In the case of The Sweat Band, the surprise was in the form of three young, capable rockers whose simple, powerful chemistry makes for an exciting first exposure. I specifically remember thinking "Whoa!" in the manner of Keanu Reeves when first exposed to the blues-inflected power rock of this female-fronted trio. And the best surprises are always when you're not expecting anything--who knew that there was a Tucson answer to the White Stripes? (An aside: although that's a loaded, and not entirely accurate comparison, the two bands are seemingly made from the same raw material.)
Sisters Marina and Leann Cornelius and Sweat Band drummer Jake Bergeron all moved to Tucson from Phoenix at various times--the sisters to attend the UA, and Bergeron to get the hell out of Phoenix.
Upon finding the first of two locations the band has employed as practice spaces, inspiration struck as an indirect consequence of Tucson heat. Says Marina, "We love living in Tucson. We love having a shop. (When we started) it was the summer with no air-conditioning, and it was like, 'This is ours,' you know, and it was really inspirational."
Her sister chimes in: "Well, yeah, we called our old shop the Sweat Shop, which led to..."
Marina: "Jake gave us the name (The Sweat Band). (He) thought of it, and we loved it, so we went with it."
Adds Jake, "Yeah, I christened it."
As for their current location, The Sweat Band rents a woodworking shop in the vicinity of Benjamin Supply and the Orts Studio. By day, the place is all New Yankee Workshop craft gentility. At night it, becomes (Tucson) City Limits. In the inevitable influences discussion, Bergeron cites the shop and its downtown, trackside location. "Playing in here is really seriously an influence. Really, when we stop playing, the only thing we can hear is the train going by and the ringing in our ears. It's beautiful."
The Sweat Band is following the standard model of new-band activity, in the sense that they formed, wrote some songs, practiced, decided to play some shows and are now releasing their first recording, a self-titled EP. But they've taken their time in one sense, given that they were a band nearly two years before playing a show. "We wrote a few songs right off the bat. But we sort of made a conscious decision not to play shows; we wanted to wait," explains Leann. Her sister elaborates. "(The band) was gelling, for sure, but we just didn't feel a rush for anything outside of what we were doing, I guess. It felt good just to play in the shop."
On the other hand, they've rocketed into local relevance, relatively speaking, having played between 20 and 30 shows since July of last year and now holding their CD release party at Club Congress. Says Jake, "We wanted to come out as strong as we could, as confident as we could, and see what would happen from there. I remember for me, what was always at the back of my mind was if we get a show at Club Congress, preferably on a weekend, that'll clear the way for me to be like, 'I feel pretty good about things.'"
All three members are self-taught on their chosen instruments. Marina, the eldest at 25, picked up a borrowed guitar at age 14. "Well, actually, I took a beginning guitar class that was pathetic, and I learned 'House of the Rising Sun' from someone else in the class. It's still one of my favorites." She then went on, almost immediately, to form a band called Raygun Assassins, she's somewhat embarrassed to admit. "If it wasn't me, I would think it was cooler, I guess."
As for The Sweat Band's vocals, Marina's powerful, belting style is all her own as well, but it comes from punk angst and insecurity rather than from Janis Joplinesque barroom blues. "I used to scream in old bands. I always wanted to be an aggressive singer. One influence that might not be that obvious is Babes in Toyland. I love Kat Bjelland's singing."
Leann, who had given the drums a whirl for a couple years, picked up a bass in order to play with Marina and Jake. "I think the biggest thing was that I wanted to play with them. It wasn't like I sat at home trying to learn (bass); it was more like 'Ooh, let's play some songs!'"
And then Jake went to the School of Lars, just like every other maladjusted teen with a predilection for beating on things. "I was joking around with my dad. He asked me what I wanted for my 14th birthday. He was a musician; he played bass. At that time, I was listening to Metallica. I always thought the drums sounded really cool. He said 'What do you want for your birthday?' and I jokingly said 'How about a drum kit?'" One miserable 8th grade year in Cincinnati later, Bergeron was a proficient drummer.
It's perhaps due in part to this autodidactic musical background that the three mesh so well together. Combine that with their unusually close relationship as a band (due to the sisters' relationship as sisters and Bergeron and Leann's relationship as a couple) and their love of where they live (Marina: "I think Tucson is the place I'll always live."), and the chemistry is almost necessarily catalytic.
But should they meet with some profound level of success, they're determined to not let it get out of their control, at least in the abstract remove of their practice space. Says Leann, "I would not be opposed to listening to anyone (with advice on where to take the band), but I wouldn't want to be joined with somebody that had to tell me those things (related to "career" management). That is in no way part of our band." Adds Jake, "That said, we don't have any rules about it."
Marina clarifies: "We're not weird about that, but it's not that attractive, either, because I think all we want to do, even through our personal lifestyles is maintain a modest income, modest lifestyles. I don't think any of us would be happy as famous people."
Jake offers up his modest Holy Grail: "If I could pay my rent with this band, it'd be great, but beyond that, who cares?"