Prism Tats won me over the way a burrito falls apart; slowly, and then all at once.
What originated as South African-born, Garett van der Spek’s solo project now includes a bassist and drummer based in Los Angeles, rounding out a trio of an eclectic, effervescent sort. Prism Tats released their self-titled debut LP earlier this year, packed with hypnotically arranged tracks swirling layers of van der Spek’s voice and instrumentation.
What truly launched Prism Tats onto my radar was their KEXP radio performance. Watching this revealed van der Spek interned at the very same KEXP station in Seattle, a shining beacon of hope for music journalistic integrity and substance. Seeing an interviewer as poised, brilliant and lovely as Cheryl Waters personally recall van der Spek’s time working at KEXP generates instant brownie points. But their performance speaks for itself.
After the show I spoke briefly with van der Spek about his internship. He mentioned he was unemployed and found the opportunity – casual, as if he had found a quarter on the sidewalk and picked it up. This humble, mellow demeanor is offset by his high-octane stage persona, which is reminiscent of punk legends like John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees.
Van der Spek began the show on Monday December 12th at Brick and Mortar SF with a pastel yellow (the manufacturer deems it “Daddy-O” Yellow) Danelectro U2 guitar. Halfway through the set he pulled out the other one, a sleek glistening black beauty, same classic U2 body as the first. I asked about the Danelectros and he noted appreciatively someone gave them to him. I have a soft spot for Danelectro U2s. It was my first electric guitar and boasts a crisp vintage tone to match its retro, elegant and simple design.
Precious: Danelectro ’56 U2 90s reissue
Danelectro bass: Shannon Shaw of Oakland’s Shannon and the Clams
After watching videos of Prism Tats’ live sets and discovering the nostalgia inducing instruments behind the sound I got whimsical, opened a new tab and googled “prettiest Danelectros.” Swept away by “Making The Most Of The Weekend” I virtual window shopped, tenderly eyeing columns of guitars until stumbling upon a relatively inexpensive body, though it would entail assembly and acquisition of parts.
Like most of my encounters with the internet, I wound up on reddit in search of information on building a Dan-o from scratch. I scrolled through threads and noticed a disturbing trend: users vowing a boycott on new Danelectro products, citing the company’s 10k investment in California’s Prop 8 which passed in 2008 making marriage equality illegal and has since been overturned by the Supreme Court. Still, this is a serious indictment.
As the source for this information is reddit it’s my duty as a journalist to admit there is no official evidence for the accusation. Several blogs have written posts but relatively little details and no concrete, credible proof exists online. I imagine all evidence for this transaction is probably stashed in a manila folder marked ‘Evil Plots to Destroy the World.’
Regardless of who is at fault for a generous donation to a hate campaign, it seems to have happened. However, for fans of the products themselves there is a healthy secondhand market of Danelectros and their parts. It’s important to distantiate significance from an object it derives from; however, at the same time our consumer choices have consequences, in this case promotion of a brand with bigoted practices. In the end, the decision is individual. Of course I’m not trying to shame the artists in this post or any other Danelectro owners. How could I when I have one myself? This is information I found on the internet and certainly deserves a more thorough investigation than a college student’s thinkpiece research yields.
Garett van der Spek of Prism Tats
I have a bad habit of skepticism of bands with a single guitarist stemming from personal taste. I like cascading walls of sound. It’s harder to accomplish this with a smaller group out of sheer outnumbering and what could potentially be a shallower collective creative pool. Rock bands like two piece Honeyblood or three piece Night Beats stand as a testament this isn’t necessarily true, reaching epic sonic heights on both records and stage. In regards to my ridiculous bias against bands with less four members, Prism Tats triggered a reflection on judging a book by the number of pages. Less can indeed be more. What Prism Tats understands well is balance. It’s a slippery slope working with effects. And it is damn easy to overload, especially since the shift from analog to digital which simplified manual processes to turning a knob or pushing a button. With great power comes great responsibility. Ben Parker didn’t give Peter Parker this advice for shits. Songs like “Know It All” demonstrate control on a seemingly effortless arrangement striking the balance of clean and cosmetic.
Prism Tats is currently touring with California transplants Sego, a four piece brewing tempestuous storms oscillating between grungy disco to dreamy dance pop to electro indie. Watching multi-instrumental musicians live is always a pleasure; if not for the specific sound out of unadulterated reverence for the craft. Sego has got undeniable chops. The incredible rhythm teamwork of a wicked barefooted bassist and fury-handed drummer echoes that of bands like timekeeping extraordinaires The Feelies. Their dynamic was matched by the two guitarists and vocalists, one of whose additional setup couldn’t be carried by one man. Trajectories crossed in wild, energetic bliss. All this while switching between or playing multiple instruments–arguably the musical equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your stomach. I walked into Brick and Mortar a Prism Tats fan and left a Prism Tats and Sego fan.
Despite a few technical errors and a feedback privy amp, Prism Tats sounded good and when they didn’t sound good they sure as hell sounded interesting. I’ll take noise over a bore any day of the week.
Written by Ally Mason