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It's about 15 minutes into the conversation with local power poppers Sugar High when it starts to happen. The feeling that I've somehow ended up in an episode of The Monkees, or maybe even been cast in a local remake of A Hard Day's Night.
It could be singer Adrian Evans' west Mesa apartment, a cornucopia of pop culture, which is spurring the sense of bewilderment. From the Shonen Knife posters to the Iggy Pop standup displays -- the benefits of Evans' career as a record-store clerk -- to the album covers on the wall, it's obvious this is a group that takes its disposable entertainment veryseriously (especially telling is a mounted LP cover of Van Halen I, where all the band members, save David Lee Roth -- the only real rock star in the bunch -- have been crossed out).
But more than the setting is Sugar High's obvious camaraderie, one forged from the ashes of an acrimonious breakup in 1997 and an unlikely reformation last year.
Set against the clubhouse environment, the band members come off like rock 'n' roll caricatures, almost as if each has been cast into a familiar role. There's Evans, the heartthrob front man; Sean Gens, the shy, stylish drummer; Jason Garcia, the serious-looking Mod guitarist; and bassist Pat Singleton, the wizened rock 'n' roll war-horse.
In between jokes and flurries of good-natured ribbing, Evans, whose persona is rife with a hearty dose of David Cassidy -- down to his puka shell necklace and "super cool" exhortations -- sums up the band's motivations best.
"We look at all these people," he says, pointing to the dizzying array of familiar images, "as friends. All those songs that we love, we look at them as friends. And more than anything, we want to be a part of something like that -- that people would think of what we're doing in that way."
Pat Singleton had no idea what to expect when he arrived in Arizona. A native of Cleveland, where he played with a handful of retro-billy combos like the Rat-tones, Singleton relocated to Phoenix in 1988. He bounced around, playing the occasional acoustic set at Tempe's Sun Club before eventually hooking up with a Guns n' Roses-type metal outfit.
It seemed Singleton's days as a struggling musician had come to an end when he married in 1991. "I got settled into the whole domestic thing for a few years," he recalls.
"And then we came along and ruined his whole marriage," chimes in Evans, as the rest of the group collapses in laughter.
"It's true," adds Singleton, "Autumn Teen Sound formed, and I was divorced within six months."
By '95 Gens and Evans were already veterans of a pair of underappreciated local pop combos, the Heathers and the Catholic Schoolgirls. A meeting with their future musical co-conspirator came about when Singleton answered a "guitarist wanted" ad the pair had placed.
The trio quickly added bassist Rusty Marlboro, and the memorably named Autumn Teen Sound was born.
The group began sharing bills with a growing legion of like-minded pop bands starting to re-emerge in the wake of grunge's passing. By 1997, the group had secured enough of a local buzz that management and record labels began calling. In a pre-emptive move against the predictably tepid instincts of music-biz marketers -- the kind that have ensured unimaginative band names like Guster, Filter, Creed -- the group decided to change identities. "We figured it would just be better to change the name before somebody asked us to. We really couldn't picture a label letting us get away with something like Autumn Teen Sound," says Evans.
Though they quickly settled on Sugar High -- a name lifted from a track on a Stephen Duffy record -- the band members only managed to play half a dozen shows under the moniker before the group, almost inexplicably, broke up.
Even now, some two and a half years later, the exact reasoning behind the split remains a mystery. While the initial speculation focused on a rift between Evans and the rest of the band created by the group's then-management, the singer insists the reasons for the separation were far less titillating.
"We were on the verge of getting a good indie deal and things were going well, but there was a lot of stress. It was a combination of that, personal friction and some outside influences that began to snowball and ended up tearing us apart," says Evans.
"Communication broke down and the band broke up," adds Singleton, curtly. "We never sat down and said, 'Let's break up.' It was just this lack of communication which got worse and worse until the band broke up and no one really knew why. I remember people asking me afterward and I didn't have an answer."
Gens and Evans went on to form Crashbar with former Jennys keyboardist and current Tulane Blacktop front man Brett Hinders, while Singleton logged time with Tempe retro-poppers the Dustbin Flowers. Neither project really got off the ground, and after a year, both sides started to feel a sense of loss.