Ventura, CA surf-psych rockers MASSENGER combine exquisite lo-fi production with some zestful garage-rock reverb. With a new LP, PEELING OUT, out on Burger Records, our regular contributor Sabina Fooks had the pleasure of picking lead vocalist Sasha Green’s brain on their playful and energetic treatment of the ever-evolving garage sound.
Photo Credit: Betsy Winchell
Hey, MASSENGER! First thing’s first: you’re from Ventura, CA. I imagine living in a beach/harbor town has infused some beach-macabre into your punk.
Yup! Hmm. Beach-macabre? I suppose there is in the way of speaking out against the horrors of ocean polluting, ignorant bro litterbugs, oil spills, etc. Our songs, “Frus” and “So Crude” (off of our GIRL GLASS 7″) touch on those kinds of issues a little. I would say the band as a whole love our summer beach days. Seth (bassist, vox) surfs regularly. I’m more of a sponger now. I don’t like crowds and am lazy and don’t want to deal with the pissing contests when it comes to competing for waves when there are a lot of people in the lineup. I’ll get back out there some day soon, though. I still daydream about it sometimes.
Tell us about your name!
Our name is a Spanglish play on the Anime/Manga robot, Mazinger Z name. My Mom bought me a 3 foot tall robot toy named General Daimos when I was a little kid. He looked a little like the Mazinger Z robot so we just called him “MASSENGER.” I watched both of those cartoons.
Do you think the local Ventura scene impacts the way Massenger composes their sound?
I’m sure that it does in some way, subconsciously. I wouldn’t say that it impacts how we compose songs. Bryan (guitarist), Seth, and Michael (drums) have been immersed in the Ventura music scene in one way or another since they were teenagers. I think our sound is generated from the four musical personalities in the band.
Photo Credit: David Evanko of Minivan Photography
Speaking of local Ventura bands, can you throw out any recommendations for our readers?
Hell yeah! Char-Man, The Spires, Loose Nerves, Sweet Reaper, Detained, MäASK, Stop Breathing, Beach Buzz, Catholic Spit, off the top of my head.
Looking through your discography, I noticed you have a steady working relationship with Joel Jerome, who’s also helped engineer and produce for bands like Cherry Glazerr, La Sera, and Tashaki Miyaki. What’s it like working with Jerome? I heard he loves using vintage amps and equipment.
Working with Joel is fun and easy. With MASSENGER we record with our own gear. I believe we may have used Joel’s bass rig on PEELING OUT. I like using his vintage mics for the vocals. We may have used more of his amps on our S/T debut record. Each time we’ve recorded with him we pretty much track live and within a couple days. We like to keep things simple.
There’s a lot of really spirited yet spiky tunes on PEELING OUT. Lovin’ all the harmonies that are layered over the old school drumming and guitar experimentation. What draws you guys so close to the garage rock sound?
Thanks! When we started the band there wasn’t a conscious decision to be a “Garage Rock” or “Surf Rock” or a “Punk” band. We just wanted to make driving, high-energy, fun, and straightforward kinds of songs. It’s my first band and my first time writing lyrics and melodies. Bryan (lead guitars) definitely brings a Garage Rock flavor to MASSENGER because he loves some of the music that came out of that era, so I think that’s why it’s a big element of our sound.
BANSHEE, which was a cassette you released with Burger Records, features one of my favorite post-punk necromancers, Siouxsie Sioux, on the cover. Is she a big influence for the band?
Siouxsie was a very big influence on me (Sasha) personally. I was exposed to her music when I was in 2nd grade by my high school-aged Aunt. I thought she was a mythical creature or something and her voice just blew me away, I guess. No one sings like she can. She’s mesmerizing!
Photo Credit: Shamsi Luna
There’s a strong leaning towards lo-fi production on your EPs/LPs. Does that preference emerge while you guys are in the studio? Do you track your albums live?
We track our albums live. We do it that way to keep close to our live sound and we go in knowing we want it that way. There’s also the $$$ and time issue which has a tiny bit to do with our methods. It might be cool to someday try to do things differently. Who knows.
Within the giant heap of surf rock bands coming out of Southern California, there’s pressure to create a sound or even write music that stands out. Do you guys ever feel pressure to spice things up when you’re touring and exposed to other burgeoning garage-rock outfits?
Ay yai yai. I really don’t like being lumped into a genre (which I know is impossible and silly), but we obviously hail from Ventura ‒ a big surf town in California. I was surfing a lot when we made our first album. At the time (2011), there didn’t seem to be nearly as many surf-rock type bands starting out. At least I didn’t know of any except the Tijuana Panthers (who we dig big time). Our recordings are kind of lo-fi and our sound is somewhat Garage-y.
I don’t think that sound is what defines us, though and I don’t feel any pressure to sound any other way. We make music for us to enjoy playing live, in our jam spot, and for people to maybe enjoy, too. Every band has their nuances and I feel like we definitely have our own thing going on ‒ whatever it is. Our sound is evolving naturally over time. The desire to grow, change, and be stimulated creatively drives that. We’ve got new songs in the works and they are slightly different but it still sounds like MASSENGER.
Are you hitting the road for PEELING OUT? Any exciting future plans you wanna share?
Yes! We are so happy to be joining La Luz on the Southern leg of their tour, from April 27-May 7! Some other dates will be sprinkled in, too. We’re huge fans of theirs and can’t wait!
4.27.16 – Tucson, AZ – Club Congress – w/ La Luz
4.28.16 – El Paso, TX – Monarch
5.1.16- New Orleans, LA – Siberia – w/ La Luz
5.3.16- Tallahassee, FL – Warhorse Whiskey – w/ La Luz
5.4.17- Miami, FL – Gramps Bar – w/ La Luz
5.5.16 – Jacksonville, FL – Burro Bar – w / La Luz
5.6.16- Atlanta, GA – Aisle 5 – w/ La Luz
Thanks for the interview!