Rich Griffith, of the Long-Running Ohioan Surf Punk Band The Balboas, Discusses Their Latest Star-Studded Album, “The Pandemic Singles”

The Ohioan surf punk band The Balboas began in 1997 when three professors of psychology met the legendary surf guitar trailblazer, Dick Dale. Since then, the band accrued more members, ventured beyond their hometown of Akron, and, over twenty-five years later, have a discography full of collaborations with acclaimed surf and punk musicians alike.

Today (well, technically yesterday, but the planned release was for today, so, to quote Colin Quinn, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it) saw the release of their latest album, The Pandemic Singles.

As the title may suggest, The Pandemic Singles is a compilation of a series of singles that from the band that were released between 2020 to now. Produced by Paul Roessler of 45 Grave and The Screamers fame, the album features guest appearances from East Bay Ray (Dead Kennedys), Dez Cadena (Black Flag, The Misfits), Mike Palm (Agent Orange), and Kitty Kuroi (Elvis Costello, Billy Idol).

The band’s guitarist and founding member, Rich Griffith, gave some time out of his day to speak with Post-Burnout about the album.


The first thing I wanted to ask was a bit about the background of the band. My understanding is that you guys formed in ’97, and have been touring and playing around. Obviously, this album that’s coming out is a result of the pandemic. I was wondering, what was the activity of the band just before the pandemic and how did it influence the band?

Yeah, so The Balboas have been together a long time, as you said, and we usually get together – either to record or tour – once or twice a year, something like that, because we live in what are six different cities in the United States; we live thousands of miles apart. And then, all of a sudden, the pandemic locks everything down, so we couldn’t do anything. At least for a while, we were thinking, “Oh, man. We’re not going to be able to do anything.” And then, Paul Roessler, who is our producer, I was having a conversation with him and I just asked, “How hard would it be for us to record remotely?” and he said, “Oh, it wouldn’t be hard, at all,” and he kind of explained what we need to do to make that happen. And that was the beginning of that record. You know, we were putting out just one single at a time because it was our way to stay connected with each other and not go crazy. [Laughs] I’m sure it was probably just like you, just like everybody else, everybody was bundled up in their house and not knowing what was going on. So, it was just our way to stay sane.

And, obviously you mentioned there, the members are in different parts of the country. Do you find now, with the advancements of technology, that it kind of keeps…Because, before that, it would kind of be a band killer [Laughs], right?…

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

…The logistics of having to be in different places. Do you find now, the project can continue remotely and, as you were mentioning, the series of singles that have been coming out and, also, I’m sure a lot of the collaborations that are on this record, too, are born out of the ability to do things remotely? How do you find the advances in technology since the band has been going has aided it?

Yeah, I mean, it’s a huge game-changer. So, when The Balboas…when we moved apart from each other, what we had to do…I do most of the songwriting, Rick [Frei, their guitarist] does a little bit of songwriting, and what I’d have to do is, I’d record a demo on a four-track, I’d have to then make five tapes, and then mail ’em across the country. Whereas now, I can record something, like a titbit, on my phone and I can shoot it to someone and just say, “Hey, what do you think of this? Is this something we want to work on?” or “Where do you want to go with this song, or where do you think we should go with it?” And, you know, we all have GarageBand, we all have home studios, so it’s easy to communicate with each other. Way easier than it used to be, you know? I’m sure it’s the same for you; like, a band can email you a song now, whereas before, you’d have to rely on what was mail. Mail a CD or something like that. And stuff would get lost, and it would be expensive and cumbersome and all that kind of stuff. So, it’s totally changed it.

Yeah, and I also know people were sending stuff not only to magazines and stuff, but also, labels can just do it digitally. [They can] just upload it now, drop it in, and get their demo in. It’s pretty cool, you know?

Yeah! Yeah, it’s really changed it. There’s a downside to it, in that everybody can do that, so everybody does, and then what it does is, it floods the whole market with new music and new…I’m sure, as a writer, you probably get a whole bunch of people who are contacting you all the time, so it’s changed the game. You have to be more active and think about how you’re going to work it. But it’s great. It’s absolutely great.

Yeah, I think it’s really helped with, obviously, things like distribution. I mean, one of the moves away from physical media…I mean, obviously, when the band started…Actually, around the time you guys started, it would’ve, I guess, been around the first iteration of Napster, and that, obviously, progressed…

Exactly! Yep!

But now, not having to rely on physical media and not having to worry that your album is distributed [to stores], how do you find that as a way of reaching people, either domestically or abroad?

Oh, it’s fantastic! So, we have a digital distributor; we go through The Orchard. So, they give you what is a heatmap of where your music is being played, and it’s literally all over the world! We’re just a punk band from Akron, Ohio, and when we first got started that’s who was going to hear us, was whoever was in Akron. And some years ago, I just happened to see something – it popped into my YouTube feed or something like that – and it was a cover band or a surf band in Mexico City that was doing a cover of our music, and I thought, “God! What in the world is going on?!” So, you know, you just see bands from all over the world that you can listen to, and you can reach out to them, so, the digital world, I think, was really a huge help for independent bands.

Yeah, totally. And, as we were talking about, it has helped in not only things like distribution but production and getting things together. I was wondering, actually – because you mentioned Paul Roessler […], obviously, from 45 Grave and The Screamers – I was wondering how he came on board to engineer this record.

Oh, Paul’s great. So, we know a lot of folks in California. The band’s based in L.A. now; you kind of go wherever your drummer is, whoever has the most gear, so. And Dusty Watson’s our drummer and he’s an incredibly accomplished drummer, he’s played with pretty much everyone under the sun, so he had worked with Paul, and when we were going to record our last full-length [2019’s Submit to the Blade], he said, “Well, let’s go just do it at Paul’s place,” and I said, “OK, great.” And Paul is fantastic. So, as you mentioned, super accomplished, he’s an incredible musician, so if you just had him along as a session player, you’d be super lucky. But then, he knows everybody under the sun. So, on this record, East Bay Ray is on this record, and Dez Cadena from Black Flag is on this record. So, it’s crazy that we’re getting to play with these people! And Paul is super nice, he just makes introductions. And the other thing is, [Laughs] Paul won’t work with people that aren’t cool! So, if Paul says, “Hey, you want to work with this person,” you know they’re going to be fun to work with, or Paul wouldn’t work with them! Because there have been people in the punk community where I’ve said, “Hey, Paul, do you know this person?” and he’s like, “Yeah, I know him, but he’s an asshole. You don’t want to work with him!” [Both laugh] “OK! That’s cool! You know, it just saved me some aggravation!” So, Paul’s great. We love working with him. And he completely understands our sound and what it is we want to do, and he’s got it all dialled in, perfectly. So, we almost don’t even have to say a word to him. He knows what it is we want to do, and he’s got a good feel for what we’re going for.

Photo by Edward Colver
Courtesy of Discipline PR

Yeah, actually, speaking of the collaborations, one that I want to highlight is Mike Palm from Agent Orange. Agent Orange seem kind of like the progenitors for the surf punk style that, obviously, The Balboas do.


I was wondering, what was that like, to work with him in particular, [and] what he added to the song?

Well, we’ve known Mike for twenty years, maybe more, you know? It’s also kind of crazy; I think it’s the first surf punk record I bought and heard, Agent Orange. But Dusty, our drummer, used to drum with Agent Orange; that’s how we met him. Mike is great. We’ve been trying to get him on a record for years and it’s just a matter of can we find time to work together and be in the same place, you know? Because we’re all over the place. And, on this record, when Mike was coming through the last time… – I live in Florida – …on his way through, I just said, “Hey, do you want to do some screams for this record?” He said, “Sure, but, like, how are we going to do this?” We were just out in a parking lot, outside of a diner, and I just said, “Just do it on my phone, man.” And, so, Mike is in this parking lot, just screaming his head off! And I just thought it was great, to be able to get this stuff in a parking lot. So, it’s practically a joke, an inside joke between Mike and us, but that’s how he ended up on this record.

Another thing I wanted to highlight, obviously there are a lot of homages on the record, too. I mean, you mentioned Dez – who, for my money, was my personal favourite Black Flag singer. [Laughs] I don’t know if that’s controversial…

Oh, yeah, yeah!

[Laughs] I remember hearing his rendition of [the Black Flag song] “Padded Cell” and I was just blown away. Obviously, he’s on it, but there’s also, the riff to [the Black Flag song] “Rise Above” comes in on one of the songs. “Bad Penny,” the Big Black song, is covered.

Yeah, yeah, yeah!

They’re, like, one of my favourite bands ever.

Oh, that’s great!

And that was actually the first song of theirs I ever heard! So, it was such a nice surprise, for me, as a listener, to hear that. I was wondering, what influenced the song choices? Because we’re looking at the album now as a collective, but, you know, obviously, these were done a lot more piecemeal. It was pandemic singles, so during the pandemic, these were being released as singles. I was wondering, when you look at it now – almost like a mosaic, kind of looking at the little images that make up a mosaic – does it bring you back now, and kind of go, “Oh, yeah! I remember thinking we should do that,” or how do you reflect on it now that the pandemic is seemingly over for the meantime, anyway?

Yeah, no, it is really interesting, and you nailed it: It was just one piece at a time, we were kind of cobbling these things together. And then Mark [Healy, their vocalist] said, “Hey, why don’t we put this out as a vinyl? Like, one work?” And it was the first time I listened to it all together, and it does have kind of a… I don’t know if it’s a “theme,” but a vibe that runs through it, and it’s just sort of this vibe of weirdness. This is the weirdest, craziest stuff that we did, which is probably because that’s where our brain was at the time. But The Balboas are a funny mix of individuals, with their musical tastes. So, obviously, surf runs really deep with The Balboas and with our roots tying back to Dick Dale, but punk is the second branch, so all of these people that are on the record, either we’re huge fans or they’re huge influences or both, and it was great to be able to get a chance to be able to do something with them. And when you mentioned Dez being on one of the songs, on “Never Stay Dead,” like he does slide guitar on that song, which, to my knowledge, I’ve never heard Dez play a slide guitar before! So, he was doing something crazy. Even his part was out there. But it was awesome because Dez was in The Misfits for a while, he played guitar for The Misfits when Jerry [Only, The Misfits’ bassist] was running the band, and Cait[ie O’Shea, The Balboas’ bassist] must have opened for them twenty times. So, she sort of knows those guys and can at least have a conversation with them. So, it’s been fantastic. It’s kind of hard to look back and see the pieces now because it all came together so well as a record, that I think it’s more powerful as a combined recording rather than as singles. But you’re right, it was a totally different experience when it came to doing a record.

This is probably a weird thing to say, but the pandemic was ultimately only about two or three years, but it shaved so many years off people’s lives; it was so stressful…

Yeah, yeah.

…In a way, you think of a compilation record that a band puts out after, say, a decade of being together and, [Laughs] in a way, it feels like a speedrun of that. It feels like almost the pandemic itself was a mini-career because it just felt like it was ceaseless, you know?

Yeah, yeah. No, it did seem like it ran on forever. I’m glad you mentioned that because, the pandemic…I mean, I know so many people that just got beat up by it; either physically it took a toll on them, or they lost their job, or just the stress and the craziness got to them, but, in a lot of ways, we came out of this stronger than we went in. Like, the ability for us to be able to write together and record stuff together and, of course, just be able to play with people that are of a great stature in the field, I think the band walked away from it feeling stronger, feeling better about themselves. Like, they’re really, really proud of this record. It’s great to see that it’s getting some attention and it’s getting some play.

Yeah, and one thing I also think is really cool – and not to get too hokey about it – but the record, I think in a lot of ways, when you look at the amount of people who said yes to being on the record to whatever degree, it kind of reminds me of the old punk roots of Book Your Own Damn Life [Editor’s Note: I misremembered the name of this classic series of books, which gave touring bands venue and label contacts. I was mostly right, but replace the word “Damn” with “Fuckin’”], you know, or even the network established by Black Flag, for example, of passing the information around, letting people sleep on your couch, and…

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

…and the kind of network that was built then, back in the ’80s, back in the early hardcore days still kind of persists in a lot of a ways. I think the collaborative nature of punk and the kind of D.I.Y. nature of punk are still persistent, and people are willing to, you know…There doesn’t seem to be any hierarchies in the sense of […] [In a comicly lofty voice] “Oh, I’m East Bay Ray!” [Laughs]

Yeah, yeah!

Because, to me, I would think of somebody like East Bay Ray as an absolute unapproachable legend, and maybe in other fields that would be the case, but it seems like everyone is still grounded. No one can really get too big of a head in punk.

That’s true. It’s true. I mean, it’s much more of a community than other kinds of music where people get into huge bands that are in stadiums. You know, you’re never going to have a conversation with those folks, but all the people that we’ve had a chance to work with, they’re people; they put on their pants one leg at a time, just like us, and punk rock kind of makes you stay humble in a lot of ways. There might be nobody bigger than East Bay Ray. Maybe if you were to say, “Oh, what about Green Day?” or something like that. OK, well, yeah, I’ll give you that; they’re playing some pretty big shows. But the Dead Kennedys, good god! I mean, they’re giants and the fact that they’re OK to play with us is super cool. I mean it certainly doesn’t hurt when Paul Roessler is in your corner, because Paul knows every person under the sun. So, the way Ray ended up on the record, that was a while back. Rikk Agnew [of Social Distortion, Adolescents, 45 Grave, et al.] played some stuff for us, and that was just a really, really nice contribution to the record, and Paul just said, “Well, is there anybody else you’d like to play with?” and I said, “Oh, I’d love to play with East Bay Ray, but, you know…” and he was like, “Oh, well, I was on the first Dead Kennedys album! Like, I’ll give him a ring!” and I was like, “OK!” And, you know, sure as shit, he just said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” So, we constantly are surprised by this. Paul just knows everybody under the sun. Like, the other person that’s on this Pandemic Singles is Kitten Kuroi, and she’s Billy Idol’s background singer. And she’s just amazing! Totally amazing! So, she did a track for us and I just want her on every record! She’s just so good. So, it’s just fantastic that you can, you know, talk to these people in the community. And we’re sitting around, and you’re just bullshitting, telling tour stories or whatever, you know? So, it’s just been a real dream to do this kind of stuff.

Yeah, I think I’ve asked pretty much everything I have to ask, and it’s been really nice talking with ya, man. I’ve really enjoyed this. I guess one final thing I’ll ask, as we were mentioning, The Balboas have been around for about twenty-five years now at this point, and what do you see for the future of the band, going forward, now that, as we were talking about, you can do things a lot differently than in the analogue world. At the same time, what do you think the future of the band is, or do you even think that far ahead, or do you just do it as long as it feels good, I guess?

Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve got a view of where we’re going to go in the future; I think we’ll just keep doing it until we fall over. But, having done this this long now, we’re starting to think a little bit about, “Hey, we’re closer to the end than we are the beginning,” so, just making sure that our songs are consistent with what we’ve been doing, and we’re having fun, and we’re constantly challenging ourselves, and thinking about new opportunities that are coming around the corner. So, I think it just allows us to do things a little bigger than we’ve done it before and a little better than we’ve done it before. I think as long as we do that, then The Balboas will be happy. Nobody’s looking to hang up their spurs anytime soon. I think Dusty is starting to transition out a little bit, and Jimmy Dale – who’s Dick Dale’s son – has started taking over the drumming duties. So, we’re still having fun, still having a good time doing all this stuff, and I think as long as we’re having fun, then we’ll keep doing it.

Man, you have such an insane pedigree in the band! It’s crazy! [Laughs]

We’ve been doing it a long time, you know? So, when people say that, they bring it up, they’re like, “Oh, man, you’ve done this and that,” I’m like, “Nah, we’re just fuckin’ old!” [Both laugh] If you’ve been doing it a long time, then you do a lot of things. But, yeah, that Dick Dale story is a hoot. I mean, that’s how the band started. So, if it starts there, then it can’t go bad, man. That was a pretty lucky coincidence that occurred.

The Balboas’ latest album, The Pandemic Singles, is out now. You can find the band’s music, tour dates, social media accounts, and more on their Bandcamp.

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