Jensen Serf Company: Breaking out of the garage
(Welcome to tbt*’s 2015 Ultimate Local Music Guide! All week we’re spotlighting 10 of our favorite local artists of the past year. Up next: Surf-styled garage punks Jensen Serf Company.)
In March, Jensen Serf Company played the Spring Beer Fling, a contemporary take on the ’60s beach party with Georgia garage group the Black Lips replacing the Beach Boys and craft beers replacing Cokes.
It was a fitting venue for the St. Pete duo, whose music melds surf rock riffs with garage and grunge fuzz — the dual influence of “Beach Boys and Nirvana,” said vocalist and drummer Ben Saylor.
“I grew up listening to surf music,” he said. “My dad loves that s--- — (he) grew up surfing and actually listening to Beach Boys on the radio.”
Saylor and guitarist Peter Kokkinakos, both 22, have been friends since childhood and playing music together nearly as long. Saylor got a drum set and Kokkinakos got a guitar in fifth grade and they soon started playing in mostly punk and hardcore bands (“terrible middle school renditions of noise,” Saylor said).
Hearing the Pixies for the first time left a huge impression, Saylor said, with the group’s loud-quiet-loud dynamics and surf rock influences evident in Jensen Serf Company’s sound.
Kokkinakos said another important musical influence came from skating at Skatepark of Tampa and the now-closed 688 Skatepark in Largo, where they’d listen to punk groups playing there.
“That’s where I first started getting into music because all the punk bands would play on Friday, Saturday nights,” Kokkinakos said. “My mom would just drop me off there and I’d stay there listening to bands while skating.”
Jensen Serf Company has since played shows for the Skatepark of Tampa, performing with rowdy California rockers The Shrine on a side stage at their 20-year anniversary party in 2012 while rappers Souls of Mischief and Killer Mike took the main stage. And in September, they opened a sweaty, sold-out Ty Segall show at the skatepark.
“It was rowdy, it was awesome,” Kokkinakos said.
For their live shows, the pair will often expand their lineup with friends, depending on whoever’s available to play, Kokkinakos said. The group has become a sort of unofficial opener for garage acts touring Florida — along with Segall and the Black Lips, they’ve played with The Intelligence, Grass Widow and twice with Sub Pop rock 'n’ rollers King Tuff.
Yet Jensen Serf Company’s first-ever show was out of town, playing Nashville’s The End in 2012 for a split seven-inch they released on Nashville label Sturdy Girls Records.
“It’s ironic, our beginning was at The End,” Saylor said.
Since then, the group has put out a handful of EPs and seven-inches. Last year, they put out Triple Freaks a Beach, an 11-song EP collecting material written over the previous few years.
Now the group is in the process of making their first proper full-length. Saylor said they’ve already recorded half of the album with Jeremy Mendicino of Pretty & Nice, who also recorded Alexander and the Grapes, and are saving up the money to finish the other half.
The album will be a little more in-depth and include instrumentation like congas and pianos, Saylor said. The end result will be a record that moves past the group’s trademark straight-ahead lo-fi rockers into stranger, near-“psych record” territory — though not entirely.
“Not just two-minute-and-a-half bangers, there’s going to be more doozies,” Saylor said.
“There’ll also be the bangers too.”
Members: Ben Saylor, vocals and drums; Peter Kokkinakos, guitar
Recommended if you like: Ty Segall, the Black Lips, anything from Burger Records
See them: Opening for Iska Dhaaf at 9 p.m. April 18 at New World Brewery, 1313 E Eighth Ave., Ybor City; May 1 at New World Brewery as part of Tropical Heatwave.
-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*