Words: Miljan Milekić
It’s been a while since we got the last Tsunami Bomb full-length. Years of hiatus, lineup changes, and reinventing themselves have ended last November when the band shared their brand new album ‘The Spine That Binds.’ We caught up with bassist and founder Dominic Davi, and vocalist Kate Jacobi to talk about the new record, relationships with fans, Alternative Tentacles, and much more. Check it below.
Hi guys! Hope you’re all safe and good. So, how are you spending these weird times, other than#tsumanibombweddings?
Dominic: That’s all Kate [Jacobi]! She had a wedding! I wish we could have all been there like we were supposed to be, but it was a beautiful moment for all of us in Tsunami Bomb. We’re so happy for her. Thankfully, we are all safe and good. We’ve mainly been working on our own endeavors, but we’ve been coming together lately to create some fun projects to release in the weeks to come and trying to be creative in raising money for friends who need it. Weird times for sure. We’ve also started working on the next album again. That’s exciting.
Your latest album ‘The Spine That Binds’ has been out for some time now, and although this pandemic pretty much killed everyone’s tour plans, you still got to test some of the new songs on the road. Are you happy with the feedback so far, both in conversation and at shows?
Dominic: Yeah! So happy! We were able to test a lot of the songs out on the road leading up to the release, and in the few shows, we were able to play after the album came out before all this hit. It went over so well! When we wrote the album, it was very important to us that the songs sounded and felt like Tsunami Bomb, while still moving the band forward. When we mixed them into the regular set, we found that people embraced them, and they flowed really well with the songs we had previously written years ago. I think when the album dropped, the feedback we heard the most was how much it felt like we picked up where we left off, but still evolved enough in the right way. We were expecting the worst, but the response far exceeded our best expectations.
This is your first record with the new lineup, and also, the first full length after disbanding in 2005. Can you tell me more about the writing and recording process this time? Dominic: Well, the main thing that changed was the distance. We don’t all live in the same town anymore, and that had a huge effect on this album. I mean, every album has challenges, but this one was schedules and distance for sure. It required us to record in a number of studios at different times, with Oobliette and I pretty much producing and guiding the whole project. Logistics created a situation where it took a full year to complete the album! I’m proud of it, but I don’t want to do it that way again if we can help it. We’ve talked it over, and hopefully, we can record the next album all together at one time. Fingers crossed!
Garageband and Logic made writing this album possible. Overall our writing process hasn’t changed much from the old days, other than we can’t write songs in the same room. We send files back and forth, so this album had more demos made for it than any album previous, just from passing ideas back and forth. Generally, I come up with an initial idea, but Andy and Oobliette [Sparks] will come with ideas as well. We pass that to the others for approval. If we all like it or someone feels inspired, they start writing their parts to it, as it’s getting passed back and forth, all while we start arranging it properly. Kate and Oobliette will work on lyrics, either together or one will feel more inspired and write most of it. Finally, Gabe [Lindeman] will compose his drums around the other instruments, especially the vocals. It’s a process, and not all songs will make the cut. We wrote like 25 songs for the album, and after much debate, only 11 made it. We are pretty hard on ourselves and our songs.
Tsunami Bomb got together back in 2015, however, it took you some time to record and release ‘The Spine That Binds.’ Do you feel like that time was the key element for you to blend, and finally be ready to deliver an album you can 100% stand behind?
Dominic: Yes. While that wasn’t the intention, the time we took did help us be a better band. Though to be completely honest, the main hold up was our guitarist situation. One of our original guitarists, Brian Plink was performing with us when we came back at first but had to step away due to health issues – he’s doing great now, I’m happy to say. Our dear friend, Chris LaForge from the band 30 Foot Fall filled in for a while until we were able to find Andy Pohl, and he worked out so well, we finally felt we could move forward with all these ideas we had. Then just after Andy joined, Chris passed away unexpectedly, and all of us were just so devastated. It took some time before we felt ready to move forward. The silver lining of all that was that we have an old friend who is a great guitarist with us now, and as you said, it gave the group time to come together and be a stronger band. I think the album did benefit from the time we took. Hopefully, we will be more prolific now!
The new album is out via Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles, which kinda came as a surprise. How did that happen, and how happy are you with them so far?
Dominic: It was a surprise! I actually work at Alternative Tentacles Records, and when we were shopping the songs for this record, Jello approached me and was a bit upset that he heard Tsunami Bomb had a new album, and I hadn’t even considered Alternative Tentacles. I told him that we were pretty poppy, and that usually wasn’t his thing. I didn’t think he would like it. I knew he did like one of our early 7” records a lot, ‘Mayhem On The High Seas,’ but had commented more than once that after that, we started “trying too hard to be cool,” and he wasn’t as onboard. (laughs) Anyway, he argued that he didn’t have a problem with “poppy,” he had an issue with boring. He argued that he had signed the Pansy Division, and they are poppy. They weren’t boring, though. Was Tsunami Bomb boring?
My band is NOT boring, so I sent him the demos, but I warned him that he probably wouldn’t like them. He hit me up a week later and told me he loved the songs. He felt like it was very unique, and while some might not understand how we fit on Alternative Tentacles, he felt like it was a strong album that needed a home. He did go on to describe us as “Pat Benatar Goes Goth while fronting T.S.O.L.” and when you think of us like that, I admit that is a unique take. After he saw us live, he said he felt like we stood out in the ways that Blondie used to stand out from other punk bands back in the day. Which I found flattering.
Honestly, Tsunami Bomb has always been a bit of an odd duck for the punk scene. We don’t really fit in anywhere. I mean think about it! We don’t really have an identity that fits in with any particular label. People were surprised when we ended up on Kung Fu Records back in the day. Despite how well we do, most labels have rejected us, and we kind of always operate under the radar. I think our band has a polarizing effect on most people and labels, you either get it or you don’t, and that’s OK. As a label, we have been really happy with them. It helps that I’m there, but we feel really lucky to be on such a legendary punk label. They are very supportive of us. Jello has no problem saying what he thinks, but ultimately, he’s very supportive of bands finding their own way, and his main drive is to help you be as original as you can be.
Alternative Tentacles is an artist-owned label. How different is it to be in a setup that on the top has someone who is an artist, a musician, and knows every aspect of being a band, rather than someone who may approach things from a business perspective?
Dominic: Well we’ve only been on artist-owned labels. We self-released our first split 7”, then we put out our own 7” with Checkmate Records, owned by Hunter Burgan from AFI. Our first EP was with Tomato Head Records owned by Chuck Phelps of Skankin’ Pickle. Then we did two LPs with Kung Fu Records owned by Joe Escalante from The Vandals. Now we work with Jello Biafra! I am very lucky to have been able to put out releases with people from some of my favorite bands of all time, and we remain close with all of them. That said, I think that there is that benefit of having an owner who understands what you are going through and is able to call you on your shit when needed. I mean, as a label owner, you do need to be able to think from a business perspective, but we’ve been lucky to have had so much guidance from experienced musicians who have helped us along the way.
On this album, you shared some quite dark moments. Do you feel the current political situation in the US influenced the general tone of the record, and if you would be writing it right now, would it be even darker?
Kate: Not necessarily. We are actually well into our next record, and while it definitely has its dark elements, they aren’t rooted in the political climate. ‘The Spine That Binds’ is very representative in the journey of coming back to life as a band. That includes critics, self-doubt, and the journey itself along the way, which includes our daily lives. This next record will be similar. We all have clear thoughts, opinions, and feelings on how we engage with the world, and how people choose to engage with each other. What I think you will see is a more decisive tone than permissive.
Dominic: Exactly. Tsunami Bomb tends to focus on personal struggles in our themes, rather than a broad political stroke. I think those struggles are pretty universal, or at least understood by those who have felt isolated, frustrated, angry, and unsure. Considering the state of things, it would not surprise me that people apply those feelings to the world at large. As for the songs I’m writing now, well, I’m pretty pissed, so they are coming out faster and angrier. Then again, Tsunami Bomb has never been a very happy band anyway. We are better at being dark.
Some fans seem like they are still coming to terms with the new lineup and Emily’s absence. How do you look at comments like that, and can it sometimes be a bit disheartening, especially for Kate? On the other hand, can it be an additional motive to be the best band you can be?
Kate: I’ll be the first to admit that the idea of Tsunami Bomb with a different singer was strange… As a fan of this band for so long, I looked up to Emily and couldn’t imagine the songs without her, so I really do understand the jolt fans’ experience. I genuinely believe all feedback and perspective is positive. Yeah, sometimes people are more focused on trying to attack than critique, which isn’t fun, but for me, it is what it is. It comes with the territory. It’s because of fans that we’re doing this. That I’M doing this. For every negative comment out there, fans have reached out to share gratitude to have Tsunami Bomb back and personal support for me. Many of whom were incredibly skeptical of me five years ago and tell me now that they love the new record and the current lineup. At the end of the day, we are our own biggest critics. What matters to me is that Gabe, Courtney [Oobliette Sparks], Dominic, and Andy believe in what we put out there. Lucky for me, they do.
Your hiatus lasted for almost ten years, and in that period, a lot of things changed, especially in the music world and music industry. How challenging was it to restart the band in a completely new climate, and get things rolling again?
Dominic: I think the challenges were more with us? Trying to get our own heads back in that game and prepare for a potentially rocky reception. I think that was the most challenging part, but you’re right, there were a few logistical issues with dusting off Tsunami Bomb and getting it running again. We didn’t have any infrastructure set up. Social media was completely non-existent. We had to prove that we were indeed ourselves to be able to start “official” accounts. Our website address lapsed, and someone else had bought it, so we didn’t even have our old web address. We were lucky to have so many bands and fellow musicians who helped us find our way through it all, and the support we have been given has been everything. Still, I feel like there are so many things we are still playing catch up on.
I have to say that I really like the artwork for this album. It has a vibe like it’s done by a tattoo artist, rather than a typical graphic designer. How did it come together?
Kate: The album art started from a random record find at Alternative Tentacles. Dom had invited us to the office for a holiday party during which my husband and I were flipping through records when I came across one by Mischief Brew – ‘This Is Not For Children.’ I told Dom how infatuated I was with the art, and he tracked down the artist, JXRXKX. It was easy to conceptualize what we wanted with him, and we all are so stoked on how it came out!
As I mentioned tattoos, Tsunami Bomb have, kind of, a cult following, and quite a few fans ended up with your logo on their bodies. How does it feel to see a Tsunami Bomb tattoo on someone and know you influenced someone’s life so much?
Dominic: Humbling. Incredibly humbling. When I came up with the bomb logo, I had no idea one day there would be so many people with it as a tattoo, or that when we started making heart skull or poison bottle T-shirts, people would one day have them as tattoos. When it started happening, I took an idea from Rocket From The Crypt, and now if you have a Tsunami Bomb tattoo, you get free entry into any Tsunami Bomb show for life. That feels like the very least we could do for people who care that much about our band. When bringing the band back, we felt a huge responsibility to make sure we were worthy of that. The fact that we have seen so many tattoos at our shows, and that people are STILL getting them is everything to us. It’s made it all so worth it.