Susan SurfTone Is Making Waves in the Surf Rock Revival Scene



AE: Surf rock and pop are having a small revival, and groups like Best Coast, La Luz, Chastity Belt and others are jangling up the airwaves of indie radio stations. These girl-fronted groups are clever, ironic, sexy, but they often have hetero themes in their music. What do you think of the surf revival? Does it expand the possibilities for what sort of music women popularize? Does it skew too straight or cutesy?

SS: I am all for any surf revival. I am considered a “third wave” revival surf guitarist and I never played straight or cutesy. I don’t know how to and would not want to. There were a few cutesy girl groups in the third wave. They came and went. The guys liked them and had a good time. Did they advance the cause of women in music? Well, no.

AE: How would you describe your approach to making this kind of music in a digital age?

SS: Everything (guitar, bass and keys if needed) is played by me and a drummer without a lot of effects. Brian Foxworth, a great drummer here in Portland, is recording with me now and will play any upcoming live shows with me. The vocals are me, and if I can’t do it live, I don’t record it. Digital makes things in the studio easier, but my sound is me.


AE: In quite a few of your live performances posted to YouTube, you have a befringed go-go dancer up there shimmying like lesbian Twiggy. Surf rock has that ’60s free-love, wild-side sexuality to it, and it seems like your band adds a butch-femme aesthetic to the mix. Is that just wishful thinking on my part, or is that a part of what you’re going for? Is butch a word that you feel describes you, or how would you describe your presentation of lesbian identity?

SS: Yes, I think you are right about the butch-femme aesthetic. The go-go dancer is a transgender woman, Seana Steele. She was dancing with us in 2012-2013. She has a modeling career in New York City now. The audience always enjoyed her dancing and saw her as a girl just having fun to the music. We never saw the need to mention the fact she was transgender at the time. She was the band’s go-go dancer and that was it.

AE: Is your audience predominantly lesbian? I wonder if you can speak to your fan base, and how it may have changed or grown over the years.

SS: I like to think it’s gotten bigger. No, my audience is a make-up of a lot of different types of people, men and women, with open-mindedness being the commonality.

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