Just ask The Standells: More than 50 years after the California garage-rock crew first emerged, they arrive tonight in Chapel Hill to play the Local 506, one of a litany of small clubs they’ll hit on their first proper tour since that initial burst of activity. Their early albums—littered with enduring classics like “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” and “Dirty Water,” the victory anthem for seemingly every Boston sports team—inspired groups like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, helping to kickstart the garage and punk revolution that would take hold in the decades to come.
Last fall, The Standells released Bump, their first studio album since the ‘60s. While it’s far from perfect, it does move with the same restless energy that made their initial run so revolutionary. INDY Week caught up Larry Tamblyn, the group’s leader throughout its topsy-turvy existence, to gain some insight into their unlikely rebirth.
The Standells play at Local 506 with Thee Dirtybeats tonight at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.
INDY: How does it feel to be back on the road?
Larry Tamblyn: It’s going great. We chose to travel on the road like we did in the old days. We’re in a nice sized van-bus. It brings back a lot of memories. We haven’t really done a tour like this since the ‘60s. It’s new, and yet it’s so old. I was sitting with the guys last night in a diner, and we were just having the best time sitting there being the guys in the band. Nobody knows what I’m talking about unless they’ve experienced it—just sitting with the guys and joking around and being band members. We all get along so great. I had flashbacks of so many times and so many diners that I’ve been in with band members. It was a time machine.
Why was this the right time to return now?
We had been planning this for five years. It was kind of a long-range goal. First, we wanted to record the new album. That was the key, and it took us a while to actually get that together. We had to build our own studio—in the garage, by the way. It’s a converted garage, and we didn’t have any songs ready that were written. So we proceeded to write new songs. We were solely involved in the recording ourselves. We didn’t bring anybody else in, not even a recording engineer. I did all the engineering and producing. It’s a lot of jokes about garage rock, and we get a lot of them because we’re considered the garage rock pioneers.
There’s a certain commonality to things that are created in garages: You’re in a familiar environment where you’re comfortable. There might be junk in there. It could be lawn mowers or whatever. It’s not a pristine environment. You don’t have polished floors and cathedral ceilings or anything like that. You can be yourselves. That’s the way we felt. It took us about a year to do the album.
That allowed us to start on the second part of our long-range goal, which was to start touring again. We really felt that if we wanted to tour, we didn’t want to go out as an oldies band. That’s just not The Standells. It wasn’t back in the ‘60s. In the ‘60s, we were new. It’s the same way now. We want to be The Standells of yesterday and The Standells of today.
How important was it for you to live up to those old Standells records, the ones that you talk about inspiring so many?
It was of key importance. That was our goal in writing material, to sound like The Standells of the ‘60s. That’s where I think a lot of groups make their mistake when they come back, not sounding like they did originally. We wanted the songs to be definitely identifiable as The Standells, so we purposefully went back to all the old material and took it apart and listened to what made it so great. That’s when we started writing.
The other original member, John Fleck, and I wrote “It’s All About the Money,” and if if you've read anything on The Standells, you know that we’re kind of considered the rock group of the working class. All of our songs were basically about us-against-them back in the ‘60s—you know, “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White,” not judging us by our appearance. We wanted to really be that again, so two of our songs right off the bat are really poking at the wealthiest one percent. What we’re talking about is the growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor. We wanted to address that, and we wanted to hit other areas that The Standells used to hit on.
How does it feel to be playing again, given all that’s transpired with rock music since you were first active?
Back when we recorded and did all that stuff, garage rock didn’t exist. Punk rock didn’t exist. Those all came about in the ‘70s and ‘80s. But we somehow got labeled as the originators of that, and we influenced a lot of punk rock groups. You ask me how does it feel to be doing those songs today as opposed to the ‘60s—it’s actually even more gratifying. Back in the ‘60s, we were just one of many rock groups. We had our own unique sound, but there were other groups around. There was Buffalo Springfield, The Seeds, a lot of groups.
Now, people really appreciate the sound that we had. We’ll have people that will yell out from the audience, even songs in TV shows we did, like The Munsters, for instance. People have seen that episode, and it’s gone all over the world. So we have people asking us to do “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” which we won’t do. But it’s very gratifying.