JERSEY BOYS TAKE THE ‘80s BEYOND
“Make no mistake, these guys are more than a cover band,” says the Sun News. The Wavos have a fantastic time playing their favorite songs by Billy Idol, Depeche Mode, Prince, Beastie Boys, New Order, Nine Inch Nails, Devo, Ramones and so many more. Then they'll throw in a couple of original WAVOS songs and you'll just know it's a new wave band that you can't quite name... Or, depending on the venue, the band will treat its audience to a full set of their distinctively original songs. The Wavos dance with their audience, putting out a 100% live, upbeat performance of all their favorite new wave & alternative rock tunes with instantly-recognizable vocals over the signature interplay of guitar, synthesizer and distinctively danceable rock beats. And while they're happy to deliver a killer rendition of a Journey or Van Halen request, one of the band’s strengths lies in bringing out the underexposed gems of the underground dance floor. Remember Mexican Radio? Sleepwalk? The Politics of Dancing? The fans are now requesting these most innovative pop rock tunes that they'd never heard before, including The Wavos’ original songs. And on Halloween they might get treated to a high-intensity dose of goth-rock classics from bands like Bauhaus, Ministry and the Sisters of Mercy. The band has been known to play for two and a half hours without a break when dancing is nonstop. When their fans take a breath, the ear-catching sounds, crazy outfits, interactive visuals and multimedia lighting keep them engaged.
The three members of The Wavos, originally Jersey boys, have joined the ranks of NJ expats with Joe living in Myrtle Beach SC and Gordon and Tone at opposite ends of Manhattan NYC. Theirs is a modern rock band with influences ranging from the insanely creative ‘80s new wave and punk to the driving alternative rock of the ‘90s and ‘00s, with liberal doses of electro-pop and techno dance energy. Since 2009 they’ve been building enthusiastic audiences for their “new wave-o” dance parties, up and down the east coast, and at the same time honing their skills at writing and producing original alt-rock pop tunes and sneaking them into their shows.
A bit of history: the core of The Wavos came together on a supermarket dock where Joe and Tone unloaded trucks in West New York NJ by day, playing NY/NJ clubs by night. The core solidified when Joe met Gordon at Berklee School of Music in Boston and brought him back to Jersey. Their first gig was a year-long residency at a locally-popular rock club on the island of St. Croix, where they were provided with housing but very little money and no vehicle. It was a carefree time of walking around barefoot and living on parrotfish (yuck!), hanging out with a mishmash of American kids and locals and being inundated with great reggae music that started bleeding into their style. Following this was a four-year whirlwind romp through the New York metro area, playing original punk and new wave rock as The Privates. Based in NYC’s lower east side, they were the house band at Great Gildersleeves, headlined regularly at CBGB, opened up for the Bush Tetras, Eric Johnson and Joe Perry and were featured in national publications Billboard and Variety and local papers like the Village Voice.
The band went on hiatus a couple of times, morphed into different styles and gathered a following as hard-hitting power trio The Bitter Boys while sharing the stage with national acts They Might Be Giants, Raging Slab, Masters of Reality and Johnny Thunders. Joe moved south to Myrtle Beach, where he wrote, recorded and released solo CDs, then relocated to Asheville and Charlotte NC, then back to Myrtle Beach. Gordon took time out to deal with the loss of his long-term partner and close friends to AIDS, while Tone played drums in the Broadway revival of Godspell. Gordon and Tone got together and drove several projects nurtured by NYC's LGBTQ+ Outmusic scene, including original electropop duo Rubberlegs, goth quartet *V*I*R*G*O*, and all-‘80s cover band RUB. And then, The Wavos…
Ask any of the band members and they’ll tell you that as exciting as some of their other projects have been, this group of three guys is the best combination they’ve ever hoped for. Like the yin-yang-yong in their logo, the band is a balance of opposing forces. Joe is the “analog” guy, a self-taught, then schooled and seasoned vocalist, guitarist and bassist with a bewildering variety of songwriting influences. Joe is a huge fan of the garage style, and the evolution of the blues in players like Stevie Ray Vaughan. His big sister got him hooked early on with classic stuff like Hendrix, Dylan and Blues Project. Gordon is the “digital” guy, a trained vocalist and classical pianist who went rogue with rock and electro and now plays only his self-programmed synthesizer. He was riveted when he first heard the sounds of Kraftwerk, Telex, Depeche Mode and Thomas Dolby, and knew he had to ditch all the other keyboards. Tone is the “primal” guy who beats on the skins like nobody else and gives audiences an endless supply of visual drama and energy to keep them on the dance floor. At an early age his older brother showed him the video of “A Hard Day’s Night”, and he knew he had to play the drums. Says Tone, “it looked easier than guitar or keyboard, you just had to bang on things.” Back together as The Wavos, they’re great friends who share the same goals and have figured out how to truly communicate with each other, onstage and off. If the secret to a band’s longevity and success lies in the chemistry of its members, then The Wavos have got it nailed.
When the band first formed in 2008, it was a bit of a challenge to deal with the geographic spread between them. But Tone and Gordon had already been playing in the mid-Atlantic, having made some fantastic band friends in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and were excited to extend their reach into the Carolinas. After a marathon long weekend at the beach, putting together a starting repertoire of fifty ‘80s covers and original songs, they were faced with the dilemma of how to learn new songs and rehearse regularly. A few internet searches turned up a brand-new piece of webware called “eJamming”, and The Wavos became early adopters. It wasn’t perfect and still isn’t, but various workarounds (and a recent switch to JamKazam) have enabled them to learn and practice songs together over the internet, and even to play them at a gig successfully, in the same room together for the first time. That, coupled with some crucial endorsements by musician friends from the annual Spaghettifest, eventually enabled them to attract and grow a devoted fan base in northern Virginia—a very convenient place for the three of them to meet, midway on the road that connects them, to put on their shows.
Before the Virginia scene took root, they were still feeling their way into the New York area and the Carolinas, with amusing experiences. A show in a downtown Manhattan basement club was abruptly terminated when raw sewage started pouring out of the walls. They performed for inmates at the “haunted” Greystone Park state psychiatric hospital, wondering about their song choices while playing “She Drives Me Crazy” with a guy staring Gordon down and muttering “Jihad!” They played a few shows at a neo-hippy art-scene hookah bar in Wilmington NC, and endured having all of their equipment opened up and patted down at the 42nd Annual 4th of July Smoke-In on D.C.’s National Mall. And of course there was the two-hour late-night dance party in a giant abandoned gymnasium in the woods at Spaghettifest, when their fans couldn’t stop jumping up on stage to be with them.
Technology has been a key part of the experience, enabling them to miniaturize their live setup and come up with novel ways to light themselves and their stage with projected animations that make them look like they’re wearing moving face paint. They produced, recorded and mixed each of their three CDs on a mobile system lovingly named “Wavoslap”, at the beach and in the city, and they use a MacBook to sequence the drum kits and stage visuals while they play live. Advanced synthesizer hardware has enabled The Wavos to remain a trio, with Gordon usually covering the bass parts as well as the live electronics. And although they are known for their four-hours-of-fun ‘80s dance parties, they are not your typical tribute band. They’ve managed to carve out their own niche by incorporating original songs and a look that plays into the new wave ethos without resorting to ‘80s costumes, instead featuring all-white clothing with white kilts that turns them into video screens. And they avoid the cheesy pop of that decade, preferring the hard-driving, infectiously danceable classic new wave tunes.
Myrtle Beach's Sun News KICKS! compares The Wavos to The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Interpol and Bloc Party and says about their debut CD, Wave Crazed EP, "it's really great to see a band like The Wavos continuing the New Wave tradition by combining both the classic and modern forms and crafting them into their own form of alternative power pop." The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star says the CD "features seven delectably jagged tunes that are just as dance-inducing and original as the artists they [often] cover." About Second Wave EP1, the Free Lance-Star says “The record is loaded with synthesizers and deep harmonies … will inspire you to lace up your high-top kicks with the neon laces and hit the dance floor.” DishMiss NYC calls The Wavos’ music "infectious and upbeat electro-driven pop and punk … you’ll just want to dance!”
Their last release was Cinco de Wavo. About opening song Dance Party, Out in Jersey's Bill Realman Stella says "they're blending the melodic simplicity and playfulness of The B-52s, the obscure Jersey band Blotto (best known for their summertime hit 'I Wanna Be A Lifeguard'), and a turnaround that evokes Wild Cherry's one-hit wonder 'Play That Funky Music (White Boy)' and its turnaround 'Lay down the boogie and play that funky music till you die'. The rest of the set draws on a multitude of influences from their era, from the Reggae-cum-Talking Heads styled 'Tourist' to the slow Dance-Rock ballad 'If Just For A Moment' to 'Building A New Dream''s Cars/Devo hybrid, to the best of all possible mindless happy endings, 'It's Your Birthday'."
Now it's 2021, the pandemic is easing up, the band is back on the road and they're super-excited about their just-completed EP, Five on the Floor, to be released July 9th. Stay tuned!
Joe Bace - guitar/bass/vocal
Gordon Smith - synth/bass/vocal
Tone Maul - human electronic drums