With Ancient Winds now on vinyl, The Madeira celebrates surf music longevity at Radio Radio with their last show of 2017
Members of The Madeira stem from a rich history of surf and rock music from the Space Cossacks through Destination: Earth! (along with other bands) to The Madeira. Forming in 2004, The Madeira was not just a bi-product of the Midwestern Surf revival of the late ’90s, but they grew from a steady stream of ’60s icons like Dick Dale, Ventures, and the Re-vels. If Rhino re-released their Cowabunga surf box set, The Madeira would instantaneously be included.
Featuring members Ivan Pongracic on lead guitar; Patrick O’Connor on rhythm guitar, Dane Carter on drums; and Todd Fortier on bass, the group has churned out six releases through the end of the 2000s and into the 2010s. Their latest release, the 2015 Ancient Winds just recently received the vinyl treatment and the band will be celebrating with a show at Radio Radio.
Pongracic talks to us about what will be their last show for some time, their involvement in the 10th Annual Surf Guitar 101 and their primal love for surf music.
The Madeira – Sandstorm
You have a show coming up at Radio Radio, and it is your only show for the rest of the year. Why is this the only show?
Several reasons, really, and none of them a very big deal. The bottom line: everybody’s very busy, increasingly so. Patrick O’Connor, our rhythm guitarist, is in two other popular Indy bands (the Shake Ups and Five Year Mission) that travel quite a bit, and he’s booked almost every weekend; Todd Fortier and Dane Carter, our bassist and drummer, now have teenage kids and growing responsibilities at their jobs, so their free time is tight; and I live in Michigan, three hours north of Indy, and that drive seems to be getting longer every year, having done it now for 17 years! Also, we usually get some offers for shows in the fall, but none came this year, so we thought we’d just take a break.
The Madeira recently participated in the 10th Annual Surf Guitar 101. Tell me more about the experience.
It was FANTASTIC! This was our third time (we played the first one in ’08, then again in ’12), and we went down extremely well, I would say! It was held in Torrance, CA in early August, and it was full of hard-core surf music nuts – our kind of audience! 🙂 I think we played really well, I was very proud of the show – and we kicked things up a few notches by bringing two additional musicians on stage with us for the final six songs, turning us into a six-piece band! They were: John Blair, the lead guitarist of the legendary ’80s/’90s surf band Jon & the Nightriders and THEE surf music historian – he almost single-handedly started the surf music revival in 1980; and Jonpaul Balak, a DJ for the weekly Luxuria.com surf music show Fiberglass Jungle and the bass player for Insect Surfers and the Tikiyaki Orchestra, as well as a panoply of other bands – if anybody needs a great bass player, they get Jonpaul!
John and Jonpaul (along with the Madeira drummer Dane Carter) are my bandmates in the part-time Blair-Pongracic Band, which toured Italy and Spain in the summer of ’15, California last summer, and the east coast this summer, so both of them knew these songs very well. I gotta say that playing lead guitar in front of THOSE five musicians was one of life’s great thrills! It really felt like riding those 50-foot waves- just an immense feeling of power and volume, and like you could get crushed if you screw up! 🙂 One other cool thing is that the entire event was recorded by Mark Linett, the Grammy-winning producer who recently worked with Brian Wilson on The Smile Sessions album and who loves this music. We heard one recording so far, and it sounds great! We hope to release the whole show as a live album in the future – and there is a possibility that a compilation album with the bands playing the convention will be coming out, too, which I think is very exciting!
The band having past experience with a strong foundation netted in the Indianapolis scene, tell me what forces led to the creation of The Madeira?
I fell in love with surf music in the early ’90s, and started my first surf band, the Space Cossacks, in Washington, DC in ’96. In ’98 I moved to Indianapolis, and lived there for two years. While there I got to meet Patrick, who at that time was playing in his own surf band, Destination: Earth! I also got to meet Dane. Dane and I started playing together in 2000 in the Troubadours, the tribute band to the legendary and highly influential early-’60s UK instrumental band the Shadows that my dad and I formed shortly before Dane joined us. (This band still continues and we’re even playing the Makahiki: A Night of Tiki event in Indianapolis in three weeks.)
The Space Cossacks came to an end in 2000, and until 2004 the Troubadours were my only band, which was a lot fun, we even got to play in Toronto twice. But I started getting an itch to play original high-energy surf music again so I first asked Dane if he would be interested, and he said yes. Since Dane lives in Indy, I then approached Patrick, and he also said yes. It made sense to base the band out of Indy, even though it’s a bit of a drive for me, but I live in a small town in Michigan and there’s no music scene anywhere close to me. We started playing in the Spring of ’04, with Todd joining us about a year later, and it’s amazing to me how much we’ve done in that time: four studio albums, one live album, one EP, toured Italy as well as all over the US, been featured in the Guitar Player magazine, won multiple album-of-the-year awards from the long-running surf zine Pipeline, etc. We’ve been very fortunate!
The Madeira – Tribal Fury
What is the origin of the band name and how does it blend into the philosophy of the band?
Honestly, I just thought it was a cool sounding word. Around ’99-’00 I read an article about the Madeira wine, and feel in love with the sound and the look of the word (which simply means ‘wood’ in Portuguese). I did some research and found out that it’s also an island in the Atlantic off the coast of west Africa. It is Portuguese territory and a major surfing spot, which I thought was a nice connection! (It’s a beautiful island, too!) My original idea for the band was that we would focus on more Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern/North-African/Spanish influences in surf music which were there from the beginning of the genre but I wanted to really emphasize them and stay away from the blues/early-rock’n’roll aspects of surf music, which I thought had already been done to death by other bands. I was looking for something different we could do, take this genre – which to many people seems like a spent force – and turn it into something creative and exciting. BTW, I think many other surf bands have done exactly that in the past 20-30 years, but I wanted us to carve out our own little niche. And so the idea of this little island that is very close to Africa but still apart from it, not only physically but culturally, really appealed to me – here we are, standing a bit apart from what came before! Very highfalutin’! 🙂
Six releases in, what do you feel you have learned from your albums and what do you feel are your finest recorded moments?
What I’ve learned is that it’s DAMN HARD work to write and record an album! It really takes an enormous amount of energy and dedication and focus, and I was left exhausted after each one. I think all of us are perfectionists, and we take recording extremely seriously. We’ve *never* half-assed any part of it in the slightest, we want to do every part of it to the very best of our abilities. We are fortunate that it’s not too much struggle to get all four of us on the same page, mostly seeing eye-to-eye, but it still is a lot of work to develop the songs to their full potential and then to make sure that we can perform them as they need to be performed to give them life. We recorded all four of our studio albums at the Pop Machine studio in Broad Ripple, with Eric Klee Johnson. All four albums were recorded basically in 48-hour periods, starting on a Friday afternoon and going through Sunday afternoon/evening. We recorded live, which I believe is the right way to record rock’n’roll music, and then fixed things and added overdubs. I’m immensely proud of all four, and think they make a lot of sense together, showing the progression of the band. I don’t think any are stronger or weaker than any others, though I always seem to have the softest spot for our most recent! We’ve had a lot of people tell us that Ancient Winds is their favorite so far, though our second one, Carpe Noctem, was ranked the highest of the three released up until the votes of the public were taken in early 2015 though North Sea Surf Radio.
The band plans to release Ancient Winds on vinyl. What are the plans for that?
The LP is out! We have it on blue translucent and black vinyl. We had it available for the first time at the Surf Guitar 101 Convention three weeks ago, and just started selling it through mailorder last week. We’ll of course have them at the Radio Radio show, as well as the Troubadours’ Makahiki show in three weeks. Come get ’em before they’re gone, folks!
What is it like being in a surf band in today’s musical climate? Has longevity helped?
Well, it’s both tough and easy! It’s pretty much impossible to play surf music in a fully professional way, there’s no way you could make a living with it (though there are one or two notable exceptions to that) – but then, that seems to be increasingly the case for most bands of any genre. But it’s easy because we actually don’t do this to make money, which removes an enormous amount of pressure from the whole thing. If we can break even, we’re happy – and our expenses are usually very low. And if we have to subsidize it a bit with our own money, it’s no big deal. Today’s musical climate has led to fracturing of the music scenes into smaller and smaller subgenres, but we did that from the beginning with the underground surf music world. While there are certainly some downsides to that, it also comes with a kind of a built-in audience that maybe some other bands don’t get. Being so tapped into that scene has been a very good thing for us.
The longevity is probably a double-edged sword, in a sense that maybe people can get a bit tired of us after we’ve been around for 13 years now, they know what we’re about, no great surprises there – but also we do have a good and faithful following, which has allowed us to actually have pretty decent CD sales (not just downloads), obviously something that’s getting tougher for most bands. We also get opportunities coming our way such as playing Europe or California that
newer bands probably wouldn’t.
Last year you opened up for Dick Dale? What was that experience like?
Well, he was – and still IS – one of my greatest guitar influences, so of course it was a HUGE thrill! We got to do it once before, in ’14, but I think last year’s show was much better. I REALLY enjoyed it! A sold-out crowd at Melody Inn, and we went down really well. We got to take a full band pic with Dick, and that’s a very special thing. Patrick also did an interview with him for NUVO, which was great! But Dick is not the easiest person. He’s not the kind of guy that will go check out the band and give them compliments. You’re not gonna become his buddies. But it’s OK, he’s been through so much, it’s absolutely remarkable he’s still playing at his age – and still sounding as loud and proud as ever!
The Madeira – Surf Fidelis
What are some of the more memorable shows you have played?
Playing the Surfer Joe festival in Livorno, Italy in 2009, in front of the Ligurian Sea, was one of my highlights. Also, playing the Surf Guitar 101 Conventions in SoCal in ’12 and this year, both very special shows. Champaign, IL, outdoor at Mike’n’Molly’s with a giant smoke-spewing Korn Tiki statue behind us and some 100+ people dancing in front of us – spurred by a bachelorette party – was another memorable show! Recording our live album at Melody Inn in late ’13 was fantastic, too! Playing on a boat sailing on Lake Michigan with the great Exotics in Milwaukee a few years ago was fun! Many, many wonderful shows over the past 13 years, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some really great ones right now. Often one of the best things about a show is playing with good friends in other surf bands, and we’ve played with too many to mention! It’s a tightly-knit community, and I really love many of the people in it!
Not only is the band preserving a historical rock sound, but you are also paving the way for the future. How do you see yourself in the future of surf music?
I have no idea! I don’t know what the future of surf music is, and I certainly don’t know if we’ll have had any impact. I do know that there are several incredible bands out there right now that cite the Madeira as one of their inspirations and influences, bands like the Mystery Men? from Atlanta, the TomorrowMen and the Deadbeats, both from San Francisco, and the Illuminators from Sweden, and that is deeply rewarding, about the best feeling you can imagine – especially when they themselves create some wonderful music, as all four of these have!
What plans does the band have and when can we see a new album by the band?
That’s easy: we have no plans! 🙂 As I mentioned above, we’ve come to a point where I think we’ve decided to step back a bit and let all four of us do other things rather than try to force something. We’ve not worked on any new material since we recorded Ancient Winds. I can say for myself that I really felt drained after the completion of Ancient Winds two years ago, and I wasn’t very eager to go through that again any time soon. I need to recharge my batteries. Six releases in 11 years is a lot. I think there’s a sense in the band that we may have done everything we’ve set out to do, and there’s no need to push any further, at least at the moment. It’s time to allow everybody to live their lives – and really appreciate the times that we do get together to play, that it’s a bit special. Maybe in a year or two or three, we’ll get to the point where we’ll say, hey, let’s do it again, it’s time! But at the moment we’ll just take pride in what we’ve accomplished and see if anything comes our way.