Local rocker rides wave of success

by Courtney Brown, Staff Writer

Swami John Reis and the Blind Shake are coming to the Casbah for a night of surf music Sunday, Feb. 15. Local surf-rock legend John Reis, also known as Speedo, Slasher and The Swami. He teamed up with psychedelic punk band, The Blind Shake, for his latest project entitled Modern Surf Classics.

The album is inspired by ’50s and ’60s rock of other surf bands and soundtracks — like Reis’ favorite, Innermost Limits of Pure Fun by Farm — and blended with a modern, introspective twist.

“I didn’t want to create something too retro,” said Reis. “Surf music is already something viewed as a novelty. For most people, two surf songs is one too many.”

Reis said he’s not trying to preserve the craft; there are tons of bands still experimenting and evolving the sound.

“Surf music, you can’t define it,” said Reis.

He compared the genre to reading a book, in that it can be interpreted in different ways. Some people may just hear a bunch of guitar riffs that all seem to sound like “Wipeout” by the Beach Boys, but to others the lack of lyrics opens the song up to so much more.

“You’re forced to use your imagination,” said Reis.

Reis, who grew up in Pacific Beach, is widely inspired by the ocean. He tries to channel the waves, balance, comfort and turbulence of the sea into his music to create that visual for listeners.

This album in particular took Reis out of his comfort zone. The Blind Shake isn’t necessarily a surf band, so when asked why he chose to work with them Reis said he just really dug their music.

“They’re not a surf band at all,” said Reis, “I heard them play and really liked their over-accented, rhythmic sounds.”

The guys of the Blind Shake have a spacey, garage sound that compliments Reis’ guitar to create a groovy, head-thrashing surf party.

To “shake” things up with the group and remain true to the vibe of the album, Reis decided to record a few tracks in different spots around San Diego. They set up and recorded on the Ocean Beach Pier and in the sand under the Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach. It was also a way of paying tribute to the surf music greats that inspire Reis’ music and a way of incorporating the classic sound into his new album.

Reis describes the iconic San Diego venue, the Casbah, as a homelike environment.

“I’ve probably played there 100 times, and I’m not exaggerating,” said Reis. “The Casbah is the place where my musical identity was formed.”

He said playing gigs there never gets old because each time puts in perspective past experiences.

Reis said attendees of Sunday night’s show should look forward to a night dedicated to surf music. Four other bands will join Swami John and The Blind Shake for a night of classic fun.