THE SUPERTONES
Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space
(Supertones Music)

 

Anytime The Supertones release a new album is a cause for celebration, not only among long time fans in their hometown NYC, but also for all fans of the world-wide Surf-Rock instrumental genre that the band specializes in. With guitarist / composer Tim Sullivan at the helm once again, the 2019 CD release of Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space features 15 newly recorded tracks of instrumental surf-rock gold. Recorded at Brooklyn’s famed Cowboy Technical Services studio, the album spotlights Tim Sullivan on lead guitars, Seth Lipscher (rhythm guitars), Simon Chardiet (bass guitars) and Tommy Mattioli (drums). With production chores by Simon and Tommy, the album sounds excellent and features a number of musical surprises, not the least being instrumental covers of two classics penned by the late great rock legend David Bowie. A cover of Bowie’s “Starman” classic from 1972, is given the Supertones treatment and it’s a real highlight of Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space. Another outer space signature song by Bowie, in fact his first big international hit, “Space Oddity” is also given the Supertones touch and is another dazzling sounding highlight. Also here is a cover of the title track from the 1965 movie For A Few Dollars More, originally written by Ennio Morricone. A mix of several cover tracks and a fresh batch of Supertones originals fills out the album in style. Decked out in stunning day-glow cover art, Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space is a Supertones-style surf-rock instrumental blast, start to finish. cdbaby.com / facebook.com / youtube.com

 





mwe3.com presents the 2019 interview with
Tim Sullivan of The Supertones


mwe3
: I remember you saying that The Sweet Ride from 2017 was going to be the final Supertones album. I’m glad it wasn’t because the new 2019 Supertones album Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space is one of best Supertones albums yet. When were the tracks from the new album written and recorded and how did you decide on the album title? Is there a concept to Unknown?

Tim Sullivan: I always wanted to play and record the song “Unknown” which is a very obscure surf tune which nobody really had known any thing about it, like who recorded it or the name of the song - hence the name “Unknown?” that is on the 45.

In the last few years I have been doing a lot of solo gigs at the Hayden Planetarium here in NYC for my friend Carter, who runs it and designs all the software, and who is a big fan of the Supertones and had been after me for a while now to come up and play while he does these private shows, so I finally said yes. So, I had to figure out what was I going to play for 3 hours solo in the dark while traveling though the “Universe”.

So this was the main inspiration for the album, hence those Bowie tunes and the title of the record and the inspiration for all the new originals, that's all I needed to do another album. It like I had to do it. It was a gift from the gods...

mwe3: What’s new in Chelsea these days? I remember you said the hotel was reopening again. How has the building changed since you moved in there way back when and is West 23rd street still rocking and rolling?

Tim Sullivan: Well, they’re still working on the renovations here at the Chelsea Hotel, they had a lot of delays etc… It might be finished by 2021 but most of artists and musicians are still here and the Chelsea neighborhood is still and more so than ever rocking. The streets are packed with young people… nothing like when I moved up here from the Village back 1983. The place and street were completely empty back then… now it’s full of people and it seems like it’s where the action is!

mwe3: The new Supertones album Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space features a kind of outer space theme to it. And plus there’s two great, sci-fi inspired covers penned by David Bowie, including Supertones style instro versions of “Space Oddity” and a cover of “Starman”, from Ziggy. I don’t think there was an instro cover yet of “Starman” and the Supertones version is great. Do you have any favorite Bowie song writing period? I like the band gives the track a kind of surf-calypso type sound! Did you use any keyboards on that track to double the guitar line and is it Tommy’s vibraphone playing?

Tim Sullivan: I’m a huge fan of Bowie! I was one of the first people to be into him, in 1972, when I bought the Ziggy Stardust album back then nobody around Florida knew who he was or anything about him. I loved every thing he did before Diamond Dogs, that would be my favorite period. Everything he did was great, but that stuff he did with Mick Ronson is some of the best rock & roll of all time. Mick’s Guitar playing brings tears to my eyes and on the “Starman”, Tommy plays vibes and I’m doubling the guitar line with a Fender Bass VI.

mwe3: What can you tell us about the title track “Unknown”? Is it an original or a rare cover and does the concept of the “Unknown” sort of underscore the sci-fi concept of the new album?

Tim Sullivan: Recently, I was talking to Bob Dalley from The Surf Raiders and the author of the book surfing guitars about the song, which his band recorded back in 1979-80, about where it came from and who wrote it he laughed and said 'nobody knows'! It’s just one of those songs that was lost and found then put out as a one off 45 with the title ‘unknown’, with no copy right or song credit and it is really what inspired me to come up with the premise and concept for this album. You know, with the big question mark ? of what and who is out there and the vastness of space: it’s all UNKNOWN!

mwe3: The back cover of Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space credits several members of the band, Simon and Tommy, who are each given producer credits. What did Simon and Tommy bring to the table as both co-producers? Who engineered, mixed and mastered the Unknown CD and what was it like recording at Cowboy Technical this time also working with Mario?

Tim Sullivan: I’ve been very, very lucky to have both Simon and Tommy work and play with me over the years. Most of these songs were done in one take. We usually do two takes but the first ones were the best and a lot of it had to do with these two, who work really hard before and after we put the tracks down. Simon was behind the board when we were mixing with Mario engineering every thing and Tommy doing the music and instrumental arranging and production of the over all sound of the record. These guys are total masters!

mwe3: In the album notes, you also credit Carter Emmart, director of Astrovisualization at the Hayden Planetarium in the city. How did that inspiration impact the Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space album sessions? How did you meet Carter?

Tim Sullivan: Carter was my biggest inspiration on this project. He’s the head guy there at the Hayden Planetarium and used to come to our shows. He is a big fan, he had been reaching out to me for some time to come up and play while he does his demos of all this new software, which is now all in real time. Everything has been filmed out there in space and it’s nothing like it use to be. With the lights and all it’s now like a giant 3-D hologram. So one day he contacted me to come up for a private showing of what he was working on, so my girl friend and I went up there on a Sunday evening when the place was closed. We had to go in the back door of the Museum of Natural History and it was very much like that movie “Night At The Museum”.

All the lights were out and we had to walk though all that spooky stuff in the dark, then up to and into the New Hayden Planetarium, where he then turned on this giant machine. That is the new Hayden Planetarium. It was amazing… something out of forbidden Planet. He pulled out a blanket and we laid on the floor in the center, right where the old light box use to be and for the next few hours he took us on a journey into the inner most reaches of outer space, all through the known Universe in full color and filmed in real time and all the while he played my music in the background which fully blew my mind and changed me forever. After that he said could I come up and play live next time he does one of his demos, and I said ‘hell yeah’. So far I think I done it about 6 times for his demos. So then I had to come up with some new music to play that would work well with what he was doing and then I thought I should put it on a new recording with new material and a new record. That how this album came about… it was a very personal experience.

mwe3: Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space is dedicated to Rob Prosky, who is credited as being the 5th Supertone. What can you tell us about Rob, what instrument did he play and when did he leave and then pass on?

Tim Sullivan: RIP my dear friend Rob Prosky. I met him while I was surfing out a Gilgo beach in the early 1990’s and as it turned out he lived in the Chelsea area, 8th Ave and 30th. He and his NYC friends had a car pool going, for when the surf got good out in Long Island, so we would all meet up with our boards in the city and then drive out to Longbeach, Gilgo, or Rockaway beach to Surf. This was all year around! I had a car and so did he and a few others. We all surfed a lot together and at that time, I was playing lots of gigs in the city, and all my NYC Surfer friends would come to my gigs. Rob also was a drummer and he always wanted to play drums with us so when he moved to Rincon Puerto Rico in 1997, he would get us lots of gig down there and he would play the drums. We must have played 50 gigs with him over the years and he also would let us stay at his house down there, so he was a very close friend indeed. But about a year ago he started getting sick and it turned out to be Leukemia. He passed away 6 month later. That was April 2019. A good guy we want to play a memorial gig in his honor in Rincon PR some Time next year in 2020

mwe3: Unknown And Other Hits From Outer Space features a Morricone cover of “For A Few Dollars More”. Why did you bring that track to life as a Supertones version and was the film and soundtrack an influence on your music too? It’s been covered before but the Supertones version is very cool and Tommy’s vibes add an extra texture to the song.

Tim Sullivan: When I was in California a few years ago I heard this surf band called The Black Ball Bandit who did a very cool medley of Morricone tunes and I really thought how cool I should learn “For A Few Dollars More”, which is my favorite spaghetti western so I did I must say it was the most difficult piece of music that I have ever learned. Lots of weird time changes but I loved the way it came out!

mwe3: “Antaris” is a great track and it’s very unusual in that it’s a slow-moving track with great dynamics. I read about the star Antares, are they connected?

Tim Sullivan: Yes kind of, but the song was inspired by this movie Captain Alatriste that takes place in 1630’s about the Spanish Tercio where, at the end of the movie, they fight to the last man. I liked the name as well.

mwe3: How about “Balazar”? I read Balazar was a gnome summoner? How does that track fit into the sci-fi concept of Unknown? It’s a very peaceful track. Kind of reminded me of the Shadows song “Blue Star” because it’s so relaxing.

Tim Sullivan: Funny… this song came out of a dream I had I was napping and woke up grabbed my guitar and played this song from beginning to end - true story.

mwe3: “Saturn Express” is an interesting name for a song. It’s a pretty relaxing track. Does it conjure up the thought of interplanetary travel? There’s a restaurant in India called Saturn Express but you must have had something else in mind!

Tim Sullivan: Yes, it’s a kinda Booker T & the MGs go space traveling but I do like the idea that it’s a restaurant in India, that’s perfect.

mwe3: Was “Torque Wrench” inspired by the hot cars instro vibe of the 1960s? Sounds very Ventures inspired right? The track brings the album back down to earth a bit following the ethereal sound of “Starman”.

Tim Sullivan: Yes, it’s kind of a “Mr. Moto” rip off. Very much a ‘Surf Vibe’, this was a song that Mike Mandina and I wrote in the early 1990’s where he played lead on the original. Where as on this track I play the lead part so it’s a little different than when we first recorded it back in 1992 and a bit faster as well.

mwe3: “Shanghai Surf” sounds related to “For A Few Dollars More”. That’s a Supertones original right? It does have an Asian sort of sound! It's a kind of Chinese flavored surf-rock track. Have you sent the track to any Chinese radio stations? Also, do they have a surf-rock scene with bands in China or Taiwan, Korea? What Asian country would you go to with the best surfing?

Tim Sullivan: This song was a tune I wrote back in 1992 and was recorded but we never really worked it out as far as playing it again. So I wanted to do a newer version of it and was a song that my friend Carter likes and requested so we redid it a little faster.

Okay, yeah the Asians are huge fans of Surf Music and surfing the Japanese are my favorite. They have made this kinda guitar rock their own. I love how they have taken their traditional folk tunes and made them into great guitar music. There are so many Ventures type bands there that it’s hard to count them all. I’m sure they would love this song.

mwe3: “Speed Trap” gets back to the hotrod instro sound. Was it inspired by The Ventures 1960s sound?

Tim Sullivan: I like to use open strings as much as possible. I was trained as a classical guitarist and using and playing in 1st position you get the best guitar tone even though this tune is in G and played in the # 3 position on G. I use a lot of open notes to get that bouncy kinda punchy hot rod Ventures tone… it’s one of my favorite songs on the record.

mwe3: “Down The Rabbit Hole” is an interesting name for a track. How did that track come about? It’s a Supertones original correct but is the title taken from Alice In Wonderland?

Tim Sullivan: Yes, it’s one of mine, and yes and totally an Alice In Wonderland, falling down the Rabbit kinda tune. Where it will stop nobody knows, around and around it goes! It’s another favorite one of mine that came out of nowhere.

mwe3: “Back Pedaling” has a kind of 1960s Shadows sound. It has a great stroll type sound. When was that track written? The guitar sound with Seth Lipscher has a kind of call and response sound to it.

Tim Sullivan: I wrote this at the last minute and it was a complete composition that just needed that hook to bring it together and yes, it’s a call and response and yes, Seth is in there.

mwe3: “Don’t Look Up” is an cool name for a track. It’s another upbeat Ventures style track. Where did the inspiration come?

Tim Sullivan: On that song I needed something that was kinda super surfy, a Dick Dale kinda thing with a lot of ‘Clang and Bang’ in your face kinda sound. I think this worked for what I was looking for.

mwe3: “Hijinx” is a fun track too. Did you try to come up with a fun title for a fun track?

Tim Sullivan: Yes, yes. Finding a cool name for a song is a real work of art. It’s everything when it comes to an instrumental composition and it fits this tune to a ‘T’.

mwe3: “Queso Grande” has a kind of retro inspired melody and with Tommy’s vibes again up front the track has a kind of exotic feel. Were you going for a kind of Spanish flair in the melody and arrangement? Also, surprise, there a bonus track tacked on after “Queso Grande”. The CD art says 15 tracks there's a bonus track not credited in the back panel called “The Gorgon”? When does that track date from?

Tim Sullivan: Yes this was me trying to write a kind of Cuban-Irish folk tune. It’s in 3/4 and it’s been hard to pull off live. Getting the grove is hard after play a lot of over the top surf stuff, but it turned out rather nicely and it’s very popular with everyone who hears it.

Yes there is one extra track on this record, which is “The Gorgon”. It’s the original rough mix of the song that was on our last album. A rough and ready Byrds meets surf guitar tune. I just really like playing it and prefer this rough version than the one we did on last record. More in your face and with out the Rickenbacker 12 string, which was kinda weak… this one has more punch to it!

mwe3: With so many great Supertones albums recorded and released over the past three decades, I’m so glad to be able to do this new interview with you Tim. I’m looking forward to many more guitar fans hearing and appreciating Unknown as we move through the last teenage year of the century!

Tim Sullivan: Well thank you very much. I have always enjoyed the interviews that you’ve done with me. You always do your homework and it means a lot for us who play and love this kinda music. I hope to do more records in the future as well as playing live here and around NYC. It’s been a fun ride, and I think this record is my best work to date. It has something that people who are not familiar with this style of music will enjoy. Thank you and much love to one and all from Tim Sullivan & The Supertones 2019!



 

 
   
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