Garbage In, Garbage Out

While radio rethinks its support for electronica, Sipping Soma emerges with electronic music that's instantly hummable

"We played one show on Halloween night outside the Sail Inn, our very first-ever show, and that was a disaster," says Matson, shrugging. "The power went out three times. There was one outlet for the lights, PA, everything.

"'Someone's using the handblower in the bathroom--stop playing.' It was that ridiculous. Every time the power went out, it took me five minutes to reload all my keyboard stuff."

Worse, the band had yet to snare a permanent drummer. The core lineup of Matson, Radford and guitarist David Plagman was augmented by their friend Scott Hessel from the Jennys, who played on some of the album and designed its cover art. "Scott was filling in, but he had another gig across town with the Jennys the same night," Matson laughs. "He had to split after delays caused by the first power outtage."

With the addition of drummer Andy "The Flange" Joslin, who played on the remainder of the album, things quickly congealed. "There are two kinds of drummers," says Matson, nodding. "There's beef-eating neanderthals who wouldn't know the difference if you changed their whole drum kits around. And then there's the meticulous kind, like The Flange. Anytime someone has a nickname with the definitive article, you're immediately intrigued, aren't you? What if Richie Cunningham had befriended "A Fonz" instead of the definitive one? Perhaps Anson Williams' singing career might never have gotten the serious push it needed.

"Perhaps someday, somewhere else, you'll read the definitive article on how The Flange got his name. Suffice to say, it's not a very interesting story, it's only an appellation designed to demean his obsessive attention to detail. But consider this: If he was called "Some Flange" every time he was needed in the studio, the album would sound like planes taking off, and then where would Diedre and the gang be?"

Since "The Flange" came on board, Sipping Soma officially has played two shows (it'll also be at Gibson's on August 6). The first was at the Atomic Cafe on July 17 for a largely underage audience that went berserk for the group. "The people that are going to dig Sipping Soma are 18 to 20, in that range," says Matson. "They're just more nuts about music." The audience at the Bash on Ash show that followed several weeks later was quite receptive, although much more, shall we say, subdued. "It was an older bunch of people, radio people, various management people. We don't really have a big draw, although there were a lot of people."

People came to the front of the stage not to dance but to stare, and there was plenty to stare at besides the morphing video art screens bookending the stage. For the opening number, Radford came out in a strange shroud easily mistaken for an Elephant Man costume.

"What, you mean my Gilligan's Island grass headdress thing?" Radford wonders. "That's made of Hawaiian skirt grass stuff with some skull and crossbones in the front. I like that stuff."

The Gilligan thread is picked up later during "Subdued," when Diedre throws Pixie Sticks in the audience, while she wears an outfit and feather-riddled hat that look like something Lovey Howell would wear on a coconut-gathering expedition.

It should be noted that Matson has worked with Don Salter in two capacities, as an engineer at Don's popular Saltmine Studios in Mesa and in several bands. "While I was working with Don in the Gimmicks and the Hipgnostics, I always wanted to do something that was more electronic and industrial and I was in this jangle-rock band. I started putting this stuff together on the side, and it just took off from there."

"Mark and I have been in bands in three or four incarnations before this, and we never really got a record done because we were always sensing that it wasn't quite right," adds Salter. "All the sudden he fell into a relationship with these great musicians, and this became a viable commodity project."

Of course it was hard to ignore Radford, what with her immersion in Eastern and Indian music and all. For example, Radford labels Veena Sahasrabudhe's The First Milestone as her "fave album drunk AND sober"! Try even saying "Veena Sahasrabudhe" drunk or sober!

"I was studying Hindustani classical vocal music with a woman from Madras, India," she says. "She was a student at ASU, and she had an amazing voice. I happened to be checking out an Indian festival there with my friend, and I went up to her and said, 'Are you teaching?' I was her first student."

Both she and Matson have kept busy in the months leading up to the CD's release by performing at raves in an improvisational capacity, not as Sipping Soma but sitting in with other acts and friends like Groove Tribe. "People really dig it. Most people at raves are there to dance and not watch a show," Radford explains. "I get a real good response when I sing at raves. They're not bouncing around, but they're very attentive. It's something that's kinda lacking in live entertainment, the energy that goes through people, creating something on the spot."

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