Stains of a Sunflower’s debut EP is bold and declarative, just like the band’s 60s-informed rock

“The wind whispers to me softly,” Natalie Renee sings on “Starlight”—the opening track to Stains of a Sunflower’s debut self-titled EP—but her vocals suggest quite the opposite: the San Franciscan transplant snarls and belts throughout the EP in the vein of Amy Winehouse and Grace Potter.

“Starlight” is a perfect introduction to Stains Of A Sunflower. There’s a palpable ebb and flow of energy each band member follows: Dan Soghomonian’s animated bass lines cling to the melody while Alex Jones strums away on guitar at simple but powerful chords, and drummer Shade Tramp bangs out a rhythm that Renee’s vocals build on throughout the song. This is all backing the very chaos Renee mentions when she sings, “The beauty in this frenzy shines like starlight.” The line, which Renee says is one of her favorites she’s ever written, is rooted in a memory of a rainy night at her favorite historic bar in San Francisco. When meeting a friend at Vesuvio Cafe, formerly a beatnik hub and presently a choice spot for people-watching, the downpour outside evoked the word “frenzy” as Renee observed the countless different people passing by. “To stand still in the chaos, feel the wind on your neck and the air in your lungs, to me, is to be self-aware,” she said. That is the starlight she finds in the frenzy of life.

There are suggestions of outlaw country in the twangy guitar and even a hint of blues influence throughout Stains of a Sunflower, although, for the most part, the band’s sound is heavily informed by 60s rock. These bits and pieces of sonic inspiration are visualized perfectly in the fragmented image of an MBTA train—with some sunflowers poking their heads through the chaos—on the cover art, courtesy of Eva Redamonti. While the depiction of the T pays homage to the city that brought Stains of a Sunflower together, the eponymous flowers are more than just pretty petals to the band.

“The ‘stains’ that I imagine sunflowers leave behind are all the experiences they’ve had under the sun and its warm glow,” Renee said. She added that their music aims to capture the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes and earn your own stains. “Just like sunflowers, we turn toward the sun,” she said. Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Sunflower Sutra” embodies this notion and serves as the source of the band’s nomenclature.

While bombastic chords and growling vocals open the EP, Stains of a Sunflower dip their toes in the introspective in the interim. “Drip Drop” has Renee’s voice pulled back and softened—she notes Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin as vocal inspirations, which is evident not only in her fierce timbre but the particular whisper-soft intonations on “Drip Drop” as well. Of course, even this song builds to a bursting: Tramp launches into an echoing drum solo that ushers in onomatopoeic wailing.

But the band takes a breath—delicate piano seamlessly closes “Drip Drop” and blends it into the beginning of “Black Heart.” This dynamism and diversity in sound add a welcome layer of complexity to a four-track EP. Stains Of A Sunflower have established themselves as passionate rockers, sure, but these two minutes of only fingers on keys prove that they’re not a one-note band.

“I like to turn myself inside out,” Renee said about performing her music. “I like to share with the audience what I feel most people would keep to themselves.” The raw emotion and energy Renee projects into her music serve as an undercurrent for the other band members. Soghomonian’s playing is a departure from the image of the static, solely rhythmic bassist—he plays with the gusto of a lead guitarist. Jones feels each strum of his guitar, no chord sounding uncertain. Tramp drums in sync with the lot of them, not just to lay a foundation.

Renee said she wants her music to be “like honey and strength, and love and fire, all together.” And Stains Of A Sunflower’s debut EP has certainly hit the right combination of sweet and fierce.

You can catch the band at Atwood’s Tavern on 3/25.

Art by Sam Paolini

4 Responses

  1. David Sullivan

    Great Review! Thanks for such warm and inspired words. And for listening so well to the band, they indeed do embody the 60’s and 70’s sound with 2018’s zip and punch. Hats off to your writing skills too … first rate!


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