Nov 2011 Feature – Aloft In The Sundry
By Tim Wenger
Their music sounds like a poetic whiz kid with a piano decided to start an indie-rock group, but was too tripped out and too hyper to sit into one genre for that long. I had heard of Aloft in the Sundry a few years ago, and their reputation around town along with the fact that they have been playing the Denverscene since frontman J. Hernandez started the group as a one-man project back in 2005, made them a seemingly obvious choice for a story. Not to mention that 11/11/11 marks the release of the groups fifth, that’s right fifth, album. So I headed out to do an interview with the group.
Misconception preceded me as I approached their modest estate in a northwestDenversuburb, tucked into a small corner of the world guarded by pho restaurants, empty parking lots and a handful of liquor stores that, if combined into one larger liquor store, might fill up one side of that back beer cooler at Tipsy’s Liquor World. The location mixed with the name of the band had me wondering if I was about to wander into some kind of underground hippy speakeasy where they force you full of acid and convince that your left hand is the devil.
For the most part, I was wrong. I sat on the humble couch in their living room drinking Busch beer and talking to five dudes that hold downDenver’s post-punk/alt-rock/indie music scene like champions, but are still able to leave their band drama in the basement when it comes time to just be roommates. And, I left the house with a clear head and all limbs intact.
“I was at The Encore in Vegas two months ago and their little gift shop? It just says ‘sundrys’ at the top. I was like ‘No shit! People do still use that word,” J says. Their band name, like a lot of bands, is very unique. But most bands’ names don’t fit nearly as perfectly with the story of the group. “Both words were on the same page in Moby Dick,” he says. “I was reading that book when I started in 2005. I kind of saw it as a good analogy to what I was trying to do at the time,” he laughs. “I wrote this spoken word piece, and that was the last line, ‘No need to ask, that’s where you’ll find me, aloft in the sundry.’ I wrote it and I just knew it, I was like ‘that’s tight, to me.’ I was like ‘let’s run with it,’ and that’s where it started.”
Like Moby Dick, the story of the band has changed a lot since it started. “The captain is always gonna be on the ship, but the crew and everybody keeps changing out,” he says. “But there’s always the one.” That’s how it has gone for J and his band. The lineup on the new album, together since January, marks the first time that every member that played on the album is still in the band at the time of its release.
“This one, content wise, is the longest,” J says. “Its not a concept album by any means, but on this one, we dropped the producers and all that, and just produced it ourselves.” They also went about the song selection a bit differently than they had in the past. “Instead of recording the songs that other people liked, we focused on the ones that we like. Which is kind of masturbatory,” he laughs.
“Why would you do it if you didn’t like it?” says guitarist Big John. “I’d say that this album is definitely a progression from the last four on sound. We added a new guitar player, and where it was too much before we’ve tried to pull it back and focus on the melody.”
As they said earlier, they picked the songs that they thought were best for the album. A few songs may have to wait for the B-side record to see their day as a hit. “We had 12 or 13 songs that we were sifting through,” says J. “Nine songs made it. These songs were selected with feel, and, as hippy as it sounds, they were selected with heart.”
The guys in the band don’t take anything lightly when it comes to their music. They spent a lot of time fine tuning the tracks for the record, and plan to carry this work ethic with them in the future. “The reason we are in the position we are in is because both musically and personality wise, none of us take shortcuts,” says J. “It has made the music stronger. But I think it also has taken away from our ability to attach ourselves to a certain scene in the community. We are kind of like a five man wolf pack.”
“We’ve been laying low, waiting for the right moment to drop an album like this,” says B.J. They recorded at Hyper Thread Studio, and tracked the record themselves. They said they weren’t limited by time, they could take the next day if they didn’t like the way something turned out. “We had a chance to step back and think about what we wanted to do with the songs, rather than ‘Fuck it I’m just gonna play the part I had already written ‘cuz I’m running out of time,” J says.
Once all that was complete, they brought it up to Jeff Kanan, of Madonna and No Douby fame, at Macy Sound Studios for mixing. Once they were satisfied with the job Jeff had done, they put the songs in the capable hands of Dominique at Airshow for mastering.
“We really took our time, this record did take us six months,” says J. “And I feel it sounds like that. We made sure to keep each step steady and slow. Certain shortcuts that we’ve taken in certain studios in the past I think hindered us, and we didn’t do that this time. Its for the people who listen to it. If they enjoy it, cool! And if they don’t, cool!”
One thing that was very apparent about the boys Aloft, that I gathered within the opening minutes of the interview, was that this is a group of guys who have their shit together. While their physical appearance pretty much labesl them as musicians from first glance, it only takes a moment of conversation with J about his band to smell the focus and professional resilience that emanates from him when he gets into what he is saying. These aren’t some wishful stoners that got lost in a jam. They are determined artists finding their way through a dream.
“You don’t want to let anybody down, and that starts with not letting yourself down,” says J. “We don’t write the songs, we are just uncovering them. You’ve got to be ok with letting the universe use you as a medium for delivery.” Easily said, but seeing as how these guys all live together, they must get on each other’s nerves occasionally.
“When we go down to the basement to practice, that’s what we are doing. We try not to bring that upstairs,” J says. “When we’re roommates, we’re roommates. You have to change hats. The only thing that sucks is we only have one shitter.”
“There are definitely times when it is hard, and there are definitely things that come up,” says B.J. “You’ve got to get over your ego and realize that you have your own faults that drive that guy nuts too.” The group has learned that overcoming their trials as friends has made their music that much stronger. “If you can sit upstairs and be like, ‘Yo dog, when you get out of the shower, you gotta pull your goddamn hair out of the shower,’ it’s really easy to be like ‘I think your riff should change a little bit,” laughs J.
The boys plan to put on quite a show at The Marquis Theatre to launch the record. Everyone that comes will get a copy included in their paid admission. They are also throwing a couple ideas around for online distribution, but are certain that one way or another, they album will be available for download.
The band has recently begun incorporating a light show to accompany their music. ”All I’ll say right now is that it is very poltergeist,” says J.
“Our lights can be wild, or they can be soft. It provides kind of an individualism to our sounds,” says drummer Adam Chiszar. The guys all sounded pretty excited for everyone to come out and see their new show.
They are also happy about where they are throwing the party. “We felt that (The Marquee) was a good sized venue for where we are right now,” J says. “And they have those happy meals- a tallboy and a shot of Jack. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
True that. Be sure to check out Aloft in the Sundry’s CD RELEASE PARTY on Friday, November 11 at the Marquis Theatre. Also, visit them on Facebook and ReverbNation for more info.
Aloft in the Sundry is:
J. Hernandez- piano, vocals
Big John- Guitar, vocals
Andrew Lopez- guitar
A Rod- bass
Adam Chiszar- drums
Photos: Kori Marshall
Logo: Levi Sharver