Most musicians rely on gigs to survive a tough market, but one band is charting a different path in order to get their music out. The Gunboat Diplomats band based in Jacksonville Beach, FL, has embraced the tech model, foregoing gigging to focus solely on recording.
Targeting radio stations at home and abroad, the band is made up of individuals who, according to spokesperson ‘Gunboat Smith’, “met through the music” and ended up becoming friends. An air of mystery surrounds the band, complete with retro graphics and a name suggesting the group is determined to break the hold prefab pop titans have on US culture.
Smith agreed to an interview by email as the band begins work on their next project. In keeping with their name, the new project is titled ‘Manifest Destiny.’
Q & A with ‘Gunboat Smith’
1) How did your band come together? Were you already friends, or did you meet through your music?
We met through the music, but have since become friends.
I had returned from an overseas excursion and was looking for a studio where I could work with someone who understood what I was trying to do and could really get the musical ideas to come to life.
I hunted down Ken, our drummer extraordinaire, whom I had worked with before, and he recommended Zoe Tribe Studios. And BAM! I immediately made the creative connection with owner Chuck Nash as a fellow traveler.
When you get creative enthusiastic people together in a room to make a song, it’s good times. As the musical ideas bounce around, the collaborative process becomes outrageously fun. And the band is really more of a song shop with the goal of crafting a string of good, catchy songs.
We’ve got a core group that composes and arranges the songs, records the rhythm section in Zoe Tribe Studios, and then produces, mixes, and masters the final product. And then we brought in different singers and musicians to deliver their unique magic to each song on our record, “Fine State Of Affairs.”
Ultimately, if you listen to it you’ll end up hearing something substantially different from one tune to the next, which we think is a very good thing, indeed. The core writers and rhythm section give all the songs a common base, and the cast of guest musicians add some variety to the mix. If you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor, variety is the spice of music.
2) There’s a mystique about a band who doesn’t splash personal
photos on their website. Is there a reason your members want to maintain
Well, we’re certainly not trying to appear overly secretive, although there are active arrest warrants out on all of our members. No, I’m kidding, of course! There are only active warrants out for a few of them.
But, it’s good to know that we have a mystique about us. I think it’s certainly safe to say that we’re mysterious in the sense that we are utterly unknown! But all seriousness aside, our focus is really on the songs, not necessarily on the individual participants of the song shop.
Speaking for myself, I’m really not that interesting (as you may have already surmised), so I can’t imagine that there would be much curiosity regarding “who is behind these songs, and what makes him tick?”
Unlike Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show, we’re not looking to see our smiling faces on the cover of Rolling Stone, and Tiger Beat magazine hasn’t called, either. We’d just like the songs to be heard and enjoyed by people who like the kind of thing that we do, that’s all.
Having said that, every musician who played on the record is listed on the individual Bandcamp page for each song And, on occasion, we do point out particular performers on our web site The Gunboat Diplomats and Facebook page at various times. [See links at end of article.]
Take the phenomenal Chuck Nash as an example. For years he was the front man for the popular regional band Kingpins. He plays guitars and bass on the vast majority of our songs, sings on a good chunk of them, and records, engineers and produces all of them.
And Ken Nasta has played drums with various bands over the years, including Chain Of Fools, The Fenwicks and Pili Pili. He’s an excellent drummer who can play in any style at the drop of a hat, whether it’s a Ringo Starr pop rock piece, a reggae jam, a cool samba beat, or a Gene Krupa big band number.
And on “Fine State Of Affairs,” you’ll also hear the fun reggae improvisations of Mystic Dino (who already had a mystique, judging from his name), the warm, rich tone of Frank “Monster” Pilgrim, and the stunning vocal stylings of Megan Diamond. (Uh-oh, now that I’ve named our rogue’s gallery of performers, I may have removed whatever elusive mystique we once had!)
Oh, one other thing about personalities. Since the tunes on our first project are a series of “songs for lonely hearts, obsessive lovers and hopeless romantics” performed in a variety of vintage pop genres
(everything from bluesy pop-rock and novelty songs to reggae and rockabilly), we encourage whoever is recording in the studio to kind of play a role and inhabit a character as part of the performance.
For instance, a singer might assume different personas on three different background vocal tracks to add a little spice. Or musicians might play in styles reminiscent of great old bands like The Four Tops or Herb
Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, depending on the song. It makes the recording sessions interesting and fun. In fact, so fun that you can hear us laughing like buffoons at the end of the song “Standup Guy.” Hopefully, that raw, unadulterated joy transfers to the listener and brings a smile to his or her face.
3) Are you indie musicians? I noticed Embassy is your record label.
Is that an indie label or corporate?
We are completely indie do-it-yourselfers. I always say that we haven’t let anonymity go to our heads.
The Embassy Records logo is just an invented label that looked cool on our retro graphics that we created for each song where we have an old 45 record on a vintage turntable. Also, it matched our entire “diplomat” motif. You see, our ingenuous marketing plan involves recording exclusively in genres that haven’t been popular in fifty years. Along those same lines, we’re also giving our entire brand a very retro/vintage look, lest anyone mistakenly think that we are current, hip and cool. We can’t have that, now can we?
4) Why don’t you perform live?
Well, first off, we really are a studio song shop. We’re focused on producing the best songs we can in the studio, getting some exposure and play on internet radio stations, and then recording the next song.
Although it would probably be fun to play live, I have no urgent desire to do so. And even if I did, it’s just impossible to get all of us together at one time.
Our primary keyboard man is off touring the world, I’m traveling to New Orleans soon, Kenny plays in three different bands, John-Boy moved to the big city, and Mary Ellen has the fever. Wait, where was I going with this?
Oh, yes. The logistics of getting us all together would make Hannibal crossing the Alps with a herd of elephants seem like child’s play. That’s why being strictly a studio entity is truly the art of the possible in action.
5) Do your members have jobs outside the music field, or do you do
Several core members are professional gigging musicians.
Others used to be but now work day jobs and gig occasionally. And some are just really talented people who love making music.
And just as our music is diverse, we have professions in a wide range of industries, from building inspectors to logistics specialists to insurance agents to the Department of Defense, including a couple of vets. A good cross-section of the citizenry, I’d say. Of course, it would be great to make music full time and follow that passion. After all, we always have swimsuit modeling or robbing banks to fall back on if the music thing doesn’t pan out.
6) What is your ultimate goal regarding your music?
Right now, we’re just looking for some exposure and to get the songs into people’s ears. Since we don’t play live, that means getting on shows and stations that play independent music.
And let me thank some of those venues for supporting The Gunboat Diplomats by playing our songs, such as The Ice Cream Man Power Pop Show, WJKO, Belter Radio, Just Good Friends Indie, Chasing The Essential, KBJB Radio, Bandwagon Network, Ralphy’s Music Of The World, It Matters Radio, Pop That Goes Crunch, Radio Lantau in Hong Kong, and many others too numerous to mention here. They are in the trenches supporting indie music and are an invaluable asset.
We also placed a couple of songs with an agency for potential licensing in TV shows, movies or commercials. We’d like to pursue more of that soon and see what happens. Perhaps you’ll hear instrumental versions of our songs as cues in the background of “The Real Housewives of Callahan.”
Kay, maybe we’ll even be played in a department store as an alternative to the mind-numbing sound-alike music that led to your profound moment of epiphany and the creation of the Indie Art South web site…talk about poetic justice!
Our other goal is to connect and interact with listeners and music lovers on our social platforms, hear what they think, talk about music, and exchange exotic recipes for Hungarian goulash…well, possibly not goulash recipes, but we’re up for most anything. Having fun is the main objective.
7) Anything else you’d like to share? Where can we find your music?
I’d like to invite your readers to sample our wares at The Gunboat Diplomats website.
If you like what you hear, you can follow the links to The Gunboat Diplomats at Bandcamp where you can download the music for the everyday low, low rate of “Name Your Price.” That means you can get it for nada, zilch, zip and/or bupkis. (Of course, if you decide to throw a little change into the hat, we certainly won’t refuse it…because that would be rude.)
And if our music tickles your fancy, consider ‘Liking’ our Gunboat Diplomats Facebook page to hear the latest, up-to-the-minute news about nearly interesting items and almost fascinating events.
Let’s see, what else? Oh, I should point out that we’re already working on songs for our new project called “Manifest Destiny,” which is a tale of regret, reflection and redemption. In addition to that overly pretentious description, it will also be a smorgasbord of musical styles. Our first two songs will be ready soon, a country tune and a folksy singer-songwriter ballad. So keep your ears out for those, if you’re into that sort of stuff.
And as I mentioned, we’d love to hear from the good folks out in internet-land. You can popin at the web site Contact page or on Facebook to say hello, comment on music, discuss the price of tea in China, or make cruel, disparaging remarks about my family tree. Whatever floats your boat!
(Filed by Kay B. Day/July 18, 2017)