”
The trio, rounded out by lead guitarist Eric Lemoine and bassist/lead vocalist Sean Burns, have been making waves as a live act, devoted to the genre that originated in late ’50s Southern California. Combining distinct guitar reverberation meant to emulate the dynamics of surfing, the group’s performances provide warm escapism for Winnipeggers landlocked in the brisk fall.
“The drippy reverb is just something that has always been with me,” Lemoine, who wields a Fender Jazzmaster, says.
“I’ve always been a fan of Quentin Tarantino and got into surf music by watching his movies. It’s just interesting how he uses those really cool songs to bring ambiance to a film or scene. With it being largely instrumental, you have to find different ways to evoke feeling and get melodies through,” he says.
The group formed in 2016 and debuted at Gimli’s Ship & Plough Tavern. Lemoine and Friesen met as teenagers and played in bands like The F-Holes and Little Miss Higgins. Later, they met Burns on the road.
United in their appreciation of a largely dormant genre of rock music, the threesome has played taverns, bowling alleys and various stages in their quest to preach the good word of surf.
Along with their surf tunes and a smattering of other oldies of the era, the band writes original tunes they hope to have recorded and released commercially in the near future.
“Some of the stuff I may be writing may be a little less on the surf side but still in that ballpark of weirdo instrumental stuff that’s inspired by that,” Lemoine says.
“We’re just trying to find a way to do (a recording) properly, the way that we want. The sound, the tone and just trying to find a space where we can recreate some of those vintage tones ... the sound is so important to that style of music.”
And given the nature of their music along with their landlocked geography, it perhaps begs the question: has the trio ever caught a wave?
“Unfortunately, no,” Friesen says.
“No, I have not,” Burns says.
De facto leader Lemoine is the sole exception.
“I have, and it was in Canada, oddly enough,” he says.
“One of my good buddies was living in Halifax up the coast. It was around the time one of the hurricanes had just gone through. So when he got me to go, he didn’t tell me it was going to be like 20-foot waves, and I bailed a couple of times.”
Catch Surf ‘n Turf next at Park Alleys on Dec. 29th.
Published in Volume 78, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 19, 2023)