Cold, icy weather is no deterrent to the adrenaline junkies who surf Lake Michigan. It turns out, surf culture in Milwaukee can be found off the board as well.
Devils Teeth is a four-piece outfit that contributes to the city’s surf-rock scene.
Earlier in August — and also back in 2011 — Devils Teeth opened shows at Shank Hall for Dick Dale, the “King of Surf Guitar” and a big inspiration for Devils Teeth guitarist Jon Hanusa.
“It’s pretty awesome to be able to play before somebody that has had so much influence on me,” Hanusa says of Dale. “He still plays a mean guitar and he tells great stories. So it’s a cool experience.”
Dale’s influence is indisputable, but the band’s sound isn’t solely defined by Dale-inspired guitar riffs. Devils Teeth has adapted a classic surf-rock sound to Milwaukee’s punk scene by adding elements of grunge to create a raucous, reverb-soaked garage sound.
The songwriting takes a cue from cinematic storytelling, as the process involves roleplaying — like the idea to write for a scenario where two characters engage in a martial arts fight.
“What would the music to this kung-fu fight be like between two characters?” asks Hanusa. “We have a lot of fun figuring out what that narrative is.”
The results are loud, energetic and fun, with Devils Teeth providing what could be the soundtrack to an all-killer-no-filler action flick.
Nods to martial arts films are sprinkled throughout the band’s music. A newer single, “The Junction Street Eight Tigers,” is named after Bruce Lee’s childhood Catholic School gang.
The song is on the band’s upcoming debut album, titled Suki Yaki Hot! — a discarded option for the name of the group, as well as a reference to the 1985 martial arts film The Last Dragon.
Devils Teeth is set to release the album Aug. 24 and then celebrate with a show Aug. 25 as part of the Triple Eye Industries Fest at Club Garibaldi.
The band recorded the album in Milwaukee and had it mixed in Los Angeles by a friend of vocalist and bassist Eric Arsnow.
As of WiG’s press time, the band had teased the album with three singles, including “Diamond Rio,” accompanied by the band’s only music video, which takes inspiration from 1963 black-and-white film of Dick Dale performing “Misirlou.”
“I really liked that isolated guitar and the lighting all around it,” Hanusa says. “We had fun with the spotlighting (for our video).”
“Diamond Rio” heats up with a surf-inspired riff and showcases the band’s weird, theatrical side. The song and video are wild, driven by guitar-heavy hooks broken by ambient noise.
On another single, “Dirty Tricks,” the bass takes the lead and the band steers away from surf-rock tropes to sound fresh, with punchy chord progressions and shouted vocals.
The third single, “The Junction Street Eight Tigers,” is drummer Chuck Engel’s favorite.
“It feels different for me than the other songs,” he says. “It has this mid-tempo feel, just a different groove, and it’s hooky and catchy and kind of a ‘stopper’ song.”
[Editor's note: This story ran on Aug. 23 before Suki Yaki Hot's release date. Listen to the full album below.]
Devils Teeth performs at The Cooperage, 822 S. Water St., on Sept. 14 with The Yawpers, Tigernite and Wood Chickens. The show starts at 9 p.m.