Bikini Bottoms are a hard to define duo from Glasgow, Jack Elfick on guitar and The Atomic Flounder on drums.
Their recently released debut album, Bikiniland is a heady intoxicating brew, drawing on a variety of musical styles from out and out rockabilly to wild psychobilly/horror punk, through surf and garage rock, to deep down and dirty blues and beyond. With such a range of sounds blending together to create the Bikini Bottoms’ own sound, Louder Than War had the opportunity to ask the band a bit about themselves and the music that has influenced them.
You recently released your debut album, Bikiniland, which has been picking up rave reviews across the board, though you’ve been working hard building a following for some time now. Tell me about the roots of The Bikini Bottoms for anyone listening to the band for the first time.
Jack: Basically, if you showed two twenty-somethings all of the ‘rockin’ genres, eliminated any sort of toxic purism and genre loyalty and then gave them too much coffee (The Atomic Flounder: or energy drink), you’d get us.
We’ve always said that the band isn’t a punk band, a rockabilly band, a psychobilly band, a surf band or a garage band, but a band that all those people would probably (hopefully) like. The aim is to take all those influences, including the newer stuff we’ve picked up as a ‘younger generation’ and create a new sound.
The band is a revival of those genres in a way, but a new revival, the same but different. Maybe we don’t have a bass player, maybe we don’t sing about hot rods and surfing and my sweet baby on a Saturday night with her polka dot dress on, maybe we don’t have King Kurt quiffs, but we do have the influences of all of that stuff tied up in the songwriting and the aesthetic.
We cherry-pick what we think works and what we think doesn’t, with the benefit of hindsight. We just listen to music we love and let it influence us, whatever it may be. I can’t decide if we’re completely contrived, or not contrived at all. We formed sort of by accident, but do everything deliberately… do I sound like a wanky musician being interviewed yet?
I mentioned earlier, and you eluded to it in your answer, that you are a two-piece. Was this a conscious decision or a natural evolution?
The Atomic Flounder: A fairly unconscious decision, to be honest, we had been in a three-piece previously in which we were playing in the hard-blues/acid rock genres. After a mutual (between Jack and I) drifting away from our bass player we spent months not doing much if anything at all. Jack then shoots me a message saying, “I want to try something different”, piled round to my parents’ house, jammed in the loft and spoke about trying the surf/rockabilly thing (which we were strict to sticking to… initially).
The chemistry Jack and I had and have is the main thing, we can jam and we can feel where it wants to go, both of us co-piloting collectively. Could you imagine us trying to get a bassist in on this? It only occurred to me about our lack of bassist when we were talking about gigging for the first time but Jack rightly pointed out that The White Stripes and Flat Duo Jets did well without one – who was I to argue? I’m glad I didn’t!
I asked this same, almost throwaway question, to The Best Bad Influence (an exciting young constantly gigging rockabilly trio from the West of Scotland – check them out if you can), so I’ll ask you too, what is it with Spongebob (even getting a namecheck on the album) that he has birthed the names of two rock n’ roll bands from Glasgow?
Jack: I’m not sure how that transpired – when Flounder and I got together to form this band in 2015 I was already a huge Spongebob fan from my childhood, if there was a toy or a duvet cover out there with Spongebob’s face on it you can bet that I was trying to get my hands on it. I’ve even ended up with a Spongebob tattoo…
The reference to Spongebob isn’t just a throwaway reference though, you may have clocked from the song in which he gets a name check that its representative of something else; as a band we centre a lot of our songwriting around nostalgia, from the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you watch childhood cartoons but also homesickness, revisiting bad habits and toxic relationships from the past, the reopening of old wounds.
Our namesake of Spongebob’s town for us always been about something more than just a reference to a cartoon, it kind of thematically goes with what we’ve been writing about so far. All that stuff aside though – we do also just fucking love Spongebob.
You played McChuills (Glasgow pub/venue) recently to launch the album. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there but having seen you live, I know how much of a glorious noise you make for a two-piece. What is your secret?
Jack: Being loud. And Evan working really hard behind the kit. And a hidden bass player and rhythm player that I keep in an old magicians trunk backstage.
Flounder: All joking aside, we’ve both had to change what we do on our instruments ever-so-slightly. Jack doesn’t have loads of low-end on his amp, but maybe a touch more than most guitarists. I’m not the busiest player in the world, but I certainly need to fill out the sound a bit more. All of this and sheer volume is what gets us that, as you’ve said, “glorious sound”.
Talking of McChuills, you are playing your latest Graveyard Bash there at the start of November (2nd to be precise). Tell me about the roots of the Graveyard Bash, and why should we go along to the latest one?
Jack: The Graveyard Bash came from us wanting to essentially build a scene. We wanted to create gigs where bands in genres we liked (punk/surf/garage/psychobilly anything that rocks our socks), could get a gig, meet new fans, expand their following, sling t-shirts, get paid. All in a really cool punky club. It’s been a year since the first one now and it’s been going great. We have a loyal, returning crowd and all the bands that have played seem to have a great time.
They are a proper loyal crowd too; they show up at doors to see all the bands, they come back again and again, they’re genuinely into it. They’re super young too, our age and younger. It puts a smile on our face knowing we’ve created a night where these mad young punks can hear some great music and punch fuck out of each other for a few hours. It’s starting to feel like a great little local scene, long may it continue.
You have also just been announced as part of the line-up of huge must-see gig next year. Reverend Horton Heat & Delta Bombers in Glasgow Barrowland. I know you are stoked about this one. How did you land this?
Jack: We asked very nicely, and the promoter gave us the slot. It means a huge deal to us. Glasgow’s most legendary venue and supporting our biggest inspiration. I’ve been rather obnoxiously telling everyone with a pulse about this show.
The album came out on your own Mental Records label, which I believe will be releasing a second Graveyard Sessions album imminently. What can we expect from this one?
Jack: More mental shit from some amazing bands, we want to try and keep raising the bar as we go on across each volume. Some truly great bands on here. Everyone from Surfin’ Wombatz and KOHK to Finnish death-psychos Graveyard Bashers, and Glasgow spooky newcomers The Skellys. It’s eclectic, spooky and sure to be a lot of fun, on spooky green vinyl none the less.
Back to your own album. The record has a distinct sound, which blends together bluesy garage rock, surf, rockabilly and psychobilly into an addictive set of tunes. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to find out more about your influences.
So, tell me about the top 10 albums/bands that inspired you to form a band and play the music you do.
The Full Custom Sounds of… – The Reverend Horton Heat
Jack: A couple of years ago in a club in Brighton someone recommended to us this mysterious figure called ‘The Reverend’. All this time later and he became my hero, even better than that we get to share a bill with him next year, it’s funny how these things happen.
The Atomic Flounder: As with nearly everything, Jack will fire different tracks or whole albums across to me. This was a whole album moment, and you can see why!
Go Go Harlem Baby – Flat Duo Jets
Jack: This is one of those flawless albums that seems to persistently be under-appreciated. Dex Romweber is a huge talent and his songwriting is eclectic and thoughtful. It’s not all Froggy Went a Courtin’. Easily one of the most influential two pieces in rock and roll, and the raw energy these guys have is a constant inspiration.
The Atomic Flounder: They have been a massive influence on us for live performance, Froggy Went a Courtin’ was the first song we learned together but the unadulterated power that record kicks out! Oh my…!
There’s A Party Goin’ On – Wanda Jackson
Jack: This is a big one for me personally, Wanda Jackson is probably my favourite rock and roll vocalist. She’s playful and cute but she’s mean and rugged fucking badass, and this album showcases it beautifully. Wanda and her vocal style were constantly on my mind while I was squished in my wee vocal booth when we recorded Bikiniland.
Ooh Wallah Wallah – King Kurt
Jack: What an album. This year marks the 3rd time we’ve supported King Kurt while they’re in Scotland. Tracks from this album are regular features on my playlist and influenced the band heavily and I’m not ashamed to say that when I listen to tracks of our like Spring Clean I can really feel the King Kurt influence coming through.
Surfers Choice – Dick Dale
Jack: Legendary guitar tone, what more can I say. Surf music is super important to The Bikini Bottoms and for me this is THE surf album.
Ixnay on the Hombre – The Offspring
Jack: Another super important band and album to The Bikini Bottoms and to our album. Tracks like All I Want and Way Down the Line are on heavy rotation for us. Maybe because of our frequenting of a Crazy Taxi arcade machine in a bar that we always seem to end up in.
In Utero – Nirvana
Jack: A huge album. I love that it delivered something really different after Nevermind and wasn’t just Nevermind part 2. This is like the Jackie Brown of albums. After Pulp Fiction people wanted more of the same and Tarantino said “fuck that! I’ll do what I want!”. Love that. Nirvana are legendary for a reason, and Kurt Cobain’s ability for all of his lyrics to be this fucked-up, dark poetry boggles me. Inspirational.
The Atomic Flounder: This is more the world I come from originally: grungey, punky and alternative. From a songwriting perspective, drumming perspective, sound engineering, producing… on so many levels. It’s an absolutely amazing album. I take a lot of inspiration from it, showcasing that you can have the biggest album on the planet but then produce something better.
GI – Germs
Jack: The greatest punk album? Maybe I’ll upset a few people by suggesting that! Raw energy, raw don’t-give-a-fuckness. A bit scary, borderline unpleasant in the best ways. Germs are crucial to The Bikini Bottoms, the amount of commitment to that kind of energy and genuinely good songwriting. That’s a super inspirational combo. Lexicon Devil and Manimal are big tracks for me getting pumped up to play/rehearse/record.
The Atomic Flounder: The Germs are legendary, this album is legendary, let’s move on!
Permanent Vacation – Aerosmith
Jack: Mine and Flounders roots are into classic rock. Queen, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, the real titans. Aerosmith have always been huge for us and this album in particular was something we sat and listened to together the night before we went into the studio. Brad Whitford and the drumming he offers up on this album changed our album completely, specifically our track Movie Star: that was originally intended to be a straight-up the middle psycho song, but Flounder got infected by the Whitford spirit and it all changed.
The Atomic Flounder: Listening to Aerosmith the night before really took Movie Star from being what would’ve been an ok to good psycho track to a kick-ass groovy, bluesy track. It kind of leads us back to what Jack said before, “no toxic purism, no genre loyalty”. If we weren’t that way inclined, Movie Star as we know it wouldn’t exist.
Witches, Spiders, Frogs and Holes – Marcel Bontempi
Jack: Don’t know if any of you readers will be aware of Marcel, he’s a fantastic German rock and roller who has nailed that vintage rock and roll sound that I’ve never heard anyone do as well. His music is slinky, and sexy and spooky and means a lot to us. We have spent a lot of time racking our brains about how he achieves a sound that’s so plucked out of time. Also along with people like the Hank Snow, and Gene Autry he really goes with the Memphis flare when it comes to outfits: fringed western shirts, ascots, big boots, very elaborate and something that we’ve really been inspired by.
Thanks to Jack and Flounder for their time.
Find out more:
The Bikini Bottoms on Facebook
Mental records on Facebook