I head down narrow roads past Hamilton, Ohio, passing striking trees, cornstalks and soybean fields. It’s gorgeous, the houses are few and the moon looms above, the only streetlight around. I have an address, but it’s tricky dark, so the search is on to find vocalist/guitarist Mark Houk’s house, affectionately named the “Comfort Zone,” the practice space for area band Sohio.
Lost, I call Royce Spurlock (vocals, guitar), who laughs and says, “Just look for the flashing lights.”
And then I see it — a farmhouse pulsing with color, the inside stage lighting bleeding out into the yard. Instantly, I feel at home. Several years ago when I interviewed the band members, somehow I ended up opening for them. See, with this band, I’m that weird girl who’s not quite in the band, but always reappearing. They agree. Insert laughter here.
Inside: smoky room, two visible cats, a gazillion guitars, weird golf artwork, a green paper lamp, a huge deer head; mushroom art, oriental rugs, equipment all around. It has a combo Rock Star homestyle feel.
Tall Houk chills out, scruffy-style, with ripped jeans and longish hair. Big-eyed Chavis Colwell (drums) looks down at his solid gray shoes. He’s excited that I pronounce his name right. By his relaxed smile and baggy jeans, you’d never know that Brian McKinney (guitar, keyboard) recently battled cancer. With a perma-grin, Spurlock (vocals, guitar) sits next to me in an army green jacket. More than once, he’ll make you belly laugh. Bassist Evan Wirtley leans back in the corner, staring through smiley, dark eyes.
All five have a raging sense of humor.
They’ve been together for seven years and their musical bond seems unbreakable through life’s changes — marriage, sickness, a robbery. In October 2007, a thief broke into Houk’s house and the band lost seven guitars and other equipment (still a sore subject). But that weekend, they scrounged up borrowed guitars and played a gig at Northside Tavern anyway.
Buddy Bobby barges in with some Miller Lite, and they all cheer.
Spurlock comments, “Bobby did two tours in Iraq in the time it took us to make an album.”
Sohio’s forthcoming album (the title is still to be determined) was recorded at Ultrasuede Studios with John Curley. The CD release will be Dec. 12 at Yardbird’s in Trenton, Ohio.
Finishing the bulk of the recording at Ultrasuede, they added overdubs at Houk’s house, spending great time with the mix. On this sophomore album, the sound is crisper and the overall vibe picks up from the debut, Money and Love. With a Wilco-meets-Raconteurs feel, they punch out slow to rocking songs, but it’s absolutely consistent and the sound is definitely Sohio’s. Undeniably catchy, nothing is forced. Although they might joke around, when it comes to putting out quality, well-crafted Rock songs, Sohio gets down, dirty and serious.
Houk says, “We’ve been together so long, it’s getting hard to come to agreement on things. That process is getting more complicated, because we’re getting better at what we do. We don’t always get along, but when it comes down to rehearsal, it’s all about the music. We know how to fucking have fun with it.”
Sifting through a slew of songs, the process has taken three years. While the first album was recorded solely with vintage gear, Houk explains, “This record sounds like it was recorded at Ultrasuede, but you have a homemade interjection.”
McKinney agrees. “We got a little too ambitious to think we could do it all on our own,” he says. “All of drums and bass, probably most of the rhythm guitars, the bare bones of the tracks, we recorded in studio. We spent more time experimenting.”
Colwell says that on this work, they didn’t ignore the little things they wanted to change. They didn’t settle, something evident in the mix.
Wirtley adds, “We realize it’s interesting stuff and we like messin’ with it, so that’s what we did. We messed with it quite a bit more.”
After scoring a song on the HBO comedy series, Tourgasm (starring Dane Cook), “An Open Field” recently played in Cannes-noteworthy director Ed Radtke’s independent film, The Speed of Life. Mostly, Sohio plays the Dayton/Cincinnati area, aching to tour, but with jobs and families they focus on Internet distribution rather than starving on the road.
Regarding ambitions, McKinney says, “For me, it’s a creative outlet. If opportunities arise, yes.”
Spurlock says that if he can quit his job, pay his mortgage and have health insurance, he’d be good to go.
“We gotta build this thing like P. Diddy would,” he says. “We got a label. We started it ourselves. It starts right now.”
Then they play me something rocking, something country and something sweet. A private concert. I almost join Houk at the mic. Almost.
Check out SOHIO’s tour dates and the new CD at www.myspace.com/sohio.