Had you been camping out along the Trans-Canada Highway over the past week or so, you might have bumped into a group of long-haired young guys, huddled around their camp fire stove. And if you had been inquisitive enough to enquire who they were, you might have been surprised to find out you were chatting with the members of Sun K, a five-man, Toronto-based rock group who have recently released a debut, eight-song record,` Northern Lies’.
Released on the Maple Music Recordings label, Sun K are in the midst of an 11-date Western Canada swing that will take them as far north as Hay River NWT for that community’s Hay Days Festival on July 4th before ending their jaunt in Thunder Bay July 11th.
That image kind of shatters the illusion of a touring rock band yet lead vocalist/guitarist Kristian Montano is looking forward to the bonding experience with the rest of his band as he calls from the tour van as it heads north on Highway 400 en route to their first campground at Sault Ste Marie prior to the tour’s opening date in Winnipeg.
“We are going to camp out as much as we can on the tour,” reveals Montano. “We plan to save some money and it is summer so it should be a lot of fun – and if we want to act out being in a rock band, we can always trash our campsite”, he jokes (I think!)
The current year has been a hectic one for band members Montano, keyboardist/multi-instrument player, Stuart Retallack, guitarist Kevin Michael Butler, bassist JuHang Sin and new drummer Scott Tiller. Only formed two years ago, the band, named Sun K after Montano’s love of classic blues players (think Sun Ra, Son House), their NXNE debut solicited a record deal from Maple Music which also lead to a booking agency deal with Paquin Entertainment.
Produced by Sum 41’s Cone McCaslin, ‘Northern Lies’, with its strong 60’s/70’s classic rock influence, has earned ecstatic reviews from Canadian music critics with raves about Montano’s vocals evoking the spirit of Lou Reed, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Retallack’s swirling organ arrangements and a set of songs that evokes memories of Toronto during a golden era when classic music dominated Yonge Street and Yorkville.
“We call it `Folk N Roll’ for want of a better term but what we are trying to do is give people a taste of that 60’s/70’s musical era without sounding too contrived, “noted Montano. “I think a lot of people are re-discovering that era so we wanted to record an album which reflected that sound, yet sounded fresh and current at the same time. We all know enough about sound engineering to know how to record live off the floor or record directly to tape to give the sessions a classic rock feel, but at the same time, we wanted the record to sound contemporary.”
Tracks like the Lou Reed-influenced “New York City Blues”, the Dylanesque “Let It Grow” and the heavy organ arrangement on “Land Of Kings” certainly captures a classic music era yet Sun K’s production is current enough to win over a younger demographic.
“Our music may not have found its proper demographic yet,” says Montano coming off two successful nights at Toronto’s NXNE festival with sold out dates at the Rivoli and the Horseshoe Tavern. “But we don’t want to be Pidgeon-holed into any specific radio format; we are trying to make music that’s exclusive to our specific sound. It’s kind of strange though when my dad says he likes our record!”
Montano gives a lot of credit to producer Cone McCaslin for harnessing the band’s scattered ideas and formulating a distinct musical direction. “We had all these ideas,” explained Montano. “And he corralled them and made them fit into one sound.”
Ironically, it was a chance meeting between Montano and McCaslin which gave Montano the inspiration to move forward and create the band. “I was playing a three-hour residency at a place called The Magpie Tap Room and I was just performing to my girlfriend and the bartender,” recalled Montano. “I took a cigarette break and I was seriously contemplating packing the whole business in, when Cone came into the bar. I went out to play my final hour and he stayed for the entire set and that was the start of the whole project.”
Montano linked up with keyboardist Retallack whom he had originally met when they both attended McGill University in Montreal in 2006 and reconnected when they both returned to Toronto. “I was playing an open mic, and Stuart stepped on stage with his horn and asked if he could play, and I said “Sure’.
Montano’s ability to perform acoustically came in handy when he demoed his material for the band’s debut record. “I had at least half of the songs written before we recorded, so being able to present them acoustically before receiving the full band treatment was a real bonus,” explained Montano. “But now we’ve been together as a unit, our future writing is taking form as a full band project.”
Sun K’s first live performance together was at the 2013 NXNE festival and Maple Music Recordings’ Tony Tarelton was impressed enough to offer them a recording contract. He then pitched them to Paquin Entertainment’s Julien Paquin who signed them to his booking agency with a promise that he would keep the band busy.
“We just got back from one Western tour, thought we could take a few weeks off and then get told he’s sending us to the North West Territories,” mused Montano. “So we’ll go back out as headliners, hopefully create some awareness and then hook up with some major band that’s doing headline concerts.”
One final question: As Sun K sits around their campfire, swatting mosquitos and black flies and making sure bears and raccoons don’t invade their food supplies, what songs will the band be singing as they toast their marshmallows in the flames. “Kumbaya”? “Michael Row The Boat Ashore”? “Nah, more likely Nickelback and Creed” laughs Montano.
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