In a snow-coated garage in Carnelian Bay, California, Luke Funicella sings lyrics about sunny days. His words come out in plumes of white steam that dance in the cold air. The brash levity of his band, Dead Seagals, sounds like it belongs in a warmer climate.
“Yeah, that’s why it’s so fun. It makes no sense,” he said. “When we opened for [Oakland garage/doo-wop trio] Shannon and the Clams, Shannon was so confused that there was a Tahoe band that played surf music.”
Funicella has noticed, though, that Lake Tahoe-area audiences and coastal audiences aren’t that different. “From Venice Beach to Tahoe feels pretty interchangeable,” he said.
“It’s just California,” said drummer Ricky Koukal, who’s from Minnesota. “I always wanted to surf, and I grew up not having an ocean nearby. When I came to Tahoe, you can actually surf the lake. That’s how I got started.”
If California’s coastline has left any impact on Funicella and the songs of Dead Seagals, it stems from a love-hate relationship. While living in Venice Beach, he was introduced to the positive and negative sides of Southern California’s bustling music scene. On one hand, bands from the region such as Tijuana Panthers and The Growlers would prove influential to his music. On the other hand, he felt boxed in.
“It was good money, but it wasn’t fun,” he said. “It was like the Dementor of music, just sucking your soul.”
He also prefers solitude in a cold forest to the beach. “It’s ironic—because I’m in a surf rock band, I’ve played a lot near the ocean,” he said. “But a lot of my songs are about being a single dude who doesn’t like the ocean.”
After six months in Southern California, Funicella moved back to Tahoe, where he would eventually start Dead Seagals. He met Koukal through work. The two decided to jam with a third friend, Jake Dworkin. The trio got its start performing mostly for friends, then grew to fill a niche for raw rock music in a town dominated by DJs.
“Tahoe is so big with the Burning Man scene, DJs, all the womp-womp-womp,” said Koukal. “I figured I might as well just make the kind of music I want to listen to.” Dead Seagals shows in Tahoe have provided a louder, rowdier outlet for those tired of the town’s electronic dance music. At one recent show, the band members had to dodge a bottle of ketchup that had been tossed onstage. The volley was successfully avoided. However, the resulting explosion covered parts of the band’s equipment.
“It wasn’t malicious,” said Funicella. “I think they were just looking for anything to throw.”
Opening for like-minded bands such as Shannon and The Clams and La Luz provided Dead Seagals with greater visibility in Reno and gave them an incentive to perform fewer covers and write more originals. The band plans to release a short EP soon.
The trio is now a duo—Dworkin left earlier this year—and to Funicella, a small band in a small town works just fine. “You don’t really need a city or a lot of people to have endless things to do,” he said. I’ve lived here for 18 out of my 23 years of life—I don’t really get bored.”