The music of the Sumner Brothers sometimes soars into rocking alt-country ballads and, at other times, subsides into gentle, humorous, folkier tunes to which you can sway. Behind this widely ranging talent, however, is a kind of sincerity that hints at a larger story.
Based out of Whiterock, BC (near Vancouver on the Canada-US border), brothers Bob and Brian Sumner come from an ancestry that spans everything from jazz guitar to church organs. Each of them are commonly on banjo, clarinet and keyboards, but primarily perform live on vocals and guitar. The inspiration to first pick up guitars came as teenagers when Bob’s best friend started to teach him how to play Nirvana, Pearl Jam and music by other ‘90s rock bands.
The legacy he left grew and manifested itself in his impact on the Sumner Brothers and in their learned way of self-expression through music. “Sometimes, if you’re going through something, it feels better to talk about it, and for singer songwriters it feels better to write about it,” says Bob. With a brief listen, you quickly notice trumpets, violins, drums, and even keytars. “We’re always kind of chipping away at them,” he brushes off. Indeed, their cabin recording space is less a place for careful rationalization and more like an instrumental park, with countless musical playmates he describes as “a rotating cast of about 15-20 guys” that jam, perform and record as accomplices to their band. In regular get-togethers, new people will come over and contribute to recorded jam sessions that are picked through every couple years and released as a continuation of their In The Garage series.
The new album, I’ll Be There Tomorrow, features James Meger on electric and upright bass, Mike Ardagh on drums, Bill Patton (Fleet Foxes) on lap steel, and Joseph Lubinsky-Mast (Brasstronaut) on bass for live shows. “Everything we do is consistent, but then it’s always fresh, too, because we’re always bringing in new guys,” he explains. It could be said that their music is as layered from song to song instrumentally as they are conceptually, as reflected in the cover art they’ve picked, designed by visual artist Jeremy Crowle.
Naturally, the source for this decision goes deeper, as he emphasizes, “You know, this is something we’re going to always do, because we’re brothers… and it kind of has this sense of time or death, and that’s what we sort of liked about it.” But most importantly, “We also put up a hell of a lot of posters,” he laughs, “so we like that, too.”
They will be shredding up the Palomino (Calgary) on September 22 and you’ll have to keep your eyes and ears peeled for an additional “secret old church house show.”
By Cait Lepla