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It's that quiet moment after a rehearsal when players smoke their smokes and drink their drinks out on a front porch. Everyone has said his piece musically, and whatever small talk ensues now lets you know which night owls slept in and missed the big news stories of the day. Michael Red, trombonist and tallest Sunorus member, picked a good day to be up on current events.
"So the cop comes and tells him to get off the dude, and the guy turns, growls at the cop, and goes back to eating his face. And the guy whose face is getting eaten is still alive. Seriously . . ."
It's not every day the conversation flows from cannibalism to bath salts to zombie infestation in such short order — but these are the times in which we live. Bassist Tato Caraveo steps off the porch while Red and drummer Eric Dahl are explaining that the bath salts in question have more in common with crystal methamphetamine than they do with Jean Naté, and that it seems to give its users superhuman strength. Caraveo, unable to wrap his head around this admittedly incredible story, turns around and walks back toward the stoop.
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"Wait, you mean to tell me that both guys were naked?"
"Uh-huh," Red nods. "All you can see on the video are their legs under the roadway."
If a zombie takeover is as imminent as half of Sunorus now believes it is, it's heartening to know that this is the band capable of supplying the soundtrack to the mayhem, with paranoia inducing instrumentals like "Cartoon" or "Zombie Maker," an old Hypno-Twists song Caraveo revived from the dead and put into the active repertoire on Sunorus' self-titled new album.
And if we need an old-fashioned drink-'til-we-drop anthem to lighten the mood before the apocalypse, like "When I Get Low I Get High," or some after-hours pass-out music, like "Whiskey," or even some show tunes, like "Whatever Lola Wants," this new album has got 'em, too.
In fact, Sunorus the album manages to catch Sunorus the band sounding more like its live-show self than any take-home souvenir it's offered before. Unlike the previous all-instrumental Green House, Sunorus has stepped up the number of Hillary Tash vocals on this album, boosting her into full-time membership. You have quiet sambas ("Gadjo"), mariachi music ("Dios"), a knee-slapping country song that sounds like it was hijacked off a Les Paul and Mary Ford album ("You Make Me Happy"), and the quiet side of blaxploitation, the kind you'd find on whichever side of the Shaft soundtrack doesn't contain "Shaft" ("No Shoes Blues").
No surprise that the band's sixth album sounds like its live show — they recorded it mostly live, direct to digital at the group's Green House Studios, with minimal overdubs added later. The record also features a frequent live guest, Andrew Jemsek (The Feisty Felines, Drunk N Horny), adding keyboards and accordion.
The occasional addition of Jemsek's frantic Farfisa and screaming vocals, à la The Sonics, goes a long way to recalling Caraveo's previous band, The Hypno-Twists, which used to rule Wednesday nights at the Emerald Lounge until 2003, around the same time Caraveo and Dahl started playing the Emerald every Sunday night and then every Tuesday night, with keyboard/vocalist Matt Yazzie, in an improvisational combo soon to become Sonorous.
"We were trying to do something different, more jazz-oriented," Caraveo says.
"For the first two years of this band, there was no practice," adds Dahl. "The practice was the Sunday show at the Emerald, where we would all show up, improv general ideas that people had. The songwriting has always come from that."
The band steadily acquired new talent, adding Red in 2004, saxophonist Mark Stinson in 2006, and guitarist Chris Doyle in 2007, the year the band released The Lost Leaf Sessions. But change was afoot: Vocalist and founding member Yazzie departed, citing conflicts with members of the group, and the group released it was necessary to jettison two O's from its name in order to stomp a potential problem before it became a pain in the neck.
"We decided to change our name from Sonorous because there's a DJ in Europe who spells it the same way," says Red. "He was using it first and has a bigger reputation than we do. But it was all for the best. Sunorus is a more unique name — sun-or-us."
Losing Yazzie's raspy barker-through-a tinhorn vocals and up-front piano left the band with a temporary identity crisis. They filled the void by sharing the stage with a succession of guests, including lounge pianist and singer Monty Banks, singer-songwriter Lonna Kelley, and Tash, who had played with the Sunorus guys at her annual Funky Formal events.
"I started singing with these guys for a vaudeville-style variety show. They were the backing band. It was a lot of different variety acts, dancing girls, burlesque, and belly dancing. And it was a gypsy show, somewhere different every year," says Tash. "I started to do a couple of songs with them and it went on from there."
At this same time, in 2007, when Dahl became owner of the Lost Leaf and Caraveo became its manager and talent booker, the group kept to an unspoken rule not to play at its own club, even after recording an album there during off-hours.