When they aren't making music as The Sun and the Mirror, Reggie and Sarah Townley run the Maitri Center for Healing Arts in West Boise, offering massage therapy sessions and lessons in yoga and Aikido. The name of the band was inspired by Reggie's martial arts and yoga training, which helped instill in him a reverence for the sun.
"We can't get around the fact: No sun, we die," he said. "It's kind of like an expression of gratitude: 'Okay, I'm alive today because of that thing.' It's really powerful. I mean, this whole planet gets to exist because of it. That's pretty badass."
As for "the mirror," it is partially a reference to the Yata no Kagami, a sacred Shinto mirror. Reggie also drew inspiration from the yogic idea of the mirror as "this perfect reflection of reality without any bullshit, essentially. The mind is clear, [but] it's not vacant and dead."
These abstract yet down-to-earth ideas suit The Sun and the Mirror's sound, a bracing blend of solemn tunes, stately rhythms and swirling, roaring distortion that calls to mind drone doom groups like Earth and Sunn O))). It may not be for all tastes, but more adventurous listeners should find it mesmerizing.
Utah, Nevada and West Coast show-goers will get to hear TSATM's challenging, powerful music soon. The Townleys have organized an 18-date Western U.S. tour, which kicks off with a show at The Olympic on Friday, Feb. 2. Tulsa, Oklahoma-based grunge rock group Planet What and Chicago-based surf-garage band Viet Rahm will also perform.
Making music and working at the Maitri Center helps the Townleys deal with the hardships they've endured.
"I've got a whole lot of past impressions and bullshit," Reggie said. "It's a constant thing of, like, 'Okay, what's real and what's my trauma from a young age?' 'Cause I've got a lot of it."
His trauma includes his father committing suicide when Reggie was 15. Music—particularly the albums of Boise rock band Caustic Resin—helped Reggie cope with the loss of his dad. He also started making what he called "godawful noise things," which were a kind of rough draft of TSATM's sound.
Sarah's life has had its share of darkness as well. She struggled with alcoholism—she has now been in recovery for six years—and served a nine-month prison stint for shoplifting, a crime that can qualify as felony burglary under Idaho state law.
But from an early age, art and music helped give Sarah direction. As a little girl, she heard tunes and beats in everyday sounds.
"These noises and sounds, that's where my inspiration came from," she said. "I didn't realize that [at the time]."
The Townleys started what would become TSATM in 2013, originally calling the project Darling Rollercoaster.
"I don't want to call it a phase, but it kind of was," Reggie said. "A lot of those songs are about our early relationship, [which] was just kind of awesome and bonkers."
Over time, the music became darker and more experimental, which led the Townleys to change the name to TSATM. They also expanded the lineup to seven people, including old bandmates of Reggie's and Sarah's grandmother Gwen Gillman. Surprisingly, Gillman—who suffers from dementia—inspired the change in TSATM's sound.
"We were her primary caregivers," Reggie said. "We would play cards and puzzles and stuff with her and have old-time music on. And then one day, I couldn't listen to another golden oldie. ... So I put on 'Sweet Leaf' by Black Sabbath, just as a little palate cleanser." Reggie said he was making Gillman a cup of tea when he looked over and saw her headbanging.
The Townleys started playing tracks by Yob, Brett Netson and Earth for Gillman. Her air drumming was so enthusiastic, they had her play percussion, and they made the music heavier to accommodate her newfound taste for metal.
Gillman's passion and focus helped the Townleys weather a particularly hard time in their lives.
"She just kept us on it," Sarah said. "It was so strange, getting through the winter. Especially last winter [in 2016]: Cabin fever with an elderly person, who's already hard to get out of the house. And my dad was sick with cancer. ... It was like music saved all of us."
TSATM is once again a two-piece, but the Townleys still bring the noise. The thunderous demos on the TSATM Soundcloud page bode well for the band's debut album, which Reggie and Sarah hope to have finished this fall.
For all the work before them and the tough times behind them, the Townleys see a bright future.
"We have this vision," Sarah said. "Our lives have been burned down, and we get to rebuild [them]."