Tucson's Sun Bones Use Classical Training to Dive "Into the Weirdness"
Rather than stick to vague genre tags or invent new hybrids, the members of Sun Bones offer the term "malleability."
It's fitting for a classically trained band that somehow manages to fit four-part harmonies, bursts of punk, comforting pop melodies, avant-garde excursions and more under a single umbrella and make it all work.
The Tucson band -- voted as last year's Tucson Weekly Up-and-Coming Artists of the Year under the former name Boreas -- is touring in support of self-released debut Sentinel Peak, recorded in the spring at the Saltmine Studio Oasis in Mesa, with producer Chuck Dorman.
Sun Bones is scheduled to perform Friday, July 5 at Rogue Bar.
"We had this collection of songs and we were aware it was a huge variety -- not a grab bag, but influenced by very different styles," says singer-guitarist Sam Golden. "We ordered it in a way to help guide people to the weirdness. It starts out more conventional. We front-loaded (Sentinel Peak) with the poppy songs and as the album goes on, we slowly introduce the more eccentric side of the band."
Sun Bones shine on both Sentinel Peak and in the band's explosive and frantic live performances, the foursome working themselves into a frenzied space where they seem to be possessed by the music.
"That's really where our punk aesthetic shines through," says guitarist Evan Casler. "I always have a heard time sitting still when I'm listening to music, so I just let that take over. Fortunately enough of our songs have a bump and a groove to it that we can really key into that energy and bring our own enthusiasm. We all feed off the music."
Sun Bones thrive in combining classic, melodic pop sounds -- delivered in those pitch-perfect four-part harmonies -- with more avant-garde sensibilities, sometimes pushing the envelope in a single song.
"We would describe Sentinel Peak as our first mature musical statement as a band," says bassist Bob Hanshaw. "We've been do this in various forms for six or seven years, and we've been satisfied with what we've done up to a point, but this is the first time it's all come together. Some of the songs are from our earlier recordings, but done up in a way we think are the best. Some were written years ago and just recorded now and some are new."
While revisiting older songs might be seen as the work of an obsessive or perfectionist band, in Sun Bones' case, it's more the result of a quickly evolving band, findng new pathways of expression and continually challenging themselves.
Sentinel Peak begins, like Golden describes it, with "Love Letter" and "Las Aguas," blending some rhythmic Talking Heads style alternative rock; the former's an edgy, meditative song that rises and falls naturally, while the latter's a blossoming, brightly melodic sing-along. "Kite String" brings a bit of weirdness to a peppy Beatles-influenced tune. From there the album branches out in more and more directions.
"I hope that it grabs people on the first listen in ways they can't really define and that it takes multiple listens," Golden says. "We don't want to lose our stylistic diversity and malleability, that's what we go for, but we also don't want to sound like 14 different bands on an album, so we start with the more accessible songs and branch out into the weirdness."
Later on the album, when the songs sometimes threaten to spin out of control, it's the band's locked-in harmonies that keep things grounded. But even in the studio, the band had to find a way of performing the vocal parts to really capture the sound they wanted.
"From an audio purity standpoint it made sense to do each track individually, so each person could do the take as perfectly as possibly," says drummer Seth Vietti. "Since we'd had so much time practicing and singing together live, the only way we could lock in with the harmonies was to record them live. We've learned how important it is to hear each other while we sing."
That combination of formal musical training with subversive urges, along with a keen sense of how to add drama to live shows, served the musicians well when they were operating under the name Boreas. The band's varied influences played out in surprising ways as they operated under a mantra of being "accessible but not ordinary."
An earlier incarnation -- the folky Grandpa Moses -- won them the popular choice award at the 2007 Arizona Daily Star high school Battle of the Bands. Golden, Hanshaw, and Vietti went their separate ways for college, for a time operating separate groups named Boreas in both Tempe and Tucson. Growing more serious about the band, they began touring in 2011 and added Cassler to expand the sound and add some heavier influences.
"Each of us has sort of a different core of his music, but we have really open ears and minds for each other's music," Golden says. "We have these four hubs and I think you can hear each of them coming out to varying degrees in each of our songs, but depending on who wrote the music or the lyrics, there's a predominant style in a song."
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