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Now Hear This: The Madeira

May 8, 2014
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Ivan Pongracic (far left) and Patrick O' Connor (far right).

“Slavishly copying the ’60s surf sound, rather than using it as a springboard for something personal and creative is a big mistake,” says Ivan Pongracic of the Madeira, who, as a member of a surf band approaching its tenth anniversary, has a vested interest in keeping the style vital and evolving. “I’ve seen untold numbers of bands that approach surf music as a novelty, and reduce it down to the clichés—at which point it’s just ridiculous. There’s no depth or emotion. And there’s plenty of room to develop this music, as ’60s surf had a very short run— just about four years, really—before it came to a sudden stop with the emergence of the British Invasion. Fortunately, there are many fantastic bands around the world today pushing surf music forward.”

“You have to take surf seriously as an evolving musical form, and not just rehash nostalgia,” adds co-guitarist Patrick O’Connor. “Approaching it as something in the here and now is important, because, otherwise, you’re going to be too worried about ‘messing with the gospel’ to come up with anything new and interesting.”

Although the Madeira hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, Pongracic was born in the former Yugoslavia, and was lucky enough to have a father who played in Shadows cover bands in the ’60s.

“The Shadows were the reason I started playing the guitar, and they still shape everything I do with the Madeira,” says Pongracic. “I don’t want the band to sound like the Shadows, but I do aim for a sound that is as unique and recognizable as theirs. Also, the Atlantics—an amazing Australian surf band—is enormously influential on us, because they took the Shadows sound and ratcheted up the tempos and the energy to levels unheard of before then. They were really like a metal band—in 1963!”

While the Madeira works hard to create modern surf music, it can be frustrating if audiences remember surf music as artless little ditties that evoke California sun, woodies, and bikinis.

“It’s a shame that most people only know a few high-profile songs, when surf has a rich, wide-ranging, and remarkably creative history,” says Pongracic. “They also think surf is simple and easy to play. But the challenge is to take, say, complex melodies and Middle Eastern influences and make everything sound accessible. And it’s not easy at all to play with heavy string gauges, and not be able to rely on distortion for sustain. It actually takes quite an imaginative approach to play surf.”

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