Where do the surf rockers go when the swells subside and the warmth of the summer sun is replaced by a crisp, autumnal chill? Many bands would move down the coast, where the weather remains welcoming, and the late night beach bonfires extend well into the fourth quarter. But for Little Racer, NYC’s self-proclaimed surf rockers who can’t surf, the wind-whipped streets of the concrete jungle spell home, and the bygone days of summer are celebrated only through music — and a healthy mix of gin, lemonade, and rosé.
Like many other “surf rock” bands, Little Racer’s sound stems from jangly guitars and booming, echo-y vocals. They’ve drawn comparisons to contemporary acts like Surfer Blood and the Drums, but their inspirations are rooted in the past, their aesthetic steeped in nostalgia (“Little Racer” is a Beach Boys reference). Bassist Ish Nazmi even includes the image of Bogart hunched over a glass of Scotch as one of their musical muses: “We write about what we have and what we long for — break-ups, love-drunk stares from beautiful girlfriends, hazy nights shivering between crowded bars, old movies we wished we were living.”
Those decidedly cinematic lyrical themes are ever-present on their sophomore EP, Foreign Tongues, appropriately released at the beginning of the summer season (two of its four songs are named after tropical cities). The West Coast vibes are on full display here, but Little Racer successfully transcends the confines of traditional “guitar pop” — a label they’ve played into to an extent in the past — by pulling from a variety of sounds and influences. “What on Earth does ‘guitar pop’ mean after 60 years of pop music with guitar hooks?” Nazmi wonders aloud, adding, “Each one of us pulls from different places when we get into a song.” This is undeniably apparent on songs like “Vanessa,” from their debut EP, Modern Accent, which explores a more sinister, post-punk soundscape akin to UK bands like Joy Division and the Cure. The emulation is parodied in their recent, Leeds-set “Montevideo” video.
But Little Racer is a New York band, plain and simple. From rehearsing in Greenpoint to tackling the club circuit with shows at Baby’s All Rigght, Pianos, Union Pool, and the Mercury Lounge, among others, the trio is very much embedded in the scene and carving out a small piece for themselves in the process. “There are so many opportunities to grow and develop and be inspired in this city. Being surrounded by so much creative talent and energy helps to push us forward and challenge us as a band,” Nazmi points out. When asked if there’s any
pressure associated with falling under the “New York band” banner, he responds honestly: “There’s always some bit of pressure when you’re creating something and putting it out into the world for strangers to listen to and critique. Whatever that pressure stems from, we’re all looking for some level of validation. Thankfully, we’ve become so much more confident in on our sound and abilities as a band, and that definitely takes a lot of the edge off. The pressure shifts towards pleasing ourselves creatively, as opposed to outright ‘commercial success.’ But, hey, I won’t lie, we’re in a band and there’s a definite vanity that comes with the territory. We absolutely have lofty aspirations.”
In Little Racer’s case, the most glaring advantage of being a New York-based surf rock band is the opportunity to hunker down in the studio for the winter with some Polish malt liquor and get to work on their forthcoming debut LP — far away from the rolling riptides and tempting beach babes, motivated and inspired by their time on the road, which Nazmi calls “singularly the best experience as a band and for a band.” “We wake up in muggy hotel rooms, our limbs ache from awful spring mattresses, 90 percent of the time we are hungover, and the only thing we have to think about is getting to the next show and playing,” he says. “It’s terrific; being a band all day and not having to juggle it with jobs and life.”
Little Racer play Elvis Guesthouse on October 9. For performance information, click here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 8, 2015