By Dave Fountinelle | firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been a brutal year for the music industry, to say the least. The pandemic killed live performances across the globe. The National Independent Venue Association speculates that up to 90% of the live music venues in America may have to permanently shut their doors without significant federal assistance beyond what has already been provided. It has been conservatively estimated that as much as $9 billion in ticket sales has already been lost. As a result, musicians have been left scrambling to find alternatives to their traditional bread and butter for revenue and promotion. Even successful, well-established acts have had a tough time getting fans to cough up premium ticket prices for live-stream concerts on empty sound stages. For new, upcoming artists still struggling to build a fan base and get their feet in the door, the moratorium on live shows has been nothing short of devastating. For the guys in The Dying Suns, the Clovis-based retro-rock five-piece, the shutdown presents as much opportunity as it does obstacle.
“We were only playing together for about a year when the pandemic started,” 18-year-old guitarist Max Winterburn recalls. “We were still working on developing our style and polishing our live performance. So, this was something that could either make or break us, depending on how we reacted to it.”
Instead of throwing in the towel and calling it quits, Winterburn – along with vocalist Harrison Silva Costa, bassist Zachary Sylvester, drummer Bryce Lowenthal, and keyboardist Thomas Voelz – decided to adapt and overcome. They have used the shutdown as an opportunity to write and rehearse so they can hit the stage with a vengeance when live shows return. They’re also taking some cues from other artists who have used social media to create new ways to bring fresh content to their fans.
“We’re working on a YouTube series that’s just us doing random things and having fun together. We want to explore as many avenues as possible to grow our fan base and get people excited about what we’re doing.” Winterburn explains.
The Dying Suns origin story is a fairly standard tale: High school friends with talent for days and rock star hair united in the common cause of saving the world through the power of rock n roll. After a year of writing and rehearsing together, The Dying Suns released their first single, “Queen Cobra.” Roughly a month after the song was uploaded to the streaming services, the pandemic shut everything down. It ended live music for the foreseeable future.
“For us, it was never an option to let this be the thing that broke us as a band,” Winterburn states, matter-of-factly. “I mean, yeah, not being able to play live shows definitely makes things harder in some ways, but we just took it as an opportunity to focus on improving ourselves as much as we can. So, instead of playing shows, we’re writing, and we’re rehearsing. We’re exploring creative ways to make and maintain that connection with our fans and build our brand in the absence of live performances.”
Part of their commitment to growing and improving as a band was to add a fifth member, keyboardist Thomas Voelz. According to Winterburn, Voelz was precisely what the band needed to fill in the blanks and complete their lineup.
The Dying Suns’ music would best be described as part of the “retro-rock” throwback trend currently popularized by bands like Greta Van Fleet and The Struts. “70’s revival” is how Winterburn describes the bands sound. Tracks like “Queen Cobra,” “Desert Sea,” and “Round Mountain” sound like they could have been outtakes from Led Zeppelin’s early albums. The riffs and chops on these songs have an energy and refinement rarely found on recordings from artists with decades of experience. Let alone for a group that’s only been together for 2 years and whose oldest member is only 20 years old. For Winterburn and the rest of the band, the only rule for writing music is that there are no rules.
“The songs we’ve put out have that 70’s revival sound for sure, but we definitely don’t want to put any limitations on ourselves in terms of writing, image, or anything else. We just want to write the best songs we can, and always push ourselves to do better and better.”
It’s hard not to be impressed with what The Dying Suns have already accomplished on their self-titled ep. Their songwriting is solid, Winterburn’s guitar riffs are catchy, and dripping with flourish and flair straight from the Jimmy Page playbook. Lowenthal’s drumming sits solidly in the pocket and carries the rhythm section like a sizzling fajita plate in a restaurant, turning heads all the way to the table. Sylvester’s bass playing provides the thick, juicy bottom end that defined the classic blues-rock sound of the ’70s. Sitting on top of that beefy, saucy musical pile of retro-rock nachos is Costa’s vocal pico de gallo. With soaring high-range wails and confidence of delivery that channels Robert Plant, fist bumps Freddy Mercury, and throws an empty beer bottle at Ian Gillan’s head. To hear this level of creative maturity and polish from musicians in their late teens in a band just two years old is nothing short of remarkable.
As we enter the “dark winter” of the COVID pandemic that health experts warned us about and California once again regresses into mandatory lockdowns across most of the state, the future of live audience entertainment continues to remain in limbo for the foreseeable future. In addition to the already staggering financial cost, there are also long-term impacts on performance art and audience behavior to consider as well. How many local, undiscovered, or struggling artists will be able to weather the storm and emerge with their careers still intact? When the worst of the pandemic is finally past, and the public gets the “all-clear” to start safely attending large gatherings again, will they rush out to do so? Or will apprehension about exposure and lingering concerns for personal safety continue to depress event attendance beyond any official “end of the pandemic” declaration? The challenges presented by the COVID pandemic have had an unprecedented impact on the entertainment industry. Yet, despite this, art still manages to find a way.
Through the power of social media, artists are finding new ways to stay connected to their fans and remain relevant. Not only do those fans have more access than ever before to artists at the personal level, but their support has never been more essential. The best way to ensure that your local music scene isn’t entirely devastated by the pandemic lockdowns is to continue supporting your favorite local bands and artists. Whether it’s buying their merchandise, streaming their music, supporting them on other platforms, or donating to their GoFundMe or Patreon if they have one. The Dying Suns hope to prove that if you focus on writing good songs and are willing to adapt to whatever curves life sends your way, the future can still shine brightly. It’s a pretty safe bet that, once live music comes back, The Dying Suns will be packing the house wherever they play.