Just Another Day at the Beach with Guantanamo Baywatch

Vortex Music Magazine

With a new record that's a definite fidelity upgrade, Portland’s most dependable and off-the-hook beach party posse looks take significant strides forward while continuing the fun, fun, fun. Photos by Drew Bandy, Kyle Carnes and Ronit Fahl

Photos by Drew Bandy and Ronit Fahl—click to see a whole gallery of shots by Drew Bandy from Guantanamo Baywatch's record release party at the Doug Fir on May 17, 2015Photos by Drew Bandy and Ronit Fahl—click to see a whole gallery of shots by Drew Bandy from Guantanamo Baywatch's record release party at the Doug Fir on May 17, 2015

Guitarist and singer Jason Powell is holding court on Guantanamo Baywatch’s mission statement as far as composing—and perhaps, life itself—is concerned.

There’s nothing wrong with fun, hell, we should all be so lucky. Powell and his bandmates also make fun videos, like the one for their new single “Too Late,” which features Powell choking on a chicken bone and going to hell (watch below). They play fun shows like the Burger Boogaloo, hosted by John Waters.


They meet fun people. Staring out from their Facebook page is a picture of the band with Lemmy from Motörhead. Are you trying to tell me he’s not fun?

But shepherding artistic growth while being the life of the party is never easy. That’s why they’re called “growing pains.” Every band worth its salt goes through them. After six years as Portland’s most dependable and off-the-hook beach party posse, the members of Guantanamo Baywatch are taking significant strides on an unexpected career path that’s opened in front of their eyes. They’ve been signed by Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records and just released their third record, Darling… It’s Too Late, a definite fidelity upgrade from 2012’s Chest Crawl.

Powell’s sock-hop seduction vocals have grown into a distinctive part of the band’s sound, as anyone will figure out once they’ve spun the new record a few times. On the title song and “Do What You Want,” Powell gets cozy with the microphone like a chain-smoking Buddy Holly, and Guantanamo Baywatch stretches new muscles by shifting a few degrees starboard from straight-up surf to a riotous ’50s rumble, with Holly and Duane Eddy facing off against more recent interpreters of the style like the Ramones and The Detroit Cobras. Sounds great on paper, but you can’t please everybody.

Photos by Kyle Carnes—click to see a whole gallery of Guantanamo Baywatch at Mississippi StudiosPhotos by Kyle Carnes—click to see a whole gallery of Guantanamo Baywatch at Mississippi StudiosSince Chest Crawl, Guantanamo Baywatch has downsized the surf instrumentals in favor of poppier material.

“We got a few tweets about it the other day,” Powell grumbles. “I had one saying our surf songs weren’t as authentic as other surf bands or something.” Powell uses this as a launch pad to let off some steam.

“I get kinda tired of reading [reviews] about how much we sound like Dick Dale,” he sighs. “The new stuff is more like The Ventures or Davie Allan & The Arrows. They don’t know, you know?”

Still, it’s a small thing. “Most of the negative tweets we get are about how deeply offended people are by the band name,” Powell clarifies. Imagine that. Hurt feelings caused by rock and roll? How charmingly retro.

“It’s like we got this opportunity to do something,” Powell explains about the band’s conception and continued existence. “Let’s just say yes to it. Because we did that, we got other opportunities. And because we didn’t have jobs, we had to go on tour to pay for stuff.

“Now we’ve got help,” he continues. “And things are better. Suicide Squeeze is an awesome label. Nicole, our booking agent, is rad, and Nathan Walker from [publicity firm] Riot Act Media, he just lives up the street—he’s awesome. Now we’ve got all these people who will help us if we want to keep doing it.”

“We’ve got people that say, ‘do this,’ and ‘now, do that.’ Without even trying, we’re being built up,” adds drummer Chris Scott.

At the moment, the three members of Guantanamo Baywatch—Powell, bassist Chevelle Wiseman and drummer Scott—are right where they want to be, with everything seemingly in perfect balance. They’ve just returned from Australia, the new album is out, and they’re all packing for a North American tour, followed in quick succession by a return to Australia, and then Europe and Japan. That’s a lot of schedules and frequent flier miles to keep track of, especially since Powell and Scott prefer to spend downtime zoning out in front of their projection TV, which remains constantly on.

Guantanamo Baywatch celebrating the release of their new record at the Doug Fir in May—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Drew BandyGuantanamo Baywatch celebrating the release of their new record at the Doug Fir in May—click to see a whole gallery of photos by Drew Bandy

Even with the presence of a decent-sized label, a publicist and a booking agent in their lives, Powell says the band has final say on all decisions. And while the professionals who surround them genuinely care about Guantanamo Baywatch, their chief duty is to see to it that the band is kept busy.

“When we first started touring, we were doing everything ourselves,” Powell says. “Booking shows, calling newspapers, calling radio stations for interviews.”

“It used to be, to book a two-month tour, it took four months, with just the three of us sitting here in the living room with computers and phones. Now it takes a week!” Scott exclaims. “And we don’t have to do anything.”

Which means more time for TV, Twitter, and recharging their creative batteries. Fun, fun, fun.

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