In 2012, The Wet Boys blasted onto the ultra-competitive Virginia Beach music scene with their raspy voices, twangy instruments, and Southern swagger. With acoustic guitars, a banjo, and at least two cases of PBRs in hand, these boys put a hurtin’ on local venues, events, and house parties week in and week out. The Wet Boys describe their music as a mixture of punk rock and blues while performing with traditional folk instruments. This unique collaboration of styles gives Tomahawk Brock, Brian Ashley, Joshua “Rasta” Woodhouse, John Streit, and Motley a sound all their own, one that’s self-described as “swampy tonk.” EasternSurf.com recently sat down with Streit to talk about the band’s sound, the “Get Wet Or Dry Trying” tour, and Hurricane Sandy.
ESM: Where did the name The Wet Boys originate from?
John Streit: I know it’s cliché to say, but the name kind of found us. If you know us boys, you know we love having a great time over more than a few beers and shots of whiskey. We pretty much use our band practices as an excuse to party, which always makes it so much fun, loose and — most importantly — creative. We’ll try anything at least once. “The Wet Boys” also describes the things we love to do outside of music: surfing, skateboarding and partying with our friends. No one can remember exactly when it became the band name, but when it stuck, it was the perfect fit.
ESM: You recently went on a three-day “Get Wet Or Dry Trying” mini tour. How did that go?
JS: We were asked by Kris Simmons at The Skate Barn/Double-Wide Surf & Skate in Hampstead, NC, to come down there and play their first Full Moon Party of 2013, which we were stoked on. We figured we should try to play some shows along the way so that we can experience what tour life is really like. Some of our best friends in the world live on the Outer Banks, and our buddy Todd Levy snagged us a show at Chilli Peppers the night before The Skate Barn gig. From there, we asked The Boxx in Virginia Beach if we could play before the Outer Banks show to make it a real three-day weekend tour. Big thanks to Mike Schirmer and The Boxx crew for hooking that show up last minute! It turned out to be insane, people got super stoked, and we just jammed like it was a big band practice. So much fun.
ESM: Up until then, The Wet Boys had only played local shows around Virginia Beach. What was it like being out on the road?
JS: Outside of one night in Richmond at Brian’s brother’s bar Ipanema, we’ve only played in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. We’ve been steadily building relationships with all the raddest live music venues here in town, so we play out a lot. Those experiences — loading in, loading out, executing the set and just building The Wet Boys vibe — really prepared us for piling into the van and hitting the road. Rasta, Motley, and I have been in touring indie, punk rock, hardcore, and metal bands in the past, so we knew we could pull this whole thing off based on the awesome band chemistry we have. It’s special — those guys are like my brothers. We can just bust out jokes or crack each other's balls at any moment and we all laugh. We had to drive through some gnarly snow and ice to get to KDH — three and a half hours through what normally takes one and a half — so we were challenged right off the bat. We just decided to crank the radio and have a balls-out karaoke session in the van, which kept our stoke level way up. Once we were set to play at Chili Peppers, we couldn’t believe the turnout we got on the coldest and iciest night of the year. The house was packed and really stoked on our performance. When we went back to our host John Henderson’s house, we cut loose and jammed deep into the night. We all just fuel up off of each other’s stoke for playing music and our stoke for hanging out with each other. After another gnarly drive down to Hampstead, we were again blown away by the hospitality and radness of the folks at The Skate Barn. Jimmy Ellingstone, his family, and Kris treated us like family, and we had another all-night, fireside jam session in this old hunting lodge that Jimmy turned into his man cave. That was after we played in the skate park while people were thrashing the bowls. Again, it was a super cold night and to see people stick around and check us out got the boys so fired up. Jimmy's got something special going on down there, so if you are passing through Hampstead, stop in and check it out!
ESM: Your music has been described as “swampy tonk.” Could you elaborate on that and your other influences? Y
JS: Yeah, we made up that name after people kept asking us what we sounded like and we never had an answer. It's a tough one to nail down, but the core of our approach is firmly seeded in the punk rock tradition. Everything we do is DIY and we want to always keep that philosophy in our hearts. Structurally, our songs are very punk rock — we just use traditional folk instruments to bang it out. I’d say punk brought us all together and allows us to experiment with the gritty, swampy, raw side of folk music, Americana, and the blues. I was raised listening to Steve Earle, Earl Scruggs, John Prine, and stuff like that through my dad, and I know Brian is a devoted student to the history of American music. Tomahawk always draws comparisons to Tom Waits, but he’s got his own thing going on for sure.
ESM: Your frontman Tomahawk Brock definitely has quite the presence on and off the stage. What's the wildest thing you've seen him pull off?
JS: [Laughs] Tommy definitely marches to his own beat. When he got his black widow face tattoo, that pretty much blew my mind! But seriously, the guy breathes fire. There are photos. He did it at one of our biggest shows during ECSC week, the WRV Model Search Finals. He just loads up with either Everclear, moonshine, or straight-up lighter fluid and blows these huge fireballs into the air. It's so gnarly, but everyone gets so amped when it goes down. It’s definitely something to see. On stage, I’ve never worked with a frontman with more natural rock swagger and originality. Nothing holds this guy back. He’ll be on the bar without a mic screaming and pouring beer on himself at the dive bar gigs... We had to tell him to scale it back for the classier joints. If there ever was one, he’s the true Wet Boy.
ESM: Speaking of that night, how do you think you went over with the surf industry crowd?
JS: That was definitely one of our best performances. You couldn’t have asked for a more packed house, but I wasn’t sure what to expect because it was an industry function and the emphasis was rightfully directed towards the models. We played right before the final walkout and got an awesome response! It was a trip to have all the big dogs tell us to keep doing what we are doing. We had a conversation with Les Shaw, the owner of WRV, backstage that was pretty inspirational. It definitely gave us the confidence to keep grinding it out. We also played the Lost-Arnette party later that ECSC week to another fully engaged, packed house. Some of the …Lost guys, including Cory Lopez, came up to us and told us we killed it. It’s always awesome to get props from the people you look up to in surfing or any other aspect of life.
ESM: You and Brian Ashley recently traveled northward to help with the Hurricane Sandy relief. What was that experience like?
JS: Yeah, we helped our great friend Raven Lundy organize a last-second supply drive effort between here and the Outer Banks just days after Sandy blasted through. I think being from such a similar place to all of those that got destroyed really hit home for Brian and I. He works at 17th Street and I work at Surf & Adventure Co., so alongside LG Shaw of WRV and donations from the rest of VB’s surf shops, we collected an immense amount of supplies. We had Raven’s bus and WRV’s big box truck piled to the gills with clothing, food, water and gear. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life seeing the community unite like that — it made me feel like I’m a part of something much more real than I ever thought previously. Eddie Compo, Raven, LG, Brian, and I worked so well together to pull that trip off, and it was an amazing and enlightening experience. We ran into some pretty hefty challenges on the road — mainly having so much clothing as the depots were flooded with clothes. Raven found this little bayside town on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Saxis, which was off the grid but got blasted by floodwaters. They needed all the help they could get, so we unloaded the stuff that New Jersey and New York couldn’t take in Saxis. The apex of the trip was working with Will Skudin and the Unsound family in Long Beach, NY. They set up a relief supply depot in a church lawn across the street from Unsound. We made sure the gas cans we brought got into the right hands and we helped people pick through the supplies to find what they were in need of. I kept looking around and tripping out because I could see how rad of a place this was before the storm. I’m sure Brian would tell you that nothing we’ve experienced in our lives was as profound and heavy. It really inspired Brian and I to continue to give back in any way that we can.
ESM: It was great to see surf towns from up and down the East Coast help their neighbors to the north.
JS: Absolutely. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and the competitive side of the business, especially in a surf town like Virginia Beach, where people literally have every flavor of surf shop within just a few miles of each other. But the Sandy effort really made us all look at each other and realize that community supersedes any sort of business-created divides. The fact is we all share this city together as residents. And that could have easily been us if Sandy had decided to take a right turn off our coast. I think everyone realized this straight away and united with the common goal of aiding their fellow man in a time of severe need. Like I said, so heavy, but it was spiritually fulfilling to be a part of the effort.
ESM: So what else is store for The Wet Boys in?
JS: We’ll continue to build off of the energy we generated in 2012. We’ve established ourselves as a mainstay locally for live music, and now we have the experience to take the show on the road, which is exciting. We were nominated by local magazine Veer Mag for “Song of the Year,” which tripped us out because we had no idea we were even up for the honor. It'll be fun to see what happens there. Other than that, we’re stockpiling shows all around the Mid-Atlantic region into December 2013 with the hopes of continuing to grow as a band and as musicians. We are already living out our dreams playing music, surfing, and skating, so whatever lies ahead will be icing on the cake.
UPCOMING THE WET BOYS TOUR DATES:
2/23 Jewish Mother Hilltop w/ Phillip Roebuck........... Virginia Beach, VA
3/2 The Belmont House of Smoke............................ Norfolk, VA
3/21 The Boxx...................................................... Virginia Beach, VA
3/22 Mama Kwan’s................................................ Kill Devil Hills, NC
3/23 The Skate Barn.............................................. Wilmington, NC
5/4 Gil’s Bar & Grill Battle Of The Bands..................... Virginia Beach, VA