Like a tree standing firm in its eternal home, the Sap Dabblers say they've set some roots.
“This has been the most permanent the Sap Dabblers has been, and probably the most fitting it’s been,” keyboard player Brian Marbury said of the band’s lineup ahead of their first album release next week.
The Flagstaff group blends aspects of psychedelic rock, folk, electronica and jam music. They formed three years ago when roommates Marbury, acoustic guitarist and vocalist Mark Gallo and bassist Devin Hubbard became inspired to create their own music. While there has been a rotating cast of musicians outside of these three, the most recent additions of drummer Taylor Patterson and lead guitarist Kyle Milbrandt have led the band to find their sound.
“Taylor was a competitive snare in drum line for a couple years, so he can play wicked fast, never misses a beat. And then Kyle is a classically-trained guitarist who loves Phish more than anyone I know. So you bring those two into the mix and all of a sudden we now have this really grounded component,” Hubbard said.
They recently recorded a five-song debut EP, “Above Treeline,” with audio engineer Andrew Grosse at MOCAF Studios in the newly established Museum of Contemporary Art Flagstaff. The recording came together in a matter of days, and the result is a selection of songs that offer a taste of what listeners can expect from a live performance.
“The first four tracks are more concise, and we actually planned out where people were doing solos instead of feeling out the vibe of the audience or just ourselves when we’re practicing,” Gallo explained.
“Our last song is an eight- or nine-minute song that kind of showcases the diversity of music that we do, but also captures a very quick and digestible version of what we do,” Marbury adds.
The Sap Dabblers will play an album release show Friday, Jan. 25, at Flagstaff Brewing Company, 16 E. Route 66, with southern California-based reggae rock band Brothers Gow. Tickets are $5, and the 21-and-up show begins at 9 p.m.
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Within Flagstaff’s music scene, jam music’s influence is felt through a modest handful of local bands incorporating aspects of it into their music such as Proud Mother, Lucky Lenny, Four Cornered Room, Viola & the Brakemen and Pass the Butter. Pink Floyd cover band Empty Spaces has also been able to draw jam fans out with their multifaceted performances.
“I’d say it’s a reawakening scene,” Gallo said. “There was a kind of electronic music wave that hit Flagstaff in the last 10 years, and then in the last three, four years, I would say it’s kind of picked up, and the live music scene has seemed to have had a comeback.”
“I feel like a lot of bands in this town kind of experiment with some improvisational sections, [and] jam is just a part of the whole music culture here in Flagstaff,” Hubbard said. “We maybe just delve a little more into it. Like Mark was saying, there was a pretty big EDM wave, and I know in parts of our jammier sections we’ll kind of fall into heavy bass and drums. It’s just fun to feel all those different influences of Flagstaff work their way into our music.”
The Sap Dabblers enjoy collaborating with other artists to create a unique experience. Album art for “Above Treeline” was designed by local watercolor artist Janek Keediniihii, whose work will be featured at West of the Moon Gallery next month, and their live shows have incorporated visuals from Joshua Schultheis of Joshua Tree Media and Olivia Spencer of Spectracolor Liquids. That spirit of teamwork also blends into their performances.
“When we book shows, we try to book it with another band where we can have some cross-pollination and collaboration happening,” Marbury said. “We used to play with DuB and Down with the Blues quite a bit, and their guitarist would play with us pretty often whenever we had a show with them, and same with Felony Cactus.”
They describe their songwriting process as very democratic, with each member getting the opportunity to contribute to and shape each track. On “Above Treeline,” Gallo wrote three of the songs, Marbury wrote one and Milbrandt wrote one. Each of the songs transforms on the stage though, with the musicians taking cues from each other and the audience to either expand on a groove or rein it in.
“I feel like we kind of took off as a live band,” Hubbard said. “That’s where we really get our joy from. The studio was a great process for us, but I don’t think the three of us are necessarily itching to get back in the studio any time soon. We’re really excited to play some live music now.”