Despite growing up beachside in Moana, alt-indie four-piece Ethanol Blend are more than salt spray and surf rock.
Ethanol Blend and the emerging sound of Adelaide’s south coast
“Maybe we are just your token surf band,” Ethanol Blend’s bass player, Dale Lasslett, says with resignation, after making a lengthy counterargument to CityMag‘s use of the descriptor.
In their own words (on Facebook and Triple J Unearthed), Ethanol Blend are a “four-piece post-folk” band straddling “indie, punk [and] rock”.
To CityMag, the driving rhythm, simple melodies and wave-like crashes of reverb-rich electric guitar recalled that summery genre.
But vocalist and guitarist Jack Stokes says the band doesn’t feel locked into any particular sound, and instead they’ve evolved with each release.
“[The Blend] Part 1 is kind of very happy, and surf rocky, airy-fairy and then [The Blend] Part 2 is quite… I wouldn’t say sad, but a bit darker,” he says.
“It’s just a blend of whatever’s happening at the time.”
The band was first conceived as a solo project by Jack, under the Slippery Sloth moniker, and Dale, Zack Dowd and Alex MacDonald came into the fold soon after.
Ethanol Blend released its second EP, The Blend Part 2, late last year, and CityMag has been caught in its rip ever since.
The release was recorded at “Love Shack Studios” – Jack’s parent’s house in Port Noarlunga – with Jack on vocals and guitar, Dale on bass, Zack on Drums and Alex on guitar.
Each of the record’s eight tracks ring with lo-fi listlessness, reverb and sun-drenched riffs. To listen from beginning to end is to feel as though you’ve been cast as an extra on Puberty Blues.
But there is a streak of something darker.
‘Underwater’, a driving rock song for most of its three and a half minutes, opens up midway through to make space for yearning synthesisers. ‘Still Counting’, too, is a slow-moving, ethereal ballad.
Rather than upbeat songs about blinding sunlight and summer flings, the record aches with nostalgia for summers long gone that can never be returned to.
“We’re more than just the surfy sound and the surfy look,” Dale says.
“You can also listen to a surf rock song and it’s gonna go: intro, verse, chorus, verse.
“It’s still great and I still listen to it, but personally we wanted to progress into something with a bit more dynamics.”
The reason the band works, Dale says, is because each member taps into all the disparate genres they were raised on. For Jack, this is a lot of garage rock; for Dale, it’s ’80s synth-pop.
“Me and the drummer Zach, we also grew up listening to hardcore and metal bands like Parkway Drive, and American punk bands,” Dale says.
“We’re all influenced by different bands, which makes our set up really cool. We don’t all come at the songwriting from the same angle.”
Despite their rejection of the surf rock label, there is salt in Ethanol Blend’s veins.
Jack and Dale live in a “beach shack” 100m from the ocean in Moana and both learned how to surf before they were 10.
Moana is good for work and the surf, Jack and Dale say, but there is a dire need amongst the local music community for more live music venues.
Ethanol Blend launched The Blend Part 2 at Jive in the CBD, which was good “because the crowds are kind of out that way,” Dale says, but coastal options are limited.
“We played a show at the Moana Surf Club once and it was absolutely classic,” Dale remembers.
“It was just a bunch of oldies, and our parents came along and parents’ friends came along. It was pretty sick.
“All the tables were still set out from where everyone was eating, and we were kind of like, ‘Should we move the tables?’
“They were like, ‘Nah, not necessary’,” Dale laughs.
Ethanol Blend is four tracks deep into the recording of their next release, which, like The Blend parts 1 and 2, will likely be released on CD – or vinyl, if the finances are available.
“I like the artwork and being able to hold something in my hand,” Jack says.
“I love the idea of vinyl as well, but a CD to me is so nostalgic. Walking to Sanity Music and buying a 28 Days CD with all your pocket and being like ‘Yeaaaaah!’ was a good time,” Dale adds.
There’s no firm release date set for the next record, but we’re told there will be more synthesisers and pianos.
Through our conversation, we’ve come to understand why Ethanol Blend’s members tried so hard to skirt our initial attempts to place them under a surf-rock banner.
To look out at the ocean and see only a thin sparkling blue sheen is to ignore the water’s vast, murky and uncharted depths.
A more interesting pursuit is to dive below the surface and see where the tide takes you.