Don't call Sunset Voodoo a reggae band. Not that its members have anything against rocksteady rhythms. It's just that the Tempe trio, who identifies as straightforward rock mixed with psychedelia, just isn't sure how it got the label in the first place. Lucas Roth (bass, backup vocals) says he can't remember the last time his band consistently hit on the upbeat, but Joey Gutos (guitar, lead vocals) does admit that the group's earlier stuff ("Feelin' Up," "Dancin' With Knives") can evoke "some good, groovy dance vibes."
"Some of the best [local] bands right now are reggae. In particular, The Hourglass Cats, Something Like Seduction [from Tucson], and Black Bottom Lighters," Roth says. "We've got respect for the reggae scene, and that's why we play with all of them, but we've come to get a certain image that I never thought that we would."
Roque "Rocky" Yanez (drums, backup vocals) jokes: "We need to hit the metal side now."
Regardless of imprecise genre labels, Sunset Voodoo is an archetypal Arizona band. The mystical name references the Copper State's nightly sundown spectacle, but the band's latest single, "Strange Things," most accurately sums up the trio's motif: "It's time for the night, when strange things come alive," Roth says, quoting the song's chorus. "When the sun sets, it's time to have fun. It's time to bring something alive. Voodoo magic, just let it birth."
Sunset Voodoo has amassed a wide fan base in a short time since forming in summer 2012. After being booked at local festivals Apache Lake Music Festival and Sidepony Express, Sunset Voodoo is headlining at Marquee Theater, which will be its third gig at the massive Tempe venue. Though not unheard of, it's certainly uncommon for a local group to headline at Marquee. We sat down with the band and outlined some of its keys for success.
Release Often, Plan Ahead: These days, with so much random crap flooding the market, it can be difficult, if not near impossible, to find a reliable audience. One method, which Sunset Voodoo swears by, is to release material as often as possible, keeping itself in the public's earhole.
"It would be nice to take two or three years on an album, like some of our favorite artists do, but we're not quite at their level yet," Gutos says. "We're still establishing ourselves, so the more we can put out, the better we can keep people's attention."
Already, Voodoo plans to issue a follow-up to May 2014's self-released eponymous EP. Debuted at the beginning of this year, "Strange Things" is the first taste of the new EP, which should appear around April. Not to mention Sunset's plans for music videos, Southwest mini-tours in the summer, and producing merch such as T-shirts designed by local artist Ashley Macias.
"We've got some really cool stuff in the works. We've also been jamming with another guitarist, actually our bassist's brother," Gutos says. "Kind of thinking outside the box from where we've been, incorporating different elements, seeing where we can take the music."
But experimentation is not enough, as Yanez explains -- the band also sets six-month goals, which keep everyone on the same page. "These are strategies that are helping us move forward, kind of forcing ourselves so we can actually do this," he says.
Get Organized and Communicate: With such a big show ahead, the band has a lot to prepare. Though Voodoo says it isn't ready to be signed to a label, it says it's at a point where hiring a manager would be beneficial.
"Trying to manage shows along with [online] media and still coming up with new material, recording it, is very time-consuming," Gutos says. "If we can get a manager to do some of the business side of it, that would help us spend more time on the actual music part."
Despite all the stress (the band says it has to sell at least 150 to 200 tickets, which isn't always easy, even with a large fan base) Yanez attributes a lot of dedication, commitment, and communication within the band being key to finding a resolve when they sometimes bump heads.
"With communication, you help each other write a good song, you help get gigs, communicate what's going on, and update the band on things that we should do," Yanez says. "We're hoping to make a huge impact with this headlining show, coming from playing open mics up to this point. Hopefully, some sort of media viral outbreak news comes out about us banging the shit out of Arizona."
"That's the dream, but you can't bank on it. You just gotta be on your grind until it breaks," Gutos says. "Last time we played [at Marquee] was for Katastro's CD release. The crowd was just so energetic. We're hoping this time it'll be even better."
The band hints that it's got a dynamic set list with a few surprises but is tight-lipped about details.
Branch Out: Sunset Voodoo stands by an open invitation to jam with everyone and anyone, regardless of genre or musical background. But even this attitude comes with some obstacles.
"A lot of bands isolate themselves to specific scenes, only playing with certain bands. They just do that over and over again and expect different results," Gutos says. "That's not what we did from the start. We've always been open to jamming with different people, playing different shows, different styles."
If you do this, eventually, the band says, you will impress musicians that already have a good following, and they might want to bring you along. Maintaining these relationships is a big first step, as it allows you to develop and gain valuable contacts.
"I would try to go to different shows and jam with different people, be a part of different groups. A lot of people, because I wasn't in their crowd or their scene all the time, kind of shrugged me off and treated me like I wasn't welcome," Gutos says. "Which I never really understood because I thought we were there for the same reason -- the music. Apparently, some people are more about the scene and maintaining their sense of image or whatever as an artist. Which is an important thing to have, but when you're starting from the bottom and you already have that attitude, it's not going to get you anywhere."
"You have to be a gentlemen, a showman, and a businessman," Roth advises.
"And humble," Yanez adds.
Give Back: "If we can have a positive influence on somebody's life beyond just the entertainment side, if our lyrics can resonate with somebody, if a melody can pick them up on a day they're feeling like garbage, I think that's what makes what we're doing and all the effort we're putting into this worth it," Gutos says. "[Being in a band] is fun for us as individuals, but at the end of the day if you're not doing anything for anyone else, then it's just really a hobby and it's meaningless to the rest of the world."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.