Skapunksurfabilly: Regina trio throws caution to the wind with unusual instrument

The Carillon, Vol. 52, Issue 20 | March 11 – 17, 2010

With a band that straddles genres while playing an instrument with a name that sounds like a prescription narcotic, patrons of the Fainting Goat restaurant can be assured of a good time on St. Patrick’s Day.

Let There Be Theremin is a self-described “skapunksurfabilly” band; they play instrumental music with various influences and changing rhythms, with Dave Kapp on guitar, Kurtis Medhurst on drums, and Darren Stovin on bass.

“The sound is very surf with the heavier reverb on the guitar,” said Kapp, when asked about the band’s unique style, “but almost all the songs are influenced by ska. At some point in time, there’s a heavy ska rhythm.”

The theremin is a small black box with a long antenna that makes eerie noises when an object, like a hand or a guitar, goes near it. The instrument was invented in 1919 and was popular in science-fiction films of the ’50s and ’60s, most notably The Day the Earth Stood Still. It has been used in various genres, including art music and mainstream rock.

“It adds a neat kind of eerie effect to it,” said Kapp. “One of the things we do, once everybody’s having a good time, we encourage people to jump onstage and play around with it. It all adds to the fun … I can take the end of my guitar and just wave my guitar close to it, and it will produce the sounds that we need.”

“I’d never even heard of the theremin until Dave was talking about it,” said Stovin. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ll surprise these guys.’” He went online and bought a theremin on eBay.

Kapp laughed as he remembered when the gadget arrived. “[Stovin] says, ‘Hey, look what came in the mail today, it’s a theremin.’ We thought, ‘Oh my God, this is just crap, eh?’ Then afterwards we started fooling around with it and then it kind of became the focal point of the band … I don’t know; he buys all kinds of goofy things. We could have easily been a band about watches.”

The alien noises of the theremin mesh nicely with the band’s promotional posters, which draw from ’50s and ’60s pulp horror motifs. So does the cover of their independently-released, self-titled first album, which shows a man’s eye about to be gouged out by flaming metal.

There’s no difficulty in mastering the use of the theremin, says Kapp, except to know when to throw it into the song. “When we did our recording, we did our songs, and we just threw in the theremin wherever we thought it would [fit].” Then, he explained, different echoes and effects can be added to recordings during production to make the theremin sound like a more varied instrument.

Kapp and Stovin said that they’re currently putting material together for a new album. They often play shows by ear, since most of their songs are a couple of minutes in length and they have a lot of material to choose from.

Do they take requests for other songs? “The only request we do is ‘Wipeout,’” said Kapp. “That’s because Kurtis, our drummer, he’s a good drummer, but he’s kind of shy about showing off … ‘Wipeout,’ being a showcase for the drummer, he never wants to play it, so our rule is we don’t play ‘Wipeout’ unless somebody requests it. But it’s a pretty common surf song, so generally someone will yell ‘Wipeout.’”

Requests seem more likely, he said after the interview, if that quote were to be printed in the newspaper.

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