Making the Band

The Resonars are a recorded one-man show, but Matt Rendon found a group that can re-create his sounds live

With recordings by his project the Resonars, Matt Rendon has established a reputation for uncannily re-creating the vintage sound of 1960s-era psychedelic pop and garage rock. Even more amazing, he has played every instrumental part and sung every vocal part on each of the Resonars' six albums, including the forthcoming Crummy Desert Sound.

Rendon also writes most of the material, and produces and records all the albums in his Coma Cave Studio, which is still located in the guest house at his parents' midtown home. (Jim Waters of Waterworks Studio mixes Resonars albums.)

But earlier this year, the Resonars became a functioning, multiplayer band for the first time in about 15 years, Rendon says.

The impetus was a gig in March at Austin's famous South by Southwest Music and Media Conference, for which Rendon gathered some of his musical friends to perform the Resonars' songs live.

"We threw together a band to play South by Southwest at the request of Burger Records. It was so much fun, and we got to know the songs really well and really quickly, so we just figured 'Let's run with this!'"

Burger Records, the Resonars' Fullerton, Calif.-based label, has since 2007 been building a reputation for its hundreds of vinyl and cassette releases by young and hungry underground punk, pop and rock acts. The label also will be behind the End of the World showcase this Friday night, Dec. 21, at Club Congress.

The concert will feature sets by the Resonars; fellow Tucson bands Lenguas Largas, Freezing Hands and Acorn Bcorn; and out-of-town guests Feeding People, White Night and Lovely Bad Things, all from Southern California.

Almost all the acts on the bill have released recordings, or soon will, on Burger, the cult-favorite boutique label that has issued two past Resonars recordings—That Evil Drone and a reissue of Bright and Dark. Burger also will put out Crummy Desert Sound in January.

The Resonars began 20 years ago as a conventional band, playing many local gigs in the mid-1990s before Rendon dissolved the group.

"Around 1997, I split it up and started making the records myself," he said over a beer one recent afternoon in the Tap Room at Hotel Congress.

Rendon downplays the significant achievement in making Resonars records by himself. He says he never set out to be a solo act but ended up playing all the parts on the recordings by necessity.

"It was what had to be done. When I split from the original band, I had to become the players I always wanted to play with—a Keith Moon-style drummer, a melodic bass player. I wasn't ever really thinking about it. I just had a song and needed, say, a counterpoint bass line, or whatever.

"It just kind of kept going and going, and I kept making records. I never really thought it out."

If Rendon were to assemble his favorite all-star band, it would include Moon on drums and either Paul McCartney, John Entwistle (The Who) or Chris Hillman (The Byrds) on bass. And on guitar? "It'd probably be, like, Pete Townshend and Jeff Beck or early Clapton."

Many casual listeners will be taken aback to learn that those four- and five-part harmonies on Resonars records were all created by Rendon, in his multitracked solitude. The vocals are the sort you might imagine the Mamas and the Papas, the Beach Boys or the Association taking months to perfect. Typically modest, Rendon doesn't think he's doing anything special with the singing.

"Lately it's been getting a little difficult, because I'm losing my high range, because I'm getting older," the 44-year-old says with a chuckle.

"But I just spend a lot of time in there, and when it comes time for harmonies, I have no idea in advance of what I want to do as far as backups. I just sort of sit in there and goof around until something sounds good. Then I'll put a second one and a third part, and then maybe double them. I don't want to say there isn't a whole lot of thought put into it, but I am just back there goofing around."

The secret is to develop the vocal harmonies until they, as he puts it, "crackle."

There's a sound alchemy that occurs when different harmony parts work together, he says. "When you sort of hear ghost tones develop in the back, I know that I am getting somewhere with it. The Mamas and the Papas are the masters of that."

Because Rendon plays with two other groups—both on the bill this Friday—he has the opportunity to experience music-making from different perspectives.

"In Freezing Hands, I drum, which I love doing more than anything else. And (singer-songwriter) Travis (Spillers) writes beautiful songs, and on the recordings, we work on harmonies together. In Lenguas Largas, I am really more of a percussionist—I just play one drum, a high hat and cymbal, and my job is basically to bash the hell out of those three pieces."

Playing with the anarchic punk-pop extravaganza known as Lenguas Largas allows Rendon a chance to cut loose, and he also enjoys the camaraderie. "There are six members, but at any given moment, there can be up to nine. If anyone is around on a given night, they'll be included in the show."

Speaking of which, Lenguas Largas leader Isaac Reyes plays in the live version of the Resonars, which also features drummer James Peters (Yardsale Heart, the Jons) and bassist Jeremy Schliewe.

Rendon is especially pleased that his bandmates can re-create the meticulous sound of Resonars recordings. "In my mind, I always thought I was never going to be able to meet these people who can pull this off, especially a drummer who plays really off the chain, and guys who can do all the harmonies. I had almost given up.

"But for 17 years I was looking for people who can put this together, and it ended up coming up together in a week."