Tonawanda News

March 18, 2010

NT-based jam band Aqueous looks to ride the wave to musical stardom

By Paul Lane
The Tonawanda News

NORTH TONAWANDA — With album sales approaching record lows, free music to be had nearly everywhere and mainstream radio leaning heavily toward Auto-Tuned vocals, now might be one of the worst times in the history of popular music for instrumental-heavy groups to enter the recording industry.

That, according to the members of Aqueous, is exactly why they must forge forward.

Speaking during a recent interview in the News office, guitarist/vocalist David Loss, percussionist Nick Sonricker, drummer Brad Darrall and bassist Evan McPhaden discussed the difficulties in achieving musical stardom and the downfall of much of modern music.

The band’s members — complemented by guitarist/vocalist Mike Gantzer, who couldn’t attend the interview — met while attending North Tonawanda High School. The young men described the band’s formation as “blues meets progressive,” as four of the young men quickly meshed and went down the jam band path (Sonricker, who has a recording studio in his basement, joined the group later on).

“No one even had to switch instruments,” Loss said. “It just kind of magically happened.”

Some level of success also happened fairly quickly, as Aqueous won the 2007 High School Rock Band Showcase at Niagara University. The band has since recorded a studio sampler and the first in a series of live albums, “Live Nugs: Volume 1,” while performing anywhere and everywhere in Western New York that it could, including attempts to fill numerous concert series slots this coming summer.

Finding gigs has been difficult at times, though, band members said. The task of self-promotion involves relentless searching for proper contacts, endless submissions of music and call ... after call ... after call.

“We’re still trying to figure it all out,” Darrall said. “We’re taking it more seriously this year ... organization is an underrated skill for a band.”

The fact that the group leans toward a free-flowing sort of jam band rock — “we’re not a three-minute band,” Darrall said in reference to song length — might not help.

“We’re not exactly fan-friendly,” Sonricker said.

Despite this, Aqueous has cultivated a core group of fans throughout the region. Some of their shows see hundreds of people in the audience — although the band has done its share of more sparsely populated concerts, as well.

“Maybe some nights there’s four people and they’re just sitting there. They may like it, but you don’t know,” Sonricker said.

But all of the group’s members quickly noted that they wouldn’t do anything differently. While smooth rock jams don’t heavily populate the radio airwaves, that’s the type of music Aqueous is best at.

”It’s impossible to make it if you are (a pop singer). The market’s flooded,” Darrall said. “If you’re not Nicole Richie, then good luck.”

Darrall cited knowing your audience as a key factor in finding music success. That, according to Loss, helped bands such as Phish and the Grateful Dead enjoy the longevity that those groups saw.

“You don’t hear of Fergie-heads,” Loss said. “(Straying from pop music) gives us a lot of freedom to do whatever we want.”

The band’s desires of late include a full-length studio album, a 12-song effort that Sonricker said is due out in the late summer. Aqueous also has started recording every live performance with the intention of releasing a new “Live Nugs” CD every three to four months, he said.

The band’s members have to juggle work, college and the rest of daily life with rehearsal and gig time. But the fact that the musicians are so young — they all will be only 21 by the time 2010 ends — gives them what they consider a vital head start.

“Some bars won’t let you play,” Sonricker said. “Most people don’t even get started until they’re 21.

“I think we’re continually improving. If you listen to our jams from a year ago, we’re 10 times better now.”