February 17, 2011
Each member of local rock act Sum Morz has an important role to play in the creation of what, according to their growing fanbase, is some pretty tasty music. Frontwoman Crystal Clouse is the marshmallow. Bassist Maurice Turner adds the chocolate sprinkles. Rhythm guitarist Chad Hiatt’s a graham cracker. So is drummer Albert “Betto” Magana, and lead guitarist Craig Stephen is the toasting stick. Wishing you were partying around a campfire with a few of your closest friends? The good news is that you don’t need a tent or some illegally smuggled firewood to get things cooking. The members of Sum Morz will do it for you.
Sum Morz first came together in 2008, a four-piece built on the foundation of a friendship between Clouse and Turner, who have known each other since their years at Southside High School. One fateful night Clouse attended a jam at the Gin Mill Lounge where Turner was acting as emcee. Soon the two of them were singing and jamming, having a blast and anticipating each other’s moves on the dance floor.
“Mau’s my musical soulmate,” Clouse told me in a recent interview with the band as Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits. “We knew that night we should start a band.”
They were joined by Hiatt and original drummer Dave Bender, and, as is the case with a good s’more, magic happened. Troubles melted away until there were no individual elements. All were one.
“We’re a fun band. We do mostly covers and some originals, but what’s different about us is that we focus on the B-sides,” Turner told me. “When you’re at a Sum Morz show you’ll hear everything from No Doubt to 311 and Sublime and Devo, but I’ll bet you not much goes down that you’ll ever hear on the radio.”
That’s because these guys and gal know their stuff. Clouse grew up a Brown. Allow me to translate for anyone not from around here: Her parents front the now legendary good-time band, Pop ‘N’ Fresh, and so Clouse, her sisters and her brother were raised on a steady diet of diverse music from a young age.
“Music was always playing when I was a kid,” she said. “Always. And my parents loved all kinds of music. We weren’t limited to one genre. One minute you’d hear B.B. King and the next, Devo. I started piano when I was six, and Dad had us singing with him when we were pretty young. Being in a band, forming my own band, was just natural. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without music.”
Turner likewise came of age steeped in music. He’s played everything from the trombone to the drums and got his start on the bass at Southside. A former chef and the current assistant director of the Northside High School Show Choir, Turner said he feels most alive when he’s playing.
“I know when music is good. I have an ear. I know when it works,” he said. “It’s my martial art.”
Hiatt, who began his music career playing saxophone, and Bender, who’s played with El Supremo, Ultimate Jones and Billy D and the Ridgebrooks, rounded out the Sum Morz sound until last year when Stephens came on as lead guitarist.
“I’d heard them play one night at the Gin Mill,” Stephens said. “I thought they were amazing, and I wanted to be part of what they were doing. I basically begged them to take me.”
He didn’t have to beg for very long.
“We loved what he did with the guitar,” Clouse said. “He was the missing piece.”
So Stephens, at the time in local rock act Frog Hollow and a former member of Buttonhead, became a Sum Mor (if that is indeed the single form of Morz).
The lineup was steady as the beat coming from Turner’s bass until the very beginning of this year when Bender, a self-employed business- and family man, decided to retire. That’s when they brought on Magana, a journeyman drummer who for years made a living playing the tequila-soaked clubs of Cancun. He eventually married, moved to his wife’s hometown of Fort Wayne and joined a number of local bands, including Nine, Rattlehead, Interfold and Truck Stop Cutie. When he heard Sum Morz were in need of a drummer, he jumped on the chance and hasn’t looked back.
“It’s a really good time,” said the stickman/UPS driver. “There’s so much variety, so much energy on stage and in practice. A lot of times I’ll have to leave practice because I have to get up early in the morning, not because I want to leave. I want to keep jamming. It’s that kind of band.”
It’s the kind of band that would spoof the song “Milkshake” with their own video about a young woman’s marshmallow bringing all the boys to the yard. It’s the kind of band that regularly rocks a host of local watering holes, including the Gin Mill and the Latch String, where fans pack the floor in support of both the band’s unique approach to cover tunes and their themed nights that celebrate everything from the 70s and 80s to Geek Pride.
The band is hoping to put out an album sometime this year. In the meantime they’ll keep perfecting their party approach to 80s and 90s alternative pop.
“We’re working on our wedding setlist, changing things here and there,” Hiatt said. “We get asked to do a lot of weddings, but we’re not exactly a kid-friendly band. You don’t want to bring Grandma to our shows. Well, I guess that depends on your grandma.”
If you’d like to catch Sum Morz soon, they’ll be at Martin’s Tavern in Garrett Friday, February 25 and the Latch String Friday, March 4, celebrating their anniversary with a little help from Sketch Bomb and Pop ‘N’ Fresh.
“You hear us and you want some more,” Stephens predicted. “We’re music that tastes good.”
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