“This band is really good,” says Ben Garrett. “They play surf rock.”
The guitarist and vocalist for Saratoga band Party Boat sits with his bandmates on a curved sofa that’s seen better days inside their rehearsal space, located on an unassuming suburban street. He’s not boasting about his group or the sound that has bouyed them to prominence within Capital Region clubs. Rather, on an oval coffee table by the couch, an open laptop is playing a video by Seattle band La Luz.
“It also helps that they’re super-hot girls,” guitarist Collin Reynolds says, lounging on the sofa with the bill of his baseball cap turned slightly to the right and a can of Harpoon summer beer in his hand. In this pose, Reynolds calls to mind Adam “Ad-Rock” Horowitz in the video for “(You’ve Gotta) Fight for the Right to Party.” Reynolds talks a lot more than the other guys. He also drinks a lot more of the beer from the 12-pack that also rests on the coffee table. Garrett emphasizes that the beer is because it’s his 28th birthday today.
The Party Boat doesn’t always set sail so early in the day. But the band, including bassist Dave Farnsworth and drummer Chris Daus, have plenty to celebrate beyond Reynolds’ latest trip around the sun. In April, the band released a new 7-inch single, “Little Fish,” on limited-edition vinyl to innaugurate Saratoga label JetPack Records’ new 7-inch series. The B-side features a tune called “Don’t Stress,” together described by the label as “both great songs featuring sparkling harmonies and effervescent, pure-melodic surf pop.” Save for a tinge of punk-rock, it’s the somewhat anachronistic and geographically displaced sound they’ve made their own—200 miles from the closest beach.
Co-vocalists Garrett and Reynolds have been friends for a long time, but have been playing together only for the last three years. Of those three years, they’ve been playing seriously only for the last year or so. But they haven’t wasted any time. Their seven-track debut EP Losin’ Cool came out in December 2012 on vintage cassette (with a totally radical cover photo featuring a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in a video store), heralding a year of steady gigging with stops at Art on Lark and a fall Out of the Garage and Into Space Tour of the East Coast with Albany garage-rockers Linear North in September.
“I joined in September,” says Farnsworth, who looks a bit younger than the rest with his short hair and colorfully tattooed right arm. “Right before we went on tour.”
Asked where they toured, Garrett rattles off the group’s itinerary:
“Syracuse, Buffalo, Cleveland, Louisville, Knoxville, Greenville—we played at lot of ‘villes’—Roanoke, and we closed with back-to-back shows in Philly.” The list sets off rapid-fire reminiscences.
“Cleveland was great,” Reynolds adds. “We played in this retro bowling alley.”
“The people who worked there were genuinely happy and nice,” Farnsworth volunteers. “As an East Coaster, it was starting to creep me out. You think that everybody wants something from you.”
“Philly was the best day ever. We got to wander around the city,” Reynolds remembers.
“We didn’t get to do a lot of that in the other towns. It’s usually show up, unload, play, pack up, get drunk, find someplace to sleep, and leave the next morning,” Garrett explains. He’s not necessarily complaining, though; tour life has come easy to the band, who exude comfort onstage.
Although based in Saratoga, Party Boat play mostly in Albany and Hudson. When asked how they fit into the area music scene, they declare that they don’t.
“In Saratoga, the two questions people always ask are: ‘Are you a cover band?’ and ‘Do you play three-hour sets?’” Farnsworth says of the tourist-oriented bar scene. “If you play original material, you’re not going to have a three-hour set.”
“There are some bands with a more psychedelic sound that we fit in with” Garrett says. “Not that we’re psychedelic, but we’ve got that ‘garage rock’ thing going.” And that tends to be a common tongue, making them a compatible act with bands as diverse as Hand Habits, Careers, Kitty Little, the Babies, Chloroform Party, Pony in the Pancake, and the Slaughterhouse Chorus. In February, Party Boat played the one-year anniversary party for their label JetPack, featuring Blockhouses, the new project of Figgs guitarist Guy Lyons.
“Onstage,” Garrett continues, “We’re just laid back. We just sort of do this, but with instruments . . .”
“I’ve been in some bands where everybody takes themselves really seriously,” Farnsworth says. “Everybody has to dress a certain way and act a certain way on- and off-stage. We try not to take ourselves seriously. It’s really beautiful and fun. No one here has a look.”
“Dave, Chris, and I all have the same glasses,” Garrett corrects.
Classic rock bands are the first listed when Party Boat brainstorm their influences: the Velvet Underground, the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, AC/DC, AC/DC, AC/DC . . . But for Reynolds, the shift to rock was defiant.
“I started out with jazz,” he says. “Bill Evans, Monk, Ellington. You’ve gotta love Ellington. I played piano when I was a kid. When I was 16, I kind of rebelled and said, ‘I’m not gonna take piano any more, dad!’ I discovered beer and electric guitar and now my life is even better.”
The constellation includes metal, Motown and classic punk, but Party Boat as a whole sound more like their contemporary lo-fi, psych-pop and garage-punk influences, bands like Girls, Woods, La Luz, Shannon and the Clams and Christmas Island, a bit reckless and noisy underneth their buttoned-up and Ray Ban-ed melodic veneer
“What was that song you played me the other night?” asks Daus.
“ “I Feel the Earth Move’ by Carole King,” Garrett answers.
“Yeah. We need to do a version of that,” Daus says. “That’s the kind of thing we do: Rock and roll with an old-school sound.”
“What I really love about this band, after playing in a lot of bands where I was really trying to be a serious artist,” says Reynolds, “is that we’re getting such a better response, and it’s coming from us just being ourselves and having fun.” He grins. “I’m being real, man. I’m telling you the deepest things from my soul.”
But it’s Reynolds’ birthday, and the Party Boat is by now beyond the Coast Guard’s reach. Conversation quickly shifts to lighter, less soul-searching topics, like “If I dropped a jug of ‘shine and a feather off the roof,” affecting a Southern drawl, “discountin’ wind resistance, which would hit the ground first? Trick question! They’d hit at the same time! That there is Sir Isaac Newton!”
“If I taped 10 bottle rockets together,” Daus asks, “would they go 10 times as fast?”
“We’ll find out the answer to that one next time on Redneck Physics,” Reynolds declares.
“This is exactly what one of our shows is like!” Daus cries.
“Come to a Party Boat show,” Farnsworth says, simply. “You’ll have fun.”
“Or you can come and not have fun,” Reynolds says. “In fact, we dare you to try and frown!”