When and where the local rock band The Sofa Kings got its start depends on just how far you’re willing to dig.
It could’ve been just a little over four months ago, when drummer Karl Lindgren joined up and forced his new bandmates to “step it up a little bit” musically, said lead singer Stephanie Slade.
Or it might’ve been more than a year ago, when Slade, guitarist Ben Landis, bassist Arron Steadman and a couple former members picked their cheeky band name and began playing gigs all over town.
Or perhaps it was a few years ago, when Landis met Slade while working together on another long-forgotten, ill-fated band.
Just for fun, though, let’s trace the Kings’ history back to a shirt.
“It’s not just a shirt,” Landis said during an interview last week. “It’s a pretty cool shirt.”
It was Lindgren’s shirt — it said “Still plays with drums” across the front — that first prompted Landis to strike up a conversation with the man who would become The Sofa Kings’ drummer many years later.
“I manage an auto repair shop and Ben was delivering our morning shipments,” Lindgren said. “I had on that shirt and Ben looked at me funny and he said, ‘Do you play drums?’ I said yeah and he said, ‘Would you like to get together and play?’ And I said sure.”
That seemingly innocent conversation led to hours-on-end jam sessions, joined by Steadman. Then Lindgren faded out of the picture and Landis and Slade left their old band and began playing low-key gigs with Steadman at Bend’s M&J Tavern. They added members, lost members ... you know, typical band stuff.
Early on, The Sofa Kings aimed to “flood the market” with their powerful live sound, which back then was a rough-and-tumble combination of rock and blues, spearheaded by the vocals of Slade, who studied opera in college. The band did plenty of covers, from Janis Joplin to the Steve Miller Band to the Doobie Brothers; they arrived at one gig to find the bar’s marquee advertising them as a 1960s cover band.
But that was then. Last fall, the Kings’ previous drummer (local musician-about-town MC Mystic) left the band and Landis called on his old buddy with the shirt to take the sticks. Since then, the Kings have begun to evolve, thanks in part to Landis’ own stated goal for the project, which grew from his previous experiences in bands that were akin to dictatorships.
“I wanted to start a band where everybody has got everything to do with everything that goes on,” he said.
Under that premise, The Sofa Kings say they’re slowly shifting from the bluesy rock that’s attracted so many Joplin comparisons into heavier territory. Slade loves classic rock and thinks its “ready for a comeback, with a little tweaking.” She’s also interested in exploring operatic metal; more than once during our interview did she show off her impression of metal mega-vocalist Ronnie James Dio.
“I’m not in a band situation where I have to sing something that somebody tells me to sing,” Slade said. “I can actually choose what I want. It’s nice.”
The band is also shifting from doing mostly covers to mostly originals. They write collectively, sometimes building on an individual’s musical idea, and sometimes jamming through an improvised song and then letting it float off into the ether, never to be heard again. Steadman’s influences — from Tool and Mudvayne to local prog-rock trio Tentareign — have also steered the band into heavier waters.
“Listening to those bands and the styles of their bass players got me into this mode where I just started writing stuff like this,” he said. “And they liked some of it.”
All that said, The Sofa Kings aren’t exactly a heavy metal band. They still dabble in whatever tickles their fancy, no matter what it may be. And that’s the way they like it.
“I wanted to be in a band that was open to doing any kind of music,” Slade said. “I just wanted to rock and have everyone identify with something.”
The operative word there is “rock.” In a world where too many rock bands try to spice up their sound with disparate ingredients, The Sofa Kings are content to rock. As Lindgren puts it: “Our schtick is we have no schtick.”
He elaborates, touching on the Kings’ natural musical chemistry: “It’s a little bit like a jazz band in that regard,” said the man who spent years in California playing any style of drums you can name. “In a jazz band, the musicians are playing for themselves and the audience, if the band is good, is privileged to witness this musical conversation between, hopefully, talented musicians. And we’re a little bit like that.”