The Aqua Velvets’ Miles Corbin
By Phil Reser
By Phil Reser
Photo courtesy of Miles Corbin
Although he's penned music for TV and movies, guitarist/composer and producer Miles Corbin is best known for being the leader of the Aqua Velvets, one of the world's premier surf instrumental bands.
Rather than recreating the vintage ‘60s surf sound, Corbin set out to add depth and dimension to his vision of a surf band, with original songs that included
strings, horns, keyboards and exotic instruments. The Velvets’ music and Corbin’s solo recordings have offered an intriguing mix of surf stylings alongside sounds of echo-laden spaghetti-Western soundtrack music, Latin rhythms, psychedelia and exotic lounge music.
The current Velvet band consists of Corbin, founding bassist Michael Lindner and drummer Tim Gahagan. The band's self-titled, self-produced 1992 debut was recorded in phases over a four-year period after working hours in the Porsche garage where Lindner was employed as a mechanic, where the natural echoes created by the concrete floor and high ceilings created just the right amount of natural reverb.
Corbin recalls, “The music scene in San Francisco in the late ‘80s was amazing to the point that there were 15 or 20 clubs with live music. It became a mecca for a lot of groups that were touring. In those years, we opened for Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Mink Deville; I met the Clash and guys like that. We were recording in all different studios, offering us free time. We did a lot of recordings, played a lot of clubs and big concerts, the big theaters in Berkeley and the Cow Palace. We were playing rockabilly, blues and some early surf tunes by the Sentinels, and ‘Pipeline’ by the Chantays. And then came the idea to combine the surf instrumental sounds with some kind of film noir. Lindner and I talked about ballads, bossa nova, something that would fit into a David Lynch movie, or a James Bond spy kind of genre. By the time we finished the 10 songs on the first album, we had found our style and voice and what we wanted to do. And it became the prototype or model of what was to follow."
After their 1992 independent studio release, the band signed to Atlantic Records in 1995 to release “Surfmania”; subsequent releases appeared on BMG subsidiary Milan Records.
A large influence on Corbin's earlier songwriting work with the Velvets was African guitar legend Ali Farka Toure, and in particular the acclaimed album he recorded with Ry Cooder, “Talking Timbuktu.”
“That album really stuck with me through the years," he says. "That minimalist approach that Toure used, I think that's one of the origins of what became American blues guitar. Toure turned it around with the electric guitar. They used these really interesting open tunings, where you change just one string and that throws everything off into a different kind of chordal structure.”
The Velvets have continued to release a steady stream of albums, most notably “Tiki Beat” and “El Morocco.” “On ‘El Morocco,’” he says, “I started using more acoustic guitar, then the electric with reverb and vibrato. On a couple of tracks, it's just me playing solo guitar and nothing else.”
His band continues to tour extensively and has headlined and shared bills with artists like Chris Isaak, Dick Dale and the Beach Boys, as well as having been featured in film and television soundtracks, including the CBS series Nash Bridges, filmed on location in San Francisco. They’ve also had tracks in dozens of specials on the Discovery Channel, ESPN’s “Maxout,” ABC and Fox, and were featured in three neosurf anthologies—including Rhino’s
“Cowabunga! The Surf Box.”
Since moving to the North State area, Corbin has added a guitar duo performance with Robert Karch in local clubs and wineries. He has also put together a trio, adding percussionist Jerry Morano, and at times, a quartet with Komoko Bunting on drums and Mark Wilpolt on upright bass. These performances of Corbin’s original compositions are “a little jazzier than the Velvets.”
Miles Corbin with Robert Karch:
Second Wednesday of the month, 6-8 pm,
Izakaya Ichiban, 2000 Notre Dame Blvd., Chico
Second Thursday of the month, 6-9 pm at
Farm Star Pizza, 2359 Esplanade, Chico
Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7-8, 1-4 pm
Dog Creek Cellars and Winery in Durham