Appearances can be a good indicator of what a band is going to sound like — for example, Bluegrass bands with a full stack of amps are as rare as Metal bands with banjos. Following this logic, an uninitiated concertgoer watching Goodnight Satellite unpacking their horns and standup bass might presume they are a Jazz Fusion or Funk band.
"It's definitely not The JB's," jokes sax player Gregg Wilson of the band's sparse yet full sound. "Once some woman yelled at me for not playing any solos."
You can't please everyone, but GS has satisfied a lot of customers with their Indie Folk-driven Psychedelia, spinning a web of spacey, atmospheric sounds and writing tunes that range from brooding and contemplative to lighthearted and playful. Currently featuring seven members, the band started out as a solo project for Erick Black.
"It was just me, a loop pedal and a bunch of instruments," recalls Black. "Then I got invited to play an art opening at SSNOVA, and I thought it would be boring to just do my solo thing for hours, so I invited a bunch of friends to come along."
Building on Black's existing material, each member of the ensemble added their own complementary layers, establishing a creative protocol for GS that still exists today.
"Sometimes the feel changes 180 degrees from what I wrote, but so far it always turns out better than I could have imagined," says Black.
The group that he recruited consisted mainly of a circle of friends that had moved to Cincinnati in 1998 from Toledo, including Patrick Hallene (trombone), Jepsen (guitars, vocals, keys) and Esta (who recently moved to Tucson). They were inspired by Black's brother who had made the same move from Toledo years earlier with Schwah.
The remainder of that original lineup included James Burns (standup bass) and Joe Suer (drums), and the membership continues to ebb and flow, currently including Suer's Readymaid partners Andrew Higley (French horn) and Wilson.
Ironically, the biggest sound comes from one of the quietest members of the group: Burns and his massive upright. "I pluck it, bow it and kazoo it," he explains, the latter describing a unique chain of microphones and effects he uses to add a prominent buzz to the instrument's sound. No matter how it's played, the string bass gives GS a somewhat unhurried sound. Shifts in intensity happen slowly, like pockets of oozing magma patiently rumbling toward an eruption.
"It's dynamic in a way that most bands aren't today," says Jepsen. "Instead of just a loud chorus, it just swirls from big to small, more like '60s bands. The standup bass helps that a lot."
Not surprisingly, Pink Floyd is mentioned by the band as an inspiration, but then so are the Beach Boys and Nick Drake, as well as more contemporary acts such as Olivia Tremor Control and Calexico. GS is part democracy and part anarchy, so no one influence dominates, but the members are so in tune with their supporting roles that a focused, collective vision does seem to emerge.
"The horns are really simple parts, just sound and texture," explains Wilson. "The parts layer, it's not a full-out assault."
Each successive song they write continues to develop their style, but in parallel, they are working on an eight-song debut, the basic tracks of which were recorded in a theater in Union Terminal last year. That session and subsequent recordings have been assisted by Shane Chaney (a longtime musical associate of Burns) using an 8-track reel-to-reel.
At first, Black was not enthused about the limitations of this medium, but he has been pleased with the results so far. "Shane's been so willing to do crazy things. We've learned some parts backwards and we set up a reverb chamber in James' kitchen. People don't want to take the time to do these kinds of things in a digital world, but Shane does."
Those intrigued by GS's unique sound will have to wait until fall for the record, but there are plenty of chances to see them this month: They're the Southgate House's "Artist In Residency" for April, which comes with a standing every-Wednesday gig in Junie's Lounge.
GOODNIGHT SATELLITE (goodnightsatellite.com) plays the Southgate House (Lounge) every Wednesday in April as well as April 20 at the Southgate with Enon.