Still into the Replacements

Midwest rockers Sunset Black discuss the Twin Cities, indie credibility, and the classic pop of Paula Abdul

Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

Sunset Black has no rock star vibe. Vocalist Brandon Sammons, guitarist Mike Evans, bassist TJ Matthews and drummer Jaime Gehly are as down to earth as any band in Minneapolis, and an exemplar of Midwest realness. It would be hard to tell that these guys were about to drop their major label debut in less than a day, while breaking out at a relatively young age ñ band members are between 19 and 21.

The jagged, angular metal and melodic hooks of their major label debut, Common Ground (MCA/Bieler Bros.), is a sound born and raised in the prolific, local music scene.

“This is one of the most supportive cities for local music,” said Sammons. “It’s so artsy here, and a lot of people come out to see shows.” For Sunset Black, relocating to Minneapolis in August 1999 was an easy decision. After meeting and forming during high school in Kansas City, Mo., the band moved North and attended Music Tech. For them, the enthusiastic local music scene was a good place to perfect their sound.

“A lot of cities try to do what Minneapolis does,” says Matthews. “But they don’t pull it off as well.”

Sunset Black began their road to the majors playing local shows ñ many at Dinkytown’s former music venue, Bon Appetite. In the last few months, their first single “This Place,” won numerous fights on 93x’s nightly new music showcase, “Cage Match.” The band was also featured often on the station’s Loud and Local show.

Matthews characterizes their style as something like melodic rock ñ a kind of blend of Deftones and Dashboard Confessional, with a tinge of Quicksand. While influenced by those bands, Sunset Black does not confine its influences.

“We have a pretty wide range, it’s not just rock,” Matthews continues. “Brandon listens to Michael Jackson a lot.” Half-jokingly, the guys note their other pop favorites, including Bel Biv Devoe and the “Forever Your Girl” Paula Abdul.

“The funny thing is we probably listened to those at some point a while ago,”Sammons adds, secure in his own throwaway-pop preferences.

Paula Abdul aside, Common Ground is indicative of their Midwest roots.

“It’s pretty dry and to the point,” Matthews says. “We wanted our live show to really be projected on to the album.”

The next few months will bring much touring for Sunset Black. The band just finished an East Coast tour, and recently secured a six-week stint with Florida-based rockers Nonpoint. The major label transition, and its possible effects, is not a concern for the group. Any Talk of losing local cred is quickly dismissed. Sunset Black say they have always aspired to get to this point.

“We never presented ourselves as being indie rock, where you lose respect (signing) with a major label,” says Gehly.

“We haven’t felt indie-controlled,” adds Evans. The tricks and trappings of the big-business music industry don’t faze them either.

“We took our time as far as deciding who to go with for the label,” says Gehly.

“We’ve been dicked around a lot by people before,”Matthews points out. He listed different incentives offered by labels, and that most of the time,”it usually ended up being crap.”

Sunset Black say they want to help put Minneapolis back on the music map still defined by the city’s ’80s scene. As their new CD comes out, they’ll be proud to lift their adopted home back to national recognition.

“People think Minneapolis, and think Prince and Soul Asylum,” Gehly muses. “Everybody’s still in to the Replacements.”