Surf’s up Saturday for Pyronaut party

Local band celebrates decade of danceable fun
By: Paul Cambra Journal staff writer
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You wouldn’t think the switch from grunge to surf music would be a natural progression. After all, it’s not as simple as replacing your ripped jeans with board shorts. But it worked for The Pyronauts, and this Saturday, the Auburn band will celebrate 10 years of making music. “This show is for our fans,” said guitarist and founding member Bob Butler. He, along with friend Paul Beatie formed the Pyronauts a decade ago when they were sophomores at Colfax High School. The pair will be joined on stage by current drummer Tim Stephenson and bassist Brett Cole, both Del Oro graduates, as well as former rhythm section members who will come from as far away as Oregon, Colorado and Montana. The show will be a chronological history of the band with past members taking their turns on stage. Beatie and Butler met in fifth grade at Weimar Hills School, when Nirvana ruled the airwaves and every kid with a guitar wanted to make it sound like sludge. “We were just making noise when we first started playing,” Beatie said. “Grunge was the thing, but we couldn’t sing and play at the same time, so we decided to concentrate on just playing.” Beatie’s guitar teacher at the time, Rob Bonner of Colfax’s Rainbow Music Company, introduced him to surf music and songs by The Chantays and The Ventures. It was just what they were looking for, though not necessarily easier. “With grunge, it’s very loud and a lot going on,” Butler said. “But surf music is very clean and it’s difficult to cover up mistakes.” The Pyronauts began playing around town, then around the county, and now go as far as Southern California to play shows. But performing in the birthplace of the West Coast surf scene was not what made this band feel as if they’d arrived. Opening for surf music icon Dick Dale did. “Opening for Dick Dale was like the next plateau, the next step as a band and as musicians,” Butler said. “It’s a big reason we keep doing what we were doing and keep having fun at it.” Fun seems to be an important part of the Pyronaut makeup. “It’s all about having fun,” Beatie said. “I think that’s the only reason we’ve survived for 10 years. Most bands want to make it big, get a record contract. For us, we just want to have fun and go to cool places. The minute it’s not fun anymore is when Bob and I call it quits.” The shows are entertaining for the fan base as well, which seems to encompass a wide age group, from grandparents who remember the music from back in the day, to baby boomers looking to introduce the music to their kids. “It’s a great show,’ said Chris Geiger, who figures she’s seen the Pyronauts about 100 times. “My husband grew up in Huntington Beach and used to surf, so we both love the music. We first saw them on Cruise Nite in 1999.” Pistol Pete’s owner Peter Aroz Jr., who has booked the band to play his Auburn bar numerous times, remembers that performance. “Surf music and old cars, it was a good fit,” Aroz said. “They’re just good entertainers, really into what they do.” The band has opened for Dale 11 times since, and plays about 40 percent original compositions to go along with the old surf favorites. As for the name Pyronaut? “We made up the word from fire and cosmonaut,” Beatie said. “Kind of an ‘explorer of fire’ in a metaphorical sense. Our music has the energy of fire, not like we do fire dancing or anything.” The dancing they can leave to the audience, who will have a chance to congratulate the band on its decade of success. And this Saturday, there will be plenty of Pyronauts to go around.