What happens when three Chugiak High School band geeks get together for a battle of the bands? Turns out they kick ass. Not the punchline you thought was coming? Well, SunDog isn’t your typical emerging band, and neither is their throwback garage-grunge music.
“We were 17 and really shy—I mean we went to school together, but we didn’t really know each other at first,” recalls bassist Deven Lind. “Abi [Sparkman] was really direct and basically came to Philip [Giannulis] and I and was like ‘you guys are the only people I could see winning battle of the bands with me.’”
As it turns out, Sparkman’s confidence wasn’t misplaced. SunDog went on to win and as Lind puts it, they’ve been going hard ever since.
“We always joke about it but there was really no one else to play with at the time,” says Sparkman matter-of-factly. “I mean there is a lot of music in Chugiak, there just weren’t a lot of people doing what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to play covers—we wanted to make our own music.”
But finding the right mix of players wasn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds. When SunDog took home battle of the bands bragging rights, it wasn’t with Sparkman on vocals. A female underclassman was the original voice of the band but after graduating, SunDog made the decision to switch things up and cut ties with their young singer. The only problem was, without a lead singer SunDog was just another instrumental band.
“We tried writing music together and it was all instrumental because none of us wanted to sing. By 2015, we had actually stopped practicing together because there didn’t seem to be a point,” recalls Sparkman.
However, if history is any indicator, when Sparkman wants to get something done, she gets it done.
“I couldn’t just wait around anymore because I wanted to be in a rock and roll band. So, I started writing songs and recording them. I ended up sending the guys a demo and they came back to me and were like ‘yeah, let’s do this,’” Sparkman says.
“We had no idea she could even sing! We kept thinking ‘wait, you could do that the whole time,’” jokes Giannulis.
While Giannulis may have been stoked, Lind had a more unconventional response to Sparkman’s newfound talent.
“I remember when I first got her demo. I must have listened to it 20 times before I said anything,” says Lind. “It just kind of kicked me into overdrive—it was kind of like a competitive challenge. If Abi could sing, then I wanted to come up with something to out do her. Like, I wanted to create a really good song,” says Lind.
It wasn’t the sort of response one would expect but the unexpected seems to be a common thread with SunDog. Take for example their day jobs. Giannulis works at Alaska Fitness, Lind is a kennel technician at Cornerstone Animal Hospital and Sparkman is a marketing major at UAA. When you take cursory look at the three together it seems like they should have nothing in common. Sparkman is quietly reserved, while Giannulis is loud and gregarious. It’s easy to catch Lind zoning out while he stares at his phone. But put these three disparate personalities behind an instrument and something special happens—they turn into a glorious mix between Courtney Love and Weezer.
“I feel like the connection I have with these guys is the strongest connection I have with anyone who’s not family,” says Lind. “It’s just this unspoken bond where we know how to talk to each other and how to be real. I think we are all trying to be the best people we can be for each other.”
At the heart of SunDog’s bond is a common goal. They want to be the next big act to come out of Alaska and they’re hoping that their new album, combined with a unique brand of live performance is going to get them there.
“We want our studio stuff to reach a broad audience, but we really want to be known for our live performances. I think we were all really influenced by DVDs of live performances by Dave Matthews Band, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. They had this energy that wasn’t on their studio albums and that’s something we have really embraced and hung on to,” explains Lind.
For SunDog, a studio album and a live performance are two different animals and that’s something they are cool with. Their focus is not conventional for today’s music scene but who knows, they may just be ahead of the curve when it comes to where music is headed. If you look at trends in the music industry, there has slowly been a return to the good old days when a band would visit a radio station and play a live set for listeners. Stations like St. Louis’ 105.7 The Point now have dedicated shows to live in-studio performances and fans can’t seem to get enough.
Naturally, an outfit like SunDog doesn’t easily lend itself to a live acoustic recording. Just ask Surreal Studios owner and sound engineer, Kurt Riemann, who had to find a way to mic them up for a Basement Tape recording.
“I mean, yeah we are pretty loud but that’s all a part of it. We want people to dance and to rock out to us. We’re not a band that’s going to keep things at one level the whole time, we’re going to constantly evolve and change,” Lind says.
Part and parcel of that evolution is the band’s ongoing collaborations with other local artists like Viola Armitstead and Justin Ferguson who provide liquid light and VHS effects at their live shows. They’ve also added printmaker Levi Werner to the squad to help create merch and Medium Build’s Chad Reynvaan who helped them record their first album.
“We’re aiming to do more for the Alaskan music scene than to just be a part of it. We want to make events where a group of artists can have a common goal and collaborate on projects. We’re really trying to make big, collaborative shows happen every six months or so. It’s just another part of our evolution,” explains Sparkman with a rare smile.