Sum Morz began when Crystal “C-Note” Clouse went to her longtime friend, bassist Maurice “Mo” Turner, and said, “Let’s form a band!”
And he said, “No.”
That may not sound like an auspicious start. But it was the right answer at the time.
Turner didn’t believe Clouse was ready to be in a band, so she went off and did what she could to get ready and to prove to him that she was ready.
Eventually, Turner saw what he was hoping to see and Sum Morz came to be.
Obscurities and B sides
Sum Morz is unapologetically and enthusiastically a cover band, but it is not afraid to challenge its listeners.
Sum Morz will stoke your nostalgia, but only if your musical tastes have ventured beyond whatever has been in the Top 40 at any given moment.
“When we first got together, that was actually a goal of ours,” she said. “We didn’t want to be like every other cover band. We want B-sides. We want something you forgot you love. So we do Devo. But we don’t do ‘Whip It.’ We do ‘Girl U Want.’”
If you listen to Clouse’s radio show, “C-Note’s Sugar Hour,” on WELT, you know how eclectic her musical tastes are.
Clouse grew up in northeast Indiana’s version of the Carter Family: The Brown family.
Her parents, Ted and Pamela Brown, have fronted the band Pop N’ Fresh since 1990.
All of Clouse’s siblings are musicians and singers. All of them make a living through artistic pursuits.
Clouse said she is the only one with a conventional day job.
“I kind of get crap for it,” she said. “‘Why can’t you come to the jam on Thursday night?’ I’m like, ‘I have to work in the morning.’ And they’ll tell me, ‘You’re supposed to be an artist!’”
The Sum Morz lineup has stayed fairly stable over the years, except for drummers.
The band has had five of those, which sounds like a lot, but it’s 13 fewer drummers than Spinal Tap had.
Clouse said she was nearly inconsolable when the band’s first drummer left.
The reason for this is a philosophy that she inherited from her parents.
“I’ve learned that a band is family,” she said. “Your band is your family. I think that part of it drives my band crazy a little bit. But it’s really made us strong. It’s why we’re still together 12 years later.
“It’s not just about the gig we’re going to play on Friday,” Clouse said. “It’s about, ‘How was your week?’ We’re musicians, but we’re also friends.”
Sum Morz is known for theatricality. Clouse has been carried into the venue on a throne and she has been conveyed to the stage via horse and carriage.
“Mo and I have a lot of choreography-type stuff that we do during shows,” Clouse said. “None of it started intentionally. I’ll look over and we’ll be doing the same thing. It progressed naturally.”
Watch this high-energy band perform and you might not immediately, or ever, guess that it has its roots in the low-energy pursuit of singing around a campfire.
The band’s name provides the biggest clue.
The band’s annual musical camping trips turned into the Andy Music Fest, which gives fans of Sum Morz and other performers the opportunity to listen to two days’ worth of music and camp with the musicians.
Clouse said each member of the band corresponds to and typifies an ingredient in that campfire treat known as the s’more.
Clouse is the marshmallow, a designation that was commemorated in a music video parody of Kelis’ “Milkshake” called “My Marshmallows.” This can and should be viewed on YouTube.
Clouse as living marshmallow may “bring all the fans to the yard,” as she sings in the video, but her flamboyant stage persona belies a reserved nature.
She was so shy when first started performing that she walked away from an early karaoke stint shaking like a newborn colt.
In the band’s fledgling days, Clouse said she clung to a book with lyrics written in it like a castaway clings to wreckage. It was only when she forgot to bring it one night that she was forced to trust herself.
Unlike a lot of bands, Sum Morz has never dreamed of national or international stardom.
“All of us are so deeply seated here in Fort Wayne with families and jobs,” Clouse said. “The goal was just to make music together and have fun.
“We never had an end goal,” she said. “Just do it as long as we can.”
Whenever Clouse is interviewed about the band, she worries that too much focus is being put on her. So she jumped at the chance to say a little something about each member.
Guitarist Craig Stephan: “He’s the cheerleader,” Clouse said. “You can tell if you look at our Facebook stuff that he’s the one that does it. He’s like, ‘We’re back and we’re ready to go!’”
Guitarist and saxophonist Chad Hiatt: “He’s nonchalant about everything,” she said. “‘It is what it is. I’m here to play.’”
Drummer Phil Henschen: “Phil’s been doing it so long,” Clouse said. “He’s just really solid. He’s grateful to be out gigging.”
Guitarist Nate Shultz: “He’s got such a neat array of sounds on his guitar,” she said. “He can make it sound like a synthesizer. And he’s got such a stage confidence, it’s pretty awesome.”
Occasional drummer Nick Tamez: “He’s so talented that he just stays so busy,” Clouse said.
As for Turner, who is also a member of The Mo Show and U.R.B., Clouse said he is the hardest working musician in town.
“He will gig seven nights a week if he can,” she said.
Clouse said she doesn’t know if Sum Morz will still be around when she reaches her parents’ ages, but she thinks that she will always make music with Turner.
“In that sense, he is my musical soulmate,” she said. “We push each other.”
An article written many years ago may have given the impression that the word soulmate had other connotations.
“People asked us if we were engaged,” Clouse said, laughing. “I said he was my musical soulmate. And he is. But he’s not my soulmate in any other sense.”
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