Nathan Norton wrote some notes for his band's debut album, Lips of Calypso (self-released, 2017), but he didn't include them in the CD packaging. It may have been a wise move.
"Lips of Calypso is an ode to the human body as a hostage to the temptation of sin, particularly that of lust," wrote Norton, frontman for local band Lounge on Fire. "Each track embodies the perspective of the sinner and their struggle with the burden created by this seduction. ... The hedonism experienced by the sinner is further muddled by the notion of being nurtured by societal masculinity into a compulsory state of seeking fulfillment through sexual satisfaction, and the conflicting commandment administered by religious and academic pedagogy to abstain from such lasciviousness."
That description, while accurate, sounds more appropriate for a dissertation than a dynamite soul-funk LP. Boasting seductive grooves, vibrant horns, full-bodied production by Jason Ringelstetter and motor-mouthed vocals from Norton, Lips of Calypso is sure to be one of this year's best local releases.
Lounge on Fire will play a release show for Calypso at Neurolux on Saturday, Jan. 28, with psychedelic rock groups Marshall Poole and Thick Business opening.
According to Norton—who, in addition to singing and playing guitar, writes the lyrics for Lounge on Fire's songs—the ambivalence towards sex and machismo in Calypso stems from his conflicted feelings over his East Texas upbringing.
"Southern Baptist was the culture in the area [where] I spent most of my formative years," he explained. "I grew up under the threat of fire and brimstone for everything, and it was to a degree that I haven't experienced anywhere else."
Like the man in the album's songs, Norton struggles to reconcile opposing forces in his psyche.
"I feel like I'm torn between the guilt of my religious upbringing but also, on the other extreme of it, being among very sex-positive people. But being on the masculine side of that is almost a step in the other direction. ... A lot of the lyrics of this album are really just trying to navigate that space of being a sexual creature—and a sexually deviant creature—but in this weird paradigm where I'm being pulled in all these different directions."
Lounge on Fire's music reflects this tension as well. On Calypso, Norton's anxious, semi-rapped vocals work with and against the sensuousness of the riffs and rhythms. Norton drew inspiration for his singing style—which sounds at times like a cross between David Byrne and Rakim—from an unlikely source.
"I listened to a lot of gangsta rap as a child," he said. "I'm not kidding. I listened to Coolio, I listened to Master P and Nappy Roots. ... From an early age, I was just super-intrigued by rap, especially the ones that could really spit it out."
Norton started playing music as a teenager, learning trumpet, French horn and, finally, guitar. While attending the University of North Texas in Denton, he immersed himself in the college town's freewheeling atmosphere.
"If you walk along any one of those streets on any given night, chances are you're gonna find a party," he said. "People will just be sitting out on the porch. And you'll just walk up to them and be like, 'Hey, what's up, guys?' And they'll just be like, 'Come on in. Come hang with us.'"
After graduating in 2012, the company Norton worked for offered him a position in its Boise office. Although hesitant at first, he came to see moving to Idaho as a chance to "hit the reset button on my life." He played bass briefly with local blues-rock group The Bare Bones (aka Limbosa) before starting Lounge on Fire in 2013 with bassist Josh Gilmore.
Lounge on Fire went through numerous personnel changes before settling on the current lineup of Norton, Gilmore, saxophone player Matt Patterson, trumpet player Seth Hoffman, trombone player Kevan Ash, keyboardist Alan Schwaderer and drummer Wade Ronsse. The group has played a bewildering range of events as well, including Treefort Music Fest, the Potato Drop, the Moscow Renaissance Fair and the Sands Regency Farmers' Market in Reno, Nev.
"That was a lot of weirdness and fun," Norton said of the Reno gig. "I always feel strange when we play around all ages—kids especially—because the lyrics are not very family-friendly."
Audiences can expect more weirdness and fun from Lounge on Fire in the future. In March, the band will play Treefort 2017 and collaborate with Idaho Dance Theatre as part of its Interface series. Norton and company also have enough material for a second album and want to create a light display that audience members can control via mobile app during a live show.
Whatever Lounge on Fire does next—and whatever internal conflicts Norton may have—the ultimate goal remains simple.
"Right now, we're just trying to make people fuck," Norton said. "Come together. In so many different ways."