Downtown Lowdown: The Sons of Ranier, a band built on happenstance and harmonies

by DGO Web Administrator

The Sons of Rainier are a band built on harmonies – literally. Before the band was created, Devin Champlin, a musician based in Bellingham, Washington, had been writing songs with multiple vocal parts he would sing, and later dub over in the studio, which resulted in three-part harmonies, courtesy of one voice.

When Champlin wanted to change things up and add an outside tenor, he reached out to Seattle-based musician Dean Johnson. Johnson recommended Sam Gelband to fill the third vocal part. They liked the sound, and between the three of them, the group was instrumentally close to a full band. The equation was complete with the addition of bass player Charlie Meyer, who dug their demos. Meyer rounded out the group, and the result was The Sons of Rainier.

The band wasn’t formed from jam sessions, and there was no real plan, other than Champlin’s desire to add voices that weren’t his for his DIY songwriting projects.

“We got together a few times, singing without really a thought of what we were doing with it, other than maybe we could play a show,” said Champlin. “All of the sudden, there’s this momentum, and it’s like, ‘Oh, I guess we have a band.’ We’re all super into it, which is the best thing in the world. I feel super lucky because it’s a bunch of songs I wrote, and to have three talented guys who genuinely like doing it. I didn’t have to convince anybody to play with me.”

But while it wasn’t exactly a planned band, the trio immediately got after it. They played their first show in June 2017, before heading to the studio just two months later. “Down in Pancake Valley,” their debut album, was released in February.

It’s a record filled with an old-school vibe and harmonies that are instrumentally simple, warm, and rich. Self-described as “hobo-dream-pop” or “45-RPM folk music,” there’s a roots and R&B element that touches on old country, with some lyrical pain written into the tales of weird America. Champlin’s vocal drawl aches, complimented by tasty and timed fills by Johnson’s guitar work, and a rhythm section that’s masterful at being delicately subtle.

Perhaps the best thing to call it is “slacker-folk,” which in no way insinuates Champlin and his bandmates are lazy musicians who only get off the couch long enough to flip “Nashville Skyline” over on the turntable.

The work ethic that landed them in the studio so quickly reveals quite the opposite. Rather, “slacker-folk” is a nod to the style of music that reveals a sometimes lazy tempo that carries laid back, loose music. Their sound is influenced as much by harmony bands like Crosby, Stills, and Nash or the Everly Brothers as it is by indie bands like Pavement or The Felice Brothers.

Performing in a DIY art space is right up the band’s alley. As ripe as this band is for a drunken sing-a-long in a dimly lit venue, this is also music that needs a good listen. Playing in a venue like the art space below Studio & helps cut out the drunken bar patrons that happen to be at the show simply because that’s the bar they went to in order to drink heavily.

Non-traditional venues tend to bring in the like-minded fans that come to the show to support the band, which is a perfect fit for the Sons of Ranier’s mindset.

“Some of my favorite shows have been either house shows, or house parties. I love playing all-ages shows in general,” said Champlin. “To have an all-ages space, that’s very community minded, and kind of anything goes. I’d always rather play to five people in a small room who are totally listening than play to a hundred people who are just talking over each other.”

The Sons of Rainier will play in Durango on Sunday, May 6 in the art space directly below Studio &, which is accessible via Narrow Gauge Road. Jenn Rawling is opening.

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].

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