It’s been long journey for Northern Beaches

By John Benson

Local band Northern Beaches is all about a long musical journey.

Specifically for Warren native and co-founding member Zachary V. Sunderman, it’s literally been a long journey that began with his friend Karl Steffey roughly a decade ago. For years, the two tried to get bands started but had so many starts and stops the duo was almost ready to call it quits.

“I said let’s give this one more shot,” said Sunderman, a 2002 Howland High School graduate. “We had this backlog of songs. So I started recording the drum, bass and guitar parts, and Karl put his vocals on top. At that time, it was more rock-based, more punk and a lot more indie rock. By the time we got done with the record, we had Dan Frankland [guitar, bass] and Brandon Mace [drums].”

The act actually recorded its debut, “Song of the Coelacanth,” before Steffey suddenly passed away. At that point, the then-trio had to decide what to do. Eventually, they realized their fallen band member would have wanted the act to go forward, which is exactly what the group did.

However unintentional, a philosophical change in style came about, going from a four-piece band with a vocalist to a three-piece act with occasional vocals.

“We were no longer thinking about writing concise songs,” Sunderman said. “We were thinking about writing whatever came to mind, even improvising — doing whatever we felt like for as long as we felt like. So that has changed the sound of the band quite a bit. We no longer think about pop songs.”

That change or sonic evolution is obvious on the act’s upcoming 7-inch release, “Civil Floor Disobedience,” which boasts a groove-based, reggae-type feel. Overall, Northern Beaches now garners progressive jazz comparisons to bands such as Mahavishnu Orchestra.

In today’s splintered jam-band world, there’s a sense that Northern Beaches would fall under that banner, but Sunderman said there’s a significant reason why this isn’t the case.

“Jam bands are really blues based, and we actually try to jettison the blues, at least for me,” Sunderman said. “I feel like the blues have had such a huge presence in rock for so many years, and it seems to me that most musicians in the United States, especially guitarists, default to the blues whenever they’re experimenting or improvising. We try to look more toward the east and try to get into scales and modes and ideas that most people aren’t really tapping into.”

Sunderman stresses that though Northern Beaches strives to create its own niche, being an adventurous and eclectic band comes with the potential risk of going over the heads of some audiences looking for more of a rock vibe than a world music sound.

“From what I’ve seen at our shows, people really do understand it,” Sunderman said. “We don’t get too terribly abstract like John Coltrane’s last couple of albums. We do stuff that’s pretty experimental and can get out on a limb, but at the same time, it always has this kind of organic heart at the center that people can understand.”

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