“I’m the kind of guy who jumps in the water and then learns how to swim,” Brandon Rougeau says over the phone. It’s not where we start our conversation but it certainly summarizes how he and his three-piece rock band, Sunset Kings, are approaching 2017.
Rougeau (guitar, vocals), Nick Simon (drums) and Stephen Luther (bass) have committed themselves to release two original songs each month throughout the year. For those readers still doing math: That’s 24 songs by year’s end in order to compile a final two-disc album. Their project is called “XII.”
“We’ve got to blame Brandon for that one,” Luther quips as Rougeau laughs in the background. “It was his harebrained idea.”
While recording two new songs a month presents challenges, both agree it’s just the right motivation they can use to keep up momentum from their first year together as a band. In fact, 2016 was a great year for Sunset Kings.
“We released an EP [‘Paragiegmia’],” Rougeau lists. “We’ve got a couple of singles from a show filmed in [Wilmington], we did a mini-tour in Ireland, and wrapped up the year with a big show at Throne Theater. So we asked ourselves, ‘How do we outdo this next year?’”
Their latest endeavor is also about building a fanbase in an age of “instant gratification.” As a new band, they have little time to dwell on seeing a full album to completion before actually releasing new material. It is a great way to constantly introduce new music for people to download and play at live shows. While the goal is to have songs released roughly midway through each month, Luther says the first two songs of 2017 will be released a little later seeing as they’ve just started. However, he and Rougeau agree the songs will sound a lot grittier and less polished compared to 2016’s EP.
“We really want to capture a snapshot of the time and place we’re doing this in,” Luther says. “A lot of the writing of songs is happening while we’re recording them.”
“That does bring a little angst as well,” Rougeau adds. “I love the challenge, but we’re also afraid because it is 24 tracks in a year, and I feel like, if any of them are subpar, it’s going to come across as a joke to everyone. They all have to be great.”
Then there’s a matter of marrying the tracks in a cohesive two-disc album. Yet, Luther finds the challenge a welcome one.
“Personally, I think it’s kind of exciting that they might not be cohesive,” he says—“that they might jump around a little bit. We’ll have a couple of different players on them as well.”
While drummer Nick Simon has had to take leave for a short time, he will be back in time to play their show this weekend at Satellite and to record future tracks. In the meantime, the first two songs recorded in January will feature Benjamin Powell on drums and guitar. Powell also is helping produce work at his studio, Palm Reader Recording.
“What’s great about Benny is he comes at it with a great musical attitude and not, ‘I’m just here to press record,’” Rougeau says.
Though they dabble in the digital world, they chose to work with Palm Reader because of specific resources other studios don’t have. Powell has a 1974 Studer A80 MK IV 2-inch, 24-track, reel-to-reel tape machine.
“I’m going to geek out a little bit,” he gushes of the device. “It’s the greatest thing ever. . . . This actual machine is one the Atlanta Rhythm Section recorded on. There’s nothing like hearing the rhythms and tracks coming out over that tape.”
They’re also considering various players coming in on songs throughout the year, just to keep it new and different. Nevertheless, they’re a three-piece band with a core musical center. “Brandon’s got a very distinct voice and guitar-playing style,” Luther observes. “I think the sound is going to be the Sunset Kings’ at the end of the day.”
Rougeau writes most, if not all, lyrics for songs. When he comes with an idea, everyone fills in their own space. They dabble and experiment until they land on something musically. “We might try 20 things and go back to the first one that we thought of,” Luther says.
At the time of encore’s interview, their first two songs in the works included “Silver Spoon” and an untitled track. “Let’s think of a title for that song right now,” Luther tells Rougeau.
“‘Don’t Feel Like Hiding’?” Rougeau responds. “It’s a working title…”
“It’s definitely not a love song,” Luther describes. It’s a song more influenced by the mood of the world right now. “And let’s face it: America’s a crazy place to be right now, all of the sudden, and I think that’s very much going to rub off on the songs.”
Though Rougeau says he tends to write from a philosophical or political stream of thought, he wants his music to be entertaining for people nonetheless. There should be, as they promise, quite a bit of rock ‘n’ roll on the dance floor. “Sometimes it’s more about drinking, love and women,” Rougeau lists. “Music should be an escape for people.”
“We think a lot about the audience at the show,” Luther adds, “and try to pull them in as much as we can, and make ourselves look as human as possible.”
Like a lot of band beginnings, love of music and playing ultimately brought Sunset Kings together. Rougeau was originally a part of The Scoundrels Reunion. Then came Simon, who played with Anatomy of a Ghost and Portugal the Man in Portland. Luther, originally from Dublin, has played with bands from New Zealand to America. With new players came a new attitude, which called for a change in name.
“I wanted this to be our band and not ‘Brandon’s band’ and everyone’s just playing in it,” Rougeau remembers.
“That was a huge turning point,” Luther adds.
Their unique dynamic has them “goofing around” more than playing at rehearsals most days. But it’s for that very reason they’ve come together so well and quickly. In the midst of it all, Brandon and Luther both have families and full-time jobs. Luther is a high-school art teacher and Brandon works at IBM. “We’ve got very understanding spouses,” Luther tells. “They’re very supportive of what we do.”
To make this year even more interesting, they’ve begun documenting the whole process and vetting potential local filmmakers to work with throughout the year. As daunting as each new commitment might be, they each agree it’s passion that ultimately motivates them to move forward with somewhat grandiose plans.
“I know [Brandon’s] sitting right in front of me, but I wouldn’t do this with anyone else,” Luther says. “I would have laughed at the idea. . . . We definitely have 24 songs in us, we just have to get them out.”
“We just have to chisel them out of stone,” Rougeau muses.
“Yeah, just chisel them out of stone—that’s a good one,” Luther agrees.
Folks can follow Sunset Kings on social media, sign up for their mailing list, hear new songs at live shows as they’re released throughout 2017, and download them at their Reverbnation page, iTunes and Soundcloud. Their goal is to be able to celebrate the release of a two-disc album on New Year’s Eve. First, they will play Satellite Bar and Lounge on Sat., Jan. 28, with The Lawsuits.