For three days, in the middle of July, Ivan Pongracic and his friends Jeremy DeHart and Dane Carter gathered in the empty McNamara Rehearsal Hall to revive the spirit of their band, Lords of Atlantis.
Though the band began recording with no intention to release anything, this practice session was not any ordinary one. Lords of Atlantis released a finished track on Sept. 18., titled “Long Live the King.”
The song is a tribute to and named for a man known for being the main inspiration behind the birth of surf music in the 1960s: Dick Dale.
Ivan Pongracic, professor of economics, has taught at Hillsdale for the last 20 years. For as long as he can remember, Pongracic loved two things: Austrian economics and “surf music,” an instrumental genre featuring reverb-heavy electric guitar, which Pongracic said originated in Orange County. He has played this variety of music with a band since he was 18 years old.
Surf music is a union of reverb and Mediterranean tonalities. The lack of a vocalist gives the mind free-range over its emotions and allows the listener to be whisked away by their imagination without being constrained by lyrics.
“Surf music originated from Southern California in the 1960s, pioneered by native Californian guitarist Dick Dale,” Pongracic said. “The Beach Boys came out of it but they sang about surfing. The scene itself in Orange County all started as an instrumental scene. This means it was without vocals. It was guitar driven.”
According to Pongracic, Dale’s father came from Lebanese descent and his mother’s family was Polish. Growing up, Pongracic said, Dale was exposed to a variety of old-world European and Middle Eastern music. These sounds inspired Dale to create a heterogeneous type of musical tones that resulted in a Mediteranean-esque sound.
This summer, Pongracic got the band back together to play some surf music and lift the members’ morale following the coronavirus pandemic. Lords of Atlantis consists of Pongracic and two friends, Carter and DeHart, both past bandmates. Carter plays the drums and has been in various bands with Pongracic over the last 20 years. DeHart, who toured with Pongracic, plays electric and bass guitar.
Senior Trevor Vogel said music has always played an important role in Pongracic’s economic lectures.
“He’s well known in the genre he plays,” Vogel said. “He’s very passionate about it and he’s talented, so this doesn’t surprise me.”
Lords of Atlantis released “Dick Dale” on Sept. 18 to honor the eighteenth month since Dale’s death. Pongracic’s music is heavily influenced by Dale, and in 2014, he opened for him.
Pongracic opened for Dale with his former bands The Space Cossacks and The Madeira. The Youtube video of the band’s new release features a picture of young Pongracic and Dick Dale himself.
During Pongracic’s time at George Mason University pursuing his Ph.D, he met economist Larry White. White enjoyed surf music and Pongracic realized they had a passion in common. White became a mentor for Pongracic in the world of surf music and even helped him come up with the name of his first band, The Space Cossacks, which produced two studio albums.
In 2004, Pongracic started another surf music band known as The Madeira, which is currently on hiatus. In 2014, he was asked to go on tour with well-known surf musician John Blair. At first, they played in Spain and Italy, but ended up playing in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016 as the Blair-Pongracic band. Pongracic became especially close with the members that would make up Lords of Atlantis — Carter and DeHart — while playing on these tours.
An NPR article published in 2019 about Dale’s death noted that he frequently collaborated with “Einstein of the guitar and the amplifiers,” Leo Fender. This allowed Dale to achieve, according to Pongracic, “a heavy-reverb guitar tone which formed the general character of the sound ‘surf music.’”
“The instrumental nature of it is very evocative,” Pongracic said. “It unleashes your imagination.”
“Dick Dale” is available to stream on YouTube and many of Pongracic’s older tracks can be found on a variety of different music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora.
The track is worth listening to, said Vogel, and in his words, “Nothing makes an economics department function as fun as Dr. Pongracic playing solo surf rock on his guitar.