We’re a 45-minute subway ride removed from the stiletto-ed crowds cattling around runways at New York Fashion Week. We’re sitting at a hamburger stand at 86th Street and the boardwalk in Rockaway Beach, Queens. We’re eating fry after fry. We’re watching longboarders get up on waves that bounce off the adjacent jetty. This is FOAM’s end-of-summer shindig and its soundtrack is a glorious live set from what is now our new favorite band, Guards. As the sun droops down in the perfect sky on this September Friday afternoon, their soaring vocals, delayed guitar and ghostly Omnichord strums waft out over the Atlantic, a kind of requiem for summer 2011.
Guards is an oooh-oooh-oooh band. We figured that out when we copped their EP on Bandcamp earlier in the year. That’s not actually a real genre. It’s our designation for the way a bunch of bands we love get at ‘60s pop via ‘80s new wave, with long strains of lyric-less vocals, blended sweetly and maybe a little creepily with gobs of reverb, a Phil Spector thing on a smaller scale. Oberhofer is another perpetrator of the oooh-oooh-oooh sound, as are the Drums, Fleet Foxes and maybe even Arcade Fire at times. But perhaps Guards’ closest cousin is the meteorically popular duo Cults. Not coincidently, the two bands have shared members, and bloodlines. Guards mastermind Richie Follin and Cults singer Madeleine Follin are brother and sister. Richie Follin and Guards drummer Loren “Ted” Humphrey actually played in Cults for a while—they were also in another band together, Willowz—and the two bands spent a good chunk of this year touring together.
They’ll tell us all about it later, back in the city at a warehouse studio space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Follin and Humphrey chill with band mates Kaylie Church and John Fredericks after our photo shoot. Native Californians and surfers all, they are apparently unanimous in their distaste for haircuts. “Whenever I would leave Supercuts, I remember being pissed off and putting my hat back on immediately,” says Follin, whose sister’s Rapunzel-like mane is coveted in indie fashion circles. The longhaired Guards kids ended up New Yorkers when Church was in school here and Follin, Humphrey and Fredericks came to make a record and never left. “We were all living at my mom’s one-bedroom apartment upstate for like a year,” says Follin.
Perhaps because of their long history as friends and musical collaborators—Follin and Fredericks even grew up in the same gated community in Encinitas—this band seems to work well together. Follin is the visionary and mastermind behind the band. Its earliest songs were bedroom recordings of his, and he wrote and produced almost all of the songs on the EP, plus a few stray singles and seven-inches, like the desperate sounding “Swimming After Dark.”
In addition to pumping out insanely catchy “pop-wave-doom” (their term), the band seems to have a ton of fun. During our conversation, Humphrey identifies himself as chief prankster. A long-time fixture on the SoCal music scene, he has plenty of experience effing with fellow musicians. (In a past life, he was a member of the pop-punk band Sack Lunch with surfer-musician Rob Machado, among several other SoCal outfits.) He has pictures on his phone of the gags he pulled on Cults while touring. In one case, he slathered slabs of toast with peanut butter and stuck them to the band’s van window in a smiley face pattern. At their Brooklyn show, he rallied members of Guards to take everything in Cults’ dressing room and build hanging sculptures with it. And in Chicago, he secretly coated Cults’ snare drum with baby powder, so the first hit produced a massive white cloud. “You could smell it all the way at the back of the club,” says Humphrey. He’s cracking up.
Humphrey is the only other member of the band who has co-written a track with Follin, “I See It Coming,” which began as an instrumental track Humphrey created for his other gig doing tunes for the skateboard company Element. “I basically just sang on top of what he had done,” Follin recalls. Probably Guards’ catchiest tune, it starts out gently with sleigh bells and acoustic guitar and culminates in an epic chorus. The lyrics? “Ooooh oh ooooh oh ooooh oh ooooh.”
Guards’ self-titled EP is available for free download now on Bandcamp.com. Their debut full-length is due out in 2012.