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Heritage Hump Day: Sugar High - "Swallowed Bombs"

Every Wednesday is Heritage Hump Day! That's because every Wednesday from now to the end of the year or before someone really big stops us, Heritage Hump Records (a temporary subsidiary of Onus Records) and New Times will be bringing you a limited edition collector's item of a much beloved Phoenix band that walked the scorched earth of Arizona before the year 2000 A.D. We will honor that band with a commemorative digital single that you, the digital public, will have only seven days to download to your computers and smart phones before this single gets marked up to an exorbitant price as determined by the mp3 collector community. When that happens, a new Heritage Hump subject will be chosen and the free-for-a-limited-time-only cycle begins anew.

"Power pop has always been about the comfort factor, the idea that no matter how dicey a boy-girl song situation is, the love emanating from a stack of carefully chosen records is somehow going to make everything all right. Tempe's Sugar High has not been immune to this sort of hero worship -- "My Star," the most romantic song here, lauds a girl to immortal beloved status for deciphering Ramones lyrics. But that's also a song from the band's earliest days, and six years after their first full-length, Let the Sunshine Out raises the stakes and pushes Sugar High well beyond its comfort zone, to a place where bad things happen to good people who own Matthew Sweet records."

That's how I opened my 2008 review of the band's final album, Let the Sunshine Out, but Sugar High's sweet trajectory goes back to 1995 when Adrian Evans, Sean Gens, Pat Singleton and Pat's nephew Rusty Marlboro formed Autumn Teen Sound in in 1995. Their image was so ultra power-pop, they could be seen blowing bubbles in one one of their earliest publicity still.

Sensing this teen name might pigeon-hole them as lightweights in the industry, they changed their handle to Sugar High in 1997 and broke up a few weeks later. Bob Mehr's February 24, 2000 feature on the band outlines all the reasons the band fell apart and came back together.

When they reconvened in '99, an early Autumn Teen Sound song "Turbo Teen" saw prominent use in the Melissa Joan Hart teen film vehicle Drive Me Crazy. By that time Rusty had quit the band and Pat moved over to bass so that a succession of lead guitarists could take his place, quit and then rejoin.

While Jason Garcia is pictured on the cover of the band's second full-length, Let the Sunshine Out , his second tour of duty in the band, he doesn't play on the album (guitar duties were assumed by Mick Williams and Kevin Scanlon, who plays the lead guitar solo on "Swallowed Bombs."

Adrian Evans remembers the recording of this track well.

"The vocal microphone on this track was so hot, it picked up the sound of a little cricket who'd wandered into the studio and was chirping his heart out. Our guitarist Mick went looking for him and kept saying, 'Come out and die!' We seriously considered using that as a spoken intro to the song."

Singleton says that Evans wrote most of the songs on the album while Singleton was out of the band.

"When I rejoined there was just enough time for me to learn the tunes and then go into the studio and record them," Singleton says. "There was no benefit of a long gestation period like the songs on the previous album Saccharine and Trust, which were played for years at shows, rehearsals, etc. One result of this was the bass guitar parts being much simpler -- more stark. I recorded the bass tracks and went straight to Casey Moore's. I remember sitting there feeling inadequate and paranoid, grimacing into my beer, writhing on my bar stool. Over the years however I came to like how stripped down the bass is."

With this record and the original lineup back together, Sugar High thought the band could pick up where we left off. "It was seven years since our first record," says Gens. "The record came out great. We started playing out again but it became apparent that we weren't really older and wiser. The same things that broke us apart the first time pulled us apart again."

You can hear some of that turmoil in "Swallowed Bombs," the desire to get "far away from here, away" and still finding beauty in the uncertainty of now.

Mostly what is uncertain to Singleton is what happened to his mandolin part.

"I wanted to pay mandolin on three songs, but our producer Bob Hoag told me, 'No way. People are gonna say, "Sounds like someone in the band got a mandolin for Christmas . . ."' So I picked one song -- I think it was 'Swallowed Bombs.'

"When the album was mixed there was no mandolin on the track I had played it on. But Bob and Adrian didn't say they erased it. They denied any knowledge of any mandolin ever being played, talked about, anything! They developed a strange form of two-man amnesia!"

Says Gens, "That era of the band was supposed to be this big return to a scene that was long gone. All of our friends' bands were either broken up or on hiatus. It was very different out there for us. We still had some good times, but for the most part our time was over. That being said, I am glad we got our second chance to record and who knows, maybe someday we can get it together again. We are about due."

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Serene Dominic
Contact: Serene Dominic