Songs as Ways to Live

The kids next door in The Sweat Band keep on maturing

Marina Cornelius subjugates the expansive stage of the Rialto Theatre with her struts and thrusts, raising a pointed finger to the rafters to emphasize a lyric and then hammering it down on her guitar strings. Her guitar wails a primordial wail, then chugs and screeches, unfurling sonic fireworks displays with just one effects pedal, a boatload of heart and a whole lot to say.

For all that swagger and style, 'Rina, and her likewise watchable Sweat Band mates--sister Leann Cornelius on bass and Jake Bergeron on drums--look a lot like the kids next door, as if exciting, life-on-the-edge stage performances were as natural as dropping into the corner tiendita for a soft drink.

And what do you know? Chosen by TAMMIES critics as this year's Best New Band or Artist, these really are the kids next door.

The three grew to love Tucson after 'Rina left Phoenix to study sculpture and illustration at the UA. Leann followed to study graphic design, and eventually, fellow Phoenician and friend Bergeron joined them. Says Leann, "I remember visiting 'Rina, here. Tucson just had a really good feeling to it--friendly--and downtown especially is really accessible to young people. We can live down here!"

The trio are neighbors. 'Rina recently bought a house near the downtown police station, and they share a yard, where they have been spending much of their spare time gardening. The sisters also work together in their day jobs, and the three share a studio in the warehouse district.

'Rina adds, "It's pretty old-fashioned here, which is exciting to me. It seems like an old-fashioned town. I like old-fashioned ... old-growth trees and old buildings."

"Old fashioned" is the last thing that comes to mind when listening to The Sweat Band's music or watching them play. The sound could hardly be more in the moment if they were creating it on the spot, which they rarely do, except when an original inspiration seems irresistible. They expect to keep their intensity alive indefinitely with new music, but they consider with some trepidation that it might not be as much fun if they ever actually learn their instruments. That possibility looms since Leann's recent graduation.

For the past year, the band has played Tucson dates exclusively. Now free to tour, they plan an autumn swing through Southern states, opening for bands they know and admire there. They're eager to see how fans elsewhere respond to their refreshingly raw, comparatively dark, indie-punk-rock sound and, says 'Rina, "to really hone in and focus on a small set of songs and seeing how they work out as we play them."

Wherever they travel, the central feature of their sound will be their cohesiveness as a unit. "I've always enjoyed watching a band where you know they're just sorta in their own world, and they're sorta playing off each other. ... It's fun to see a band just going for something they believe is original," Jake says. "When I'm playing drums, it's a direct reaction to what they're playing onstage and vice versa. We're all in tune."

'Rina adds, "There are specific things that happen because it's the three of us, that just happen because we know each other so well."

Sweat Band songs are group compositions, born of the in-your-face collaboration demanded by their tiny practice space. Once the music is decided, 'Rina develops lyrics, taking inspiration from the output of her random writing habit. And if there's a thread of continuity to her songs, it's this: "Most of the songs that we play are almost like morals for me, ways to live, reminders."

Sounds like an old-fashioned girl.