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The Outsiders 

A new band called Sunstripe is sweeping young people off their feet with improvised jazz

click to enlarge Sunstripe (from left): Mike Gebhart, Michael Starry, Schuyler Aspin - KRISTEN BLACK
  • Kristen Black
  • Sunstripe (from left): Mike Gebhart, Michael Starry, Schuyler Aspin

It’s a Saturday night, and Boots Bakery is filled with the kind of people Macklemore rapped about in “Thrift Shop.” A group of high schoolers sits on the floor to get a better view of the makeshift stage. The musicians mingle with the crowd.

The opening act is a three-piece outfit that’s between names (in fact, the name varies depending on which member you ask). They sound similar to Of Monsters and Men, and the audience claps and sways along to this familiar sound. It’s something that everybody can appreciate. Something that’s undeniably “right now.”

Headlining the night is another local band — the pastime-turned-band of trumpet-playing 18-year-old Schuyler Asplin, 17-year-old bassist Michael Starry, and 20-year-old drummer Mike Gebhart. They’re called Sunstripe. And where their opening act made music that could have been on the iPod of any of the audience members, Sunstripe brings something completely different — music that is reminiscent of the wordless, improvised jazz of yesteryear — to the ears of kids who might not ever take an interest in jazz.

Formed from the ashes of several fizzled projects and inspired by their very recent experiences in middle and high school band, Sunstripe uses jazz as a “starting point,” helping them develop their own singular sound and make music that is entertaining to play.

And it’s music that has surprised young people. At Sunstripe shows, kids sit on the edge of their seats. They flock to the band’s Facebook and SoundCloud pages to hear more.

Growing up on the classics and favoring music that isn’t found on the radio, the members of Sunstripe admit they come to popular music as “outsiders,” Gebhart explains. Although their music may appear tame to people who are used to the heavier sound of the Spokane scene, Sunstripe is heavily influenced by local music. From the Flying Spiders to the Strangers, the chaos of every genre melds to create their vibe.

“We improvise and fuse music that we like together,” Gebhart says as he describes Sunstripe. While they have sheet music sitting on their stands as they play (much of it original work), they stray away from set-in-stone notes by incorporating a large degree of improvisation.

The neat thing about jazz, Starry notes, is that “you are thinking at the same speed as they are playing.” As a shirtless and macho-looking guy frolicked his way to center stage in the middle of a jam during a show back in January, Asplin put down his trumpet to accept the dance-off challenge. “The song had never, ever gone that way before or after that night,” remembers Gebhart.

“Because there is so much improvisation in our group, there is a lot of spontaneity and unexpected things on our end,” says Asplin. Sunstripe only seeks reactions from their audience, hoping that it will affect their music. At their shows, they hand out homemade Easter egg noisemakers, letting the crowd help guide the direction of the songs.

Playing in small venues like Boots and Second Space Gallery, Sunstripe’s performances are intimate (minus the occasional dance throwdown). Young audience members soak in the unfamiliar genre and laugh uncontrollably as they watch the guys try to keep up with one another.

It’s a sight that keeps people coming back to see Sunstripe. From Starry frantically plucking the strings of his upright bass to Gebhart madly beating on his drums, their performances show Spokane how much fun music should be. Fans desperately search the Internet for the next gig and new songs to download. They drag their friends to every concert and try to help spread the word about Sunstripe.

And right now in the Lilac City, the band says that jazz “is more thriving than ever.” 

Listen to Sunstripe at sunstripe.bandcamp.com, and watch for upcoming show announcements at Facebook.com/sunstripe.

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