The Atlantics! Αυστραλιανό συγκρότημα που σχηματίστηκε το 1961! Θεωρούνται και είναι ένα από τα μεγαλύτερα συγκροτήματα στην ιστορία του surf. Τo “Bombora” –ένα θρυλικό instro– ακούστηκε σε όλο τον κόσμο (και στην Ελλάδα) το 1963-64. Δύο ελληνικής καταγωγής μουσικοί, ο Theo Penglis και ο Jim Skiathitis βρίσκονταν στην κλασική τους line-up. Απ’ αυτούς ο δεύτερος εξακολουθεί να ηγείται του γκρουπ. Με αφορμή την παρουσία των Atlantics (Jim Skiathitis κιθάρα, Martin Cilia κιθάρα, Haydn Pickersgill μπάσο, Lloyd Gyi ντραμς) στην Αθήνα, στο Bat City, αύριο 11/7, ο Jim Skiathitis μίλησε στους Dirty Fuse – ένα δικό μας άψογο surf γκρουπ, που θα εμφανιστεί μαζί τους ως support. Η συνέντευξη είναι στην αγγλική, ενώ μεταφρασμένη στην ελληνική υπάρχει στο προηγούμενο (#243) τεύχος του Jazz & Tζαζ…
You are Greek but you were born in Egypt. How was life there in the greek community? How old were you when you left Egypt?
I was 7 years old and I really don’t remember all that much. I think life was pretty good there and I remember we lived near the beach and the De Lesseps promontory in Port Said and we used to go swimming in the Suez Canal. But really too long ago to remember too much.
Which part of Greece do you hail from? Do you have any relatives there today? Have you been visiting Egypt or Greece since you moved to Australia?
My mother’s family came from Amorgos and my father’s from Skiathos.Very very few (if any) relatives left in Greece. Have never been back to Egypt and have only visited Greece once, for the first time in 2003. Stayed in Athens for 2 weeks.
Are there any influences from greek music in your tunes? Had you been exposed to greek music as kids? Any specific greek artists that you listened to?
Strange to say that as a kid I always disliked greek music and never really followed any of it. To me it was just depressing crying, winging type of music where «όλοι κλαίνε τη μοίρα τους». Ha ha…Yet there are definitely greek, european, and eastern influences in the music that I write, but it’s just something that comes out when I’m composing. Still I wouldn’t know a Greek artist if I fell over one.
Have you been exposed to egyptian music as well? Any influences there of?
No not much of that I don’t think. Not that I can remember anyway.
How did you learn to play the guitar? Did you have any schooling or are you self-taught?
I was self taught. I just a cheap little acoustic and a lesson book and started playing. I was this fat little greek kid who used to go to parties and sing all the current hit songs in a high nasal voice. I knew all the other Atlantics from school and used to follow them around like a groupie. Then one of the guitarists left and Peter Hood the drummer said “If you can learn to play bar chords in 3 weeks you can join the band”. So I did and joined them around 1961. Boy am I ancient or what.
What were your main musical influences?
I would have to say the main one was Hank Marvin and The Shadows and just about every other band that existed. In those days it was all so new and you liked everyone. But Hank was the best. Later of course as the British invasion started I started to get more idols. Such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and many more. Eric is still one of my favorites.
Your sound was quite punkish for 60s standards…
Yeah I guess it was. We were not just an instro band. We did vocals as well. And we were influenced a lot by those sixties british bands. Especially, The Animals. We loved them and I think we tried to emulate their music a bit.
Atlantics is one of the most experimental bands within the surf genre. It is quite different from the classic bands like Ventures and Shadows, having much more effects and experimentation. How did this happen?
We just wanted to be different and to create something new and unusual. But I do remember that we were always experimenting with things and sounds and trying to come up with something that was different and exciting and away from the normal everyday guitar sounds. We tried using anything and everything we could lay our hands on trying to achieve or capture a sound or a sound effect.
The Atlantics had a change in the mid 60s and turned to more “rock” standards adding Johnny Rebb on vocals and having Theo Penglis switch to keyboards, what was the reason?
No particular reason. We always had a vocalist. We lost our vocalist at the time and teamed up with Johnny Rebb who was a rock singer so it was natural that we did lot’s of rock, but we did much more than that. We wrote and recorded our own vocals and as I said before we tried to capture or create our own sort of garage punk sound. Theo could always play piano. In fact he learnt to play piano first but he just never played it in the band. It just seemed natural at the time for Theo to also play keyboards to give us another dimension in our sound. He still played guitar too.
From the early 70s ’till the late 90s The Atlantics did some touring and live performances. In 1999 Martin Cilia came aboard and the great ausi surfboards were out again! Would you like to tell us how this happened?
Look to cut a very long story short, we had virtually retired by early nineties and Martin one day met Bosco, our original bass player and they got talking and Martin mentioned to Bosco that he had written a heap of Surf type instrumentals that he would love to record. Then he asked Bosco if The Atlantics would be interested in reforming again with Martin as one of the guitarists and to record Martin’s songs and release a new CD. We discussed it and three of us decided we wanted to do it so we went ahead and reformed with Martin as the other guitarist along with me and we recorded “Flight Of The Surf Guitar” which was released very early in 2000.
Which are your favorite instruments, amplifiers and pedals?
Well for me it’s Vox amps and Fender Strats and although no longer in use, Klempt Echolettes. I’ve had to learn to use a Roland SD 555 which is not too bad, and also use various pedals, but the pedals don’t really supply the kind of echo that we require. I am currently trying a Zoom RFX 2000. That’s not too bad. Better than the pedals.
What are your thoughts on the following “dilemmas”? Fender amps or Vox amps? Echo/delay or fender tube reverb? Bridge pickup or neck pickup?
Really no dilemma for me. It’s Vox, although I do like Fender as well, but prefer Vox. Echo wins hands down. I never use reverb and mainly for most of our songs I use the bridge pick up and the middle pick up.
Was playing the Fender Stratocaster a conscious choice? Did you try playing Telecasters, Jazzmasters, Jaguars, other brands, and chose the Strat over the others?
Actually no, I have never tried any of the others. I wasn’t interested in trying them. My idol at the time, well I would think everybody’s idol at that time, Hank Marvin played a Strat so that’s all I ever wanted to play. Then I just got used to it. I vaguely remember maybe trying a jag and a jazz but they were just too mellow a guitar for what we wanted. They were nowhere near aggressive enough, if that makes sense.
What gauge of strings are you using?
Well in the old days I used Gibson Sonomatics which I swear must have been something like 16 to 60. But they are no longer available so when we reformed I came down to 12-16-24W-36-42-52 but more recently as I am getting older and my hands are starting to suffer from rheumatics I tried using 11-14-21W-28-38-49 for a few years but they are not really heavy enough on the bottom end so I am just in the process of reverting back to heavy lower strings and I am now going to be using 11 -14- 24W- 36- 42-52. Oh by the way I have always used a wound 3rd(G) string. So obviously lots of bending is not in my list of tricks. Thank god for the Vibrato handle…
What were the recording techniques used during the days when the first three LPs were recorded? How many channels did you use? Did you do overdubs?
Ha ha... that’s a good one Duda (Duda Victor: the brazilian guitarist of Dirty Fuse)....Overdubs hey? They would have been a real luxury. Not only were they unheard of in the early sixties but I think an 8 channel recorder was top of the range. I think most were around 4 or 8 track. Of course it was all recorder live, that is everyone playing together and we had one session of 4 hours in which to record the whole album. Four hours to do 12- 15 songs, so let me tell you that recording back then was extremely stressful and very demanding. But hey it was still exciting.
On “Cherry pink and apple blossom white” what instrument did you use for rythm and how did you record it? Any effects?
The only thing I can guess is the use of a volume pedal for the swells. Aha that one has fooled everybody for years, but seeing as you are my good friends I will divulge my secret. There was no rhythm guitar as such on that song, I got that sound by actually blowing on the strings of my Strat. Don’t ask me how or why it worked, but it did. I blew really hard over the strings and across the pickup, obviously with a lot of volume, and it made this weird and ghostly sort of breathing sound. So as I was doing that I was changing the chords at the same time. Let me tell you it was hard work. That’s why it’s in that sort of cha cha beat so I could do short blows and take quick breaths. I have a feeling it was the neck pick up, but not sure. Peter would know.
1958 was the year when Link Wray, Duane Eddy and the Fireballs released their first albums/singles. It’s the year when the Shadows and the Ventures were formed. What do you think happened then that made guitar instrumentals bloom simultaneously around ’58? What do you think these first instrumental guiatrists were listening to and influenced by?
Look I might skip that one if you don’t mind, it’s just too complicated. I put it all down to the Shadows, but obviously it was more than that.
In the 60s surf music was very popular, everyone played it and had shows, sold LPs. Did you make your living exclusively by playing and selling LPs? Nowdays thing have changed, surf music is a forgotten genre. Are you still able to make your living from music?
Yes we did it professionally for about 10 years then we broke up and went our own ways. Even by then it was getting to be too hard to make a living at it. We reformed a few times in the eighties but nothing lasting or serious. Then when we reformed in 2000, it was quite good for the first 4 or 5 years but then started getting harder and harder again. Now days I am retired and I am not relying on music to survive on. If I was relying on it, I think I would be in a lot of trouble. We still get royalties which are not huge but sometimes they are quite good. When we play, the money we get is usually pretty good and it comes in handy, but it’s not what you could call enough to live on.
Do you listen to any of the new surf music bands? Did any of them draw your attention?
What you mean other than Dirty Fuse… Ha ha. Look I have to be really honest and say that I don’t really listen to any other surf bands that much. I don’t know if I am just lazy or they just don’t interest me. I love lots of other music and have many bands that I like but they are not surf bands. The only surf type bands that I have listened to and become acquainted with in recent times are you guys, (Dirty Fuse) and I love your sax sound cause it adds another dimension to your style. Also there is a band in the States called The Madeira who I am familiar with and also have contact with as their guitarist Ivan Pongracic and I correspond regularly, and a band who I only first heard in the last 6 months, when you guys sent me all those cds and that is a band called Speedball JR. I thought they were pretty good too, and I liked their sound as it was not that really bubbly reverb sound. In fact I think they did one of the best covers of “Bombora” that I have ever heard.
Do you have any advice for the new Surf music bands which are just starting?
Yeah Don’t. Sorry I had to get that in. Look I don’t know what to say except try and be original and come up with your own sound. Don’t be the same as everybody else. That won’t get you anywhere. And lastly write as much of your own material as you can. You won’t get rich doing covers.