WTF is Surf Disco? – Inventing ourselves a genre and being weird

It wasn’t until last week that we finally realized how weird we really are.

screen-shot-2016-11-04-at-12-45-53-amWeird, creepy, and yet spot-on caricatures by Brian McCall – Greensburg, PA

We’re not talking weird like we try really hard to sound different, or go out of our way to be impossible to compare to another band. We’re talking The Outer Vibe moves to a major music market and realizes our sound is (still) unlike most bands we’ve ever met.

Yes, Nashville has always been a country music mecca. No, we are not the only non-country band here. Far from it, actually.

We just like to make genuine, fun, feel-good music that resonates with us and others who want to have a good day. That part isn’t so weird. I bet there are plenty of bands who would say the same thing about their music. But something about the combination of our 5 band member’s styles creates a sound that is very difficult to pinpoint. And you know what? We embrace that.

We also recently came to the realization that our band is pretty much the characters from Pixar’s “Inside Out.” We balance each other out, and we need each other to be well-rounded. Noah always jokes that he and I really do need each other because without him, I don’t have any fun, and without me, he would be dead.

img_2860The question is – which one of us is which? 🙂

Maybe one day I will delve further into why we strive to make feel-good music. We do have our reasons… it’s intentional… but that’s another journal entry for another day.

Anyway, yeah, so we totally made up the genre “cinematic surf disco.” Not because we are trying overly hard to be unique, but because the existing broad genre categories don’t seem to accurately include us. And instead of taking our music and trying to squeeze it into a genre, we took the opposite approach and created a genre after we developed a sound we are in love with.

We’ve found that new potential fans are more excited to look us up when they ask what we sound like and we tell them, “Surf disco.”

Usually their response is, “What? Surf disco? I’ve never heard of that. I can’t even imagine what it sounds like.”

And we say, “Exactly. You should check it out!” And they do.

Even if people forget our band name or lose the postcard we give them, a Google search for “surf disco band” yields The Outer Vibe and very little else. The only other thing that sometimes comes up is a DJ from Rome.

img_1567I saw this calendar in a coffee shop in New Orleans. It reminded me of The Outer Vibe.


Quick word association game: what kind of band or artist comes to mind when you hear the following words?


The Outer Vibe’s music includes elements of each of these genres. We like all these types of music a lot. But you know what? In 2016 when it’s a challenge to cut through all the noise and be something that sticks with people, “cinematic surf disco” is a lot stickier than “alternative indie pop.” (Speaking of sticky, on a barely related note, I am in the middle of re-reading “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. Excellent book… it’s given us some great insight on our band’s brand. I recommend it.)

We are comfortable with being hard to categorize, and we are cool with being different. So as we spent the past week recording our next set of new songs, we made sure to showcase our absolute favorite sounds, techniques, skills, tones, styles, etc. We of course care about making music our Vibe Tribe members love and are proud to support, but we stopped caring awhile ago about trying to mold our music into something we thought others might want. (Yes, we have been guilty of that in the past. It happens.) We took our favorite elements of the “Full Circle” sound and cranked them up to 11.

Back in Michigan when we started writing some of these new songs, the “sound” brainstorm started with a sticky note session.

img_3090Thanks to our Zoo Labs Music Residency mentors in Oakland, CA, we organize our thoughts and ideas by covering every wall in our house with sticky notes 🙂

fullsizerender-11Pre-production meeting with Jared (engineer) and Kat (artist development) of Catch This Music, our publisher.

Okay, Vibe Tribe… are you ready for a huge preview of our new music before it’s even done? Here are some of the sounds you’ll hear when the EP is released:

Vocals – Sean has a wide range of influences, and also a wide range, period. He can sing intricate melodies with insane accuracy, and these new recordings sound like his usual classic style is slightly tinged with a smooth R&B style. He’s been singing in his falsetto voice a little more lately, too. Sean encourages us to write our own backup vocal parts but is always looking for ways to get creative with the arrangements.

Guitar – Nick has been gravitating more toward creating sweet textural sounds using both his mastery of guitar (literally. He holds a master of music in guitar performance) and his fearless imagination. You’ll hear his vintage Fender amps with the surf-inspired sound, some subtle island vibes, a dash of funk, and some nylon string classical-influenced bits. Nick gets the best ideas when he doesn’t plan them out – spontaneity is his specialty.

Bass – Wonder is a human metronome. He loves EDM these days, in addition to nearly everything else. He’s always making sure the band is in the pocket and is always coming up with bass parts that’ll make you want to shake your hips or at least bob your head, depending on how many drinks you’ve had. He adds the “disco” to “surf disco” with his octave-jumping basslines, and his fuzz and other effects will likely rattle your rib cage.

Drums – Noah has been experimenting with ways to make his drums best compliment our sound during the recording process. This included covering the top drum heads with a specific type of linen cloth and removing the bottom heads. Noah crafts his parts to supplement the dancey disco part of our sound, and he often does this while shaking a shaker. He would someday like to have an entire drum kit made of tambourines, but for now, you’ll just hear one. Oh yeah, and a triangle.

Keyboards – My role on keys is to add colors and textures that compliment our sound. We all love classic pop bands/artists like The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, and The Guess Who, to barely scratch the surface. My favorite keyboard sounds are the ones that sound old and greasy. Hammond organ, Vox Continental compact organ, Wurlitzer electric piano, etc… and also layers of strings. My favorite synth tone these days is one that mimics a theremin, and you’ll hear it on most of the new songs.

Trumpet – We use trumpet as a lead instrument, a la Ennio Morricone (I add the “cinematic” to our sound). I strive to make a statement with a big bold tone. I’m classically trained (I also have a couple of them music degrees) and to be perfectly honest, I’m so much better at classical than jazz that I don’t even try to go there with my playing. (I could blame the very white high school I attended, or I could just admit that I suck at jazz.) My use of this cinematic trumpet surfaced in the Hoka Hey era (2012) and continued into songs like “Shining Like a Diamond.”

The Outer Vibe plays tons of shows together and we’ve found through trial and error that our favorite (also the best sounding) way for us to record is in a live band setting. We are all in a room making music together, and we capture that group energy in the recording. With a little luck we can get a tight rhythm section take in just a handful of takes.

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-3-42-16-pmTeamwork in Studio A

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-3-40-55-pmThe strategy planning sessions never stop – not even for lunch!

So the weirdness? It is what it is. See, we just don’t consider it weird to spontaneously strip down to our skivvies to record a song in a public facility.

Sorry, not really sorry… it was too good to not capture on camera.

Alrighty… who’s excited to hear the new tunes??

Lisa Kacos
  • Michelle Loter
    Posted at 18:05h, 08 November

    Love y’all’s talent and creativity! But mostly I love the uplifting spirit of your music. ❤️