Movers and shakers: The Sex Rays rock between garage, punk and surf rock

The local band took its name and raw energy from its two biggest influences, the Sex Pistols and Link Wray.

Jared Hemming

For Minneapolis garage-surf trio The Sex Rays, the divide between self-aware rockstar image and behavior connects in goofy, pulverizing performances.

The band’s blistering, self-described “psycho-beach party” style completes itself with their frenetic live shows.

Guitarist Joe Hastings, bassist Joe Holland and drummer Ben Crunk toss tambourines across the stage and bang power chords out with a pencil.

The Sex Rays are celebrating the release of their new single “Midnight Caller” with a show at Grumpy’s in Minneapolis on Saturday. The importance of image runs deep in the band’s roots.

“I met [Hastings] at a party, he looked like he played in a rock band,” Holland said of his first encounter with Hastings. “I went up and talked to him; turns out, he was in a rock band, and we started doing some shows together.”

Hastings’ black-jeans-and-leather-jacket aesthetic resembles a Guitar Hero III avatar. The look rides the line between authenticity and irony.

“I cultivate a total douchebag image,” Hastings said. “I present an image that is, in a way, my perspective of what I would have wanted to see when I was 14 or 15.”

Staying true to his adolescent self is vital to Hastings, who began his performance in musical defiance early in his childhood.

“My parents had guitars around the house. I thought it was really crazy, so I would destroy them,” Hastings said.

In The Sex Rays, Hastings’ relationship with the guitar is just as volatile: He brings at least two guitars with him onstage, in the likely event that he breaks one.

“Sometimes I bring three,” Hastings said. “Strings are going to break. The last show we played, I broke the guitar in half.”

Holland and Crunk embrace Hastings’ look onstage, where all three members don black shirts and dark sunglasses. Hastings insists, however, that the rock star image is bravado.

“I’ve never wanted to be a rockstar or anything like that,” Hastings said. “To me, the connotation of ‘rockstar’ is a negative thing. When my friends or family say, ‘He’s our rockstar,’ I look at it like, ‘Oh, he’s our stripper.’”

Hastings, who says he has been in around 50 bands in his life, started The Sex Rays with Holland and Crunk after Holland organized the group as a one-off tribute act to Link Wray, an influential early rock ‘n’ roll guitarist.

“For me, it was an inception of the energy of the Sex Pistols and Link Wray being cool,” Hastings said.

For Holland, the most serious member of the group, the name was more of a chore than an epiphany.

“It’s got a little bit of promotional drag,” Holland said of the name. “I don’t think anyone outright objects to “sex,” [but] you can’t really talk to people who don’t understand what it is.”

Though Hastings and Holland began playing together in the early 2000s in bands like F*ck Knights, Crunk said he jumped at the chance to join them for the Link Wray appreciation.

“They called me up, ‘Do you want to play a Link Wray tribute with us?’” Crunk said. His reply: “Abso-[expletive]-lutelty.”

When the three got together, Holland said each member was able to get into the rock ‘n’ roll performance spirit with ease.

“When you’re playing a show and there’s an audience there, it gives the whole thing more meaning,” Holland said. “It’s easy to start having more fun onstage, jumping around.”

Unlike many bands, The Sex Rays don’t incorporate any computerized innovations into their live show, and oftentimes write from the stage.

“We have a few songs based on improvisation,” Holland said. “Every time something works, we definitely keep it in there. A song can go anywhere from four minutes to nine minutes in length.”

The band’s guitar-driven live setup is influenced by a dichotomy of the rawness of modern punk with early rock swagger.

“We’re big fans of Elvis Presley, he’s a mover and a shaker,” Holland said. “I grew up going to punk shows, that’s what I think a band should be like; you’ve got to make it worth the price of admission for people.”

In their existence on the local scene and on the road, Hastings said the band’s angle has kept the music fresh and different from its peers.

“It helps us, being totally niche,” Hastings said. “We don’t make a dime with this band. We don’t try to make money; we try to make something that we think is cool.”

 

What: The Sex Rays record release party

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Where: Grumpy’s Bar and Grill, 1111 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: Free

Age: 21+