Amid a backdrop of pop culture posters of The Ramones, The Cramps and The Exorcist, Jenn Attaway and Kevin Bowles, the bassist and guitarist of the surf rock band The Unnaturals, sit and discuss their instruments. For the five years they’ve been together, have been playing their unique music a few times a month around town. However, the band began as a mere side project for already-busy musicians.
Jenn explained their beginnings: “He started getting me into The Ventures and, of course, the whole Pulp Fiction soundtrack helped out too. I loved it instantly and I was learning how to bass, and he was thinking about doing a side project; little surf, little rockabilly. So the best way to teach me was to write bass lines to the stuff he was working on and showing me how to play that.”
Jenn, who is the driving force behind the frequency of many shows around town, encountered a twist of fate that led to The Unnaturals being her priority band. “I had this big show booked, and all the bands canceled but one,” she said. “So we decided to go ahead and make it a real band. It’s been together ever since. A couple of lineup changes… Nothing serious though.”
“One,” chimes in Kevin, as he made his signature horns hand gesture and chuckled. The Unnaturals are rounded out by drummer Dano Cardona.
After deciding to play surf music more, the bookings began. Jenn explained: “Our first show was at One Eyed Jack's, so I was really nervous. It was really awesome, but really scary because that was my first show in a band ever. I’d always done school-bandtype stuff, but I’d never been in a rock band.
I played clarinet, alto sax, melodic percussion and piano in the jazz band.” One Eyed Jacks is still one venue that loves having The Unnaturals play and is even hosting their CD release show in March this year.
But The Unnaturals aren’t stuck in downtown; they have played in every part of the city, gaining exposure to people who would not normally seek them out and earning their favor. The band currently plays almost once a week, which is more than most bands that don’t have a regular gig, and they still manage to bring in a sizeable crowd. “We haven’t had a bad night lately,” Kevin said proudly. “It’s been a while.”
Jenn acknowledged: “We catch a lot of flak for that, but I try to be smart about it. You don’t want to play at Checkpoint’s one weekend and play Dragon’s Den the next weekend. You want to play in the Quarter one weekend, and then hit the Bywater and then hit Uptown. A lot of people don’t seem to have cars too, so they’ll go to the shows in their neighborhood. You could play two shows in a row in different neighborhoods, which we have done in this city and get two completely different crowds. We played a goth party. It had a cardboard Cthulu in the corner. They had fun, man! They were gothdancing their asses off. We get booked for some weird stuff.”
The Unnaturals aren’t afraid to break out of the guaranteed-good turnout of the city. They’ve played not only around different parts of the Southshore, but on the Northshore, all over the South of the state and in Mississippi and Florida. They also have plans to go farther than that. “We’re trying to expand out of the Gulf states,” said Jenn. Perhaps all the way to California, where the surf-craze began decades ago.
The Unnaturals’ broad appeal brings in a variety of listeners. “We get a different crowd, man,” Kevin said, then laughed. “It’s not a rockabilly/country crowd. It’s like a seedy underworld crowd.”
Jenn put it more mildly: “We get a couple of representatives from a couple of scenes. Some people we know from Decatur, some people we know from Chalmette, some people we know from the punk scene and the metal scene. It’s a really weird crosssection of the underground. It’s pretty fun. I think that’s the reason we’ve gotten a following is because people want something fresh, they want something different.”
One such show at the Circle Bar even attracted actor Nicholas Cage who asked them why they did not have a singer. Jenn responded to him, ‘“Because it’s instrumental surf rock.’ He said he enjoyed it. And a month later is when he got in the news for all that crap about going to the wrong house.”
This vintage-inspired band definitely has an appeal to baby boomers who grew up listening to surf rock. They perform at Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar at least once a year during their annual Lu Wow. “My mom actually liked the new CD, which blows my mind,” Jenn said. “I think, older people, it gives them a little bit of nostalgia. And the younger people, it’s like, ‘Oh wow. I didn’t know what to expect. I think I like this. It’s not what all my friends are listening to, but it’s kind of cool.’” The people who you would expect to be in attendance at every show seem to be missing though. “[Rockabilly fans] were everywhere for a while then, I don’t know, maybe the Hurricane ran them off,” she said. “But it seems like the ones that are left only come out for stuff like that; the Nekromantix, the Koffin Kats, Reverend Horton Heat, stuff like that. I don’t know where they’re at. They’d probably like it if they gave it a shot.”
You can pick up their album The Unnaturals vs. The 50-Foot Bettie or their EP Meet The Unnaturals at record stores around town or at one of their many shows. You may even find yourself doing The Swim or The Twist when you hear the music start.
Read the review from our 2012 Jazz Fest Weekend 1 issue at WhereYat.com.