It hasn't been a long trip for Sun Blood Stories (yet), but it's already been a strange one. In June, bassist-saxophonist Andy Rayborn got pretty wild when SBS opened for the Missoula, Mont. surf-garage group BOYS.
"He was standing on the drum set playing and he was crowd-surfing, playing into the ceiling," Amber Pollard said. "And then all of a sudden... it was Andy everywhere."
"I think someone licked my guitar during that show," Ben Kirby added.
In August, Sun Blood Stories traveled out to Portland, Ore. After playing a couple of gigs, the band stayed with a circus troupe whose members had all dropped acid that night. "We weren't on acid, but they were," Kirby said. "They didn't have any extra acid."
"No, they did," Pollard said. "We just had, like, three hours before we had to drive back to Boise, so we needed to take a nap."
These are just two tales that these purveyors of "Sex, Death and Sunshine" have accrued in a short length of time. Thanks to several intense live performances, Sun Blood Stories has built a modest but fervent following in little more than a year. The band played the Treefort Music Fest's main stage in March and Denver's Underground Music Showcase in July. On Friday, Sept. 13, the band will hold a release party at Red Room for its debut album, The Electric Years.
Ben Kirby started Sun Blood Stories in 2011. His previous band, Talk Math to Me, had broken up not long before (his bandmate, Daniel Kerr, went on to form Atomic Mama with Jake Warnock, who now tours with Youth Lagoon).
Although SBS began as a solo project, Kirby had never planned to keep it that way.
"I just assumed I was going to have a band again, but there wasn't anyone around that I wanted to be in a band with at the time. I found myself without a band and with an acoustic guitar, so I wrote a bunch of songs and started playing and just assumed that I would eventually meet enough people to [form] the correct band," he said.
Kirby found one of the right people in Rayborn, a roommate when he lived in Pocatello.
"I'd been in this other group that sort of fell apart at the last minute," Rayborn recalled. "And I was putting something together with the singer from that group. ... I walked in [to band practice], and Ben was sitting there on top of a bass amp."
After reconnecting with Rayborn, Kirby added drummer Brett Hawkins to the band. Hawkins grew up in Idaho Falls ("Obviously--it's a weird place," he said) and got his start in music by playing in the town's house show scene. Following his friends in the hardcore group Ditch Tiger to Boise, he met Kirby at Tour de Fat in 2012.
Pollard, the last addition to the current lineup, hadn't intended to join. She and Kirby had been in a relationship for a few months when she tagged along with the band on a weekend tour. At an impromptu Pocatello coffee shop gig, Hawkins invited her to perform.
"I just kind of sat on top of an amp and sang whatever I felt like singing and [shook] this little egg [shaker]," she recalled.
An admitted Janis Joplin fanatic--"I have a Janis shrine in my house," she said--Pollard's sultry moan complements Kirby's gritty drawl and the band's raw, sludgy sound, which draws upon a variety of sources. "As far as influences go, it's all over the place," Hawkins said, "from pop music to doom music."
But the one influence that listeners cite most frequently is the blues. While Kirby acknowledges that pedigree--a couple of family friends came over regularly and taught him blues licks when he started seriously playing guitar--he feels some ambivalence over the description.
"It's kind of annoying, actually, when we get called a blues band, because then we get booked with other blues bands and we don't fit at all," he said.
Kirby also reflected that much of the material on The Electric Years now sounds drastically different live than it does recorded.
"We've changed [a lot of those songs] a significant degree or moved on ... because they're never going to be static. That's just the way we work: Each performance seems to be a slightly different version of what we do," he said.
"Honestly, we've been very impatient just wanting this album to come out so we can move on to the next one," Kirby added "which is, I imagine, what we'll find ourselves in all the time for the rest of our lives."
Judging from this year's accomplishments, SBS may well have a shot at going the distance. In addition to playing Treefort and the UMS, the band performed for the Boise Dance Co-op at the Esther Simplot Center for the Performing Arts in late August. The two-day event included performances by dancers from Ballet Idaho and Trey McIntyre Project. SBS also garnered a some international attention when the UK-based website Independent Music News named the band as one of 10 Idaho acts to watch (other acts included Finn Riggins, Hollow Wood and Hillfolk Noir).
On June 6, the band threw a fundraising party at The Crux, earning enough in one night to press 300 vinyl copies of Electric Years. In addition to live music, the show featured food, raffles, face-painting and a kissing booth with all four members of the band.
SBS hopes to create a festive mood at the album release show, too, where the winner of a costume party, will receive a $40 bar tab.
Along with Boise drone-rockers Dark Swallows and Idaho Falls experimental act Leaf Raker, the show will also feature Seattle "treepunk" band Kithkin, which Pollard recalled seeing at Treefort this year.
"Well, I didn't actually see it," she said, "because I was drinking whiskey in the bathroom stall out of a flask the whole set, but I heard it, and it was so awesome."
Laughing, Pollard apologized for that.
"It's not my fault," she added. "Somebody had a flask of whiskey."
"Yeah, story of my life," Kirby said.