The Sleeping Sea King: Letting Loose

Posted November 19, 2008 in Feature Story

Historians will note that when rock & roll first swept across the face of America in the late ’40s and early ’50s, its amoral underbelly generated instant social uproar. Here was an amalgamation of blues, country and gospel only . . .  it was dirty, loud and your parents’ parents didn’t dig on that shit. Post World War II America was supposed to be about domesticity, security, Rockwellian white picket fences, Perry Como—not an incendiary subgenre carrying the seeds of rebellion. 


So what happened? Man is destructive. And he needs a soundtrack.


Obviously, rock & roll blossomed in the drug-rinsed 1960s, a turbulent time with the Vietnam War and subsequent protests, social upheavals and the inevitable apex of the ongoing struggle for civil rights. Kids today probably think that Credence Clearwater Revival themselves dropped napalm on the tree-covered Vietcong, as “Fortunate Son” has become synonymous with long tails of fire lashing through green trees. Kids today are also quick to note that the form that once aggravated and galvanized the masses has become a goddamn conundrum—when rebellion becomes tradition, can it still be considered rebellion?


Um, no. Not really. Well, sort of.


Even though today’s rock & roll—MTV’s DNA traceable in its every orifice—concerns itself more with image and fashion than with the raw and emotional songwriting ethos that the style is rooted in, there are still happy exceptions. And those exceptions would like you to know that there’s truth behind the cliché that rock ain’t dead. Compromised, maybe. But dead? 


Come on; that’s just sensational hooey.


Or so says the Sleeping Sea King, only they don’t say it literally. They live it, and you—aficionados of rawk—just sort of vicariously adrenalize it. Here’s a band that has soul. They have dark momentums, candles that burn at both ends, sleepless fanaticisms, drugs. This Riverside outfit embodies the old unconquerable flame. And, like perfect Zep prototypes, they communicate angst through high-watt amps and Jack Daniels. Superstitions? They’ve got a few.


Joey Kohorst, the principal songwriter in TSSK, talks about his trek to Earl Long’s once beautiful Mecca down there in the bayou. 


“Back in 2006, I went on a spiritual journey to my motherland, Louisiana, and there I spoke with a voodoo priestess,” he says. “A sorceress is what she likes to be called. And she told me that in order to awaken the sleeping sea king you must let loose a celebration of your soul. And so I decided I was going to heed her advice. And so I called my friend Andy, and I said ‘hey—let’s play rock & roll together. And spit. And drool. And dream. And fornicate.’ And thence it was.”


Rock dudes are big into conjunctives, especially if it makes things clever. These particular rock dudes are also full of bullshit. (They told the IE Weekly last time that the name derived from Sli Ping, Madagascar, where they regaled natives with the story of The Little Mermaid).


Nevertheless, when spitting and fornicating become the unified goal, a line-up is relatively easy to assemble—it just so happens that TSSK’s roster is comprised of a close circle of friends, all of them veterans of the local music scene indigenous to the Inland Empire. There’s Kohorst, the singer/songwriter and southpaw guitarist who’s an odd cross between Josh Homme and a blue-collar Jim Morrison in style, sound and vibe; Andy Hunt, guitarist, the intellectual and self-proclaimed “ogre” of the group; Andre Morales, drummer, the pragmatic and business-minded center of logic; and Fert Von Bourbon, bassist, summed up by reading into the name. These cats huddled around some rough demos that Kohorst had lying around—some GarageBand software native to the MacBook, how totally today—and formed almost instantaneously. On the hunch of a sorceress and some attainable wants, The Sleeping Sea King into this world were thrown. 


Riffage, carnage, hostile takeover.


TSSK is comparable to Clutch if they got locked in a studio with the Foo Fighters, the unmistakably dirty Southern rock playing out just below riffs. Kohorst’s soulful baritone—smacks of Danzig, really—is at times haunting, at other times pitched, tire-squealed, mesmerizing as a metronome. When lasting bands cough up the goods it’s because the frontman’s voice is deep rooted to his ideas; that’s Kohorst’s. Rock & roll lives in such abstraction.


“Rock & roll isn’t dead, you just need to look in the right places,” says Morales. Kohorst adds, “it just puts on a different mask occasionally.” Whether or not they know what the hell they’re talking about is debatable—there are beer bottles everywhere—but the music indicates that they took a face from the ancient gallery and, hey, look at them. They’re in the right place.


Nary has the TSSK written hooky pop music and dressed it up as youth rebellion like so many latter-day check-me-outs. Listen to “Sand In Your Well” or “Vamp Slow Dance,” you’ll see. You won’t catch these brutes wearing tight jeans that cut off circulation at the ankle or ridiculous studded belts to insinuate rock heritage. In fact, besides drinking and maybe shucking a wee lass here and there, the only thing the members of The Sleeping Sea King do seem concerned with is rocking—in its purest and most straightforward form.  


“Really this band is a tribute to us being great friends, as cliché as that may sound,” Hunt says, unafraid to corroborate with a cliché. For a band typified by “bad luck and booze,” as Kohorst puts it, rocking is as basic and rudimentary as performing together. 


“It doesn’t matter if there are two or 200 people at a show,” says Morales. “We get up on stage, we smash, we have fun, we get into it. We see each other, and as long as all of us are into it then it doesn’t matter what’s going on in front of us.”


There’s no guarantee that Zep would have played to an orchestra pit of monkeys, but TSSK would dare go where no band has gone before, if it meant a good time. Good times are translatable. These guys rock just because. And these guys rock through good times and bad (which, paradoxically, brings us right round to Zep again).


Ah, bad times. Like many American bands on the circuit, TSSK has some war stories. Whether it’s getting short changed by a venue, having only two beers to share between the four of them on a given night, equipment malfunctions, head injuries, chance encounters with hemp vodka, Kohorst’s girlfriend being punched in the face at a show, or whatever . . . things can be bad.


And at times a little light shines behind the ignominy—after all, the kingdom of rock is a meritocracy.


For one, “We were named one of the top 20 [unsigned] bands in a world wide contest by Airwalk,” says Hunt. For two, TSSK dominated fierce local competition in Skinnie Magazine’s third annual Battle For Warped Tour to land a coveted spot on the famous tour’s Pomona date.


“It wasn’t even so much winning at the House of Blues [that night] as it was just the absolute magnificence of having all of our friends come out to that one show, on a Monday night and stick around for the entire thing,” Kohorst says. “It was insane.”


The reward? More hard luck with silver linings. They played on a small stage at the Warped Tour at the exact same time as brototype legends Pennywise were performing. 


“We usually play 21 and over shows,” says Von Bourbon, referencing the experience of playing the all-ages festival. “This 12 year-old kid comes up to me, and I was handing him stickers and giving him all this free stuff, and he was like, oh cool, you’re in The Sleeping Sea King, and I’m like, ‘yeah,’ and he says I really love that song “Rule The Night,” I found you guys online.’ Some little 12 year-old kid is naming one of our songs to me and telling me how much he liked it. That was just one of the coolest and most memorable experiences.”


For every fuzzy story, there’s a more disturbing one.


“A lady who was not exactly less than 250 lbs . . . ” Kohorst starts, drawing uncomfortable winces from his bandmates, “we sold an apron once with our logo printed on it and she modeled it naked.” Morales clarifies, “somebody [else] gave it to her, not us.” The image made its way around via a cell phone photo, a little keepsake for their innovations.  


“Another thing [that’s] not weird but cool,” Kohorst says, giddy with anecdotes, “we actually had a kid from Australia hit us up on MySpace asking us for tablature. I was like, wwwhhhaaaat? You like us that much?” Hunt quickly adds, “he said his guitar instructor told him to get music of some famous bands he liked and he told us I’ve been trying to find some of your tabs online and I couldn’t find it. I wanted to take it to my guitar instructor and learn your songs.”


Hard luck or not, rock & roll or not, that’s music to TSSK’s ears.


If rock & roll can’t be, then philanthropy is the true new rebellion. The Sleeping Sea King, smart in lyric and action, realizes it—and they will play Romano’s in Riverside this month. The price of admission? “You bring food, you get in,” Hunt says. “I never had a want for food on Thanksgiving,” adds Morales. “So it would be nice to subsidize other peoples’ food needs.” 


A little humanity, a ton of impacting riffage, a liar’s imagination—Riverside’s The Sleeping Sea King, ladies and gentlemen. Make what you will of this little peephole into the TSSK’s world of booze, bad luck, random fan encounters and charity shows but, it’s safe to say that amidst a sea of trouble-laden shows at odd venues, in self-destruction and selfless-repair, The Sleeping Sea King has awoken—just as the Louisiana soothsayer nudged them to (nudge, nudge).


The Sleeping Sea King at; Check them out at the Thanksgiving Food Drive along with Divide the Day at Romano’s, 5225 Canyon Crest Dr., Riverside, (951) 781-7662, Fri., Nov. 21, free with can of food. Also playing: Q Bonkers, 9364 Magnolia Ave., Riverside, (951) 688-4866 on Fri., Dec. 5


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