About six or so years ago, Connor Hollifield and Andrew Halley of SondorBlue performed in public for the first time. Halley, a self-confessed singing phone case salesman at a kiosk by the beach in Hilton Head, had gotten the gig after Hollifield joined him on a slow work day to jam for passersby. The duo, who've known each other since they were kids, received a restaurant gift card for their troubles, but it's what they called themselves that day that is really interesting. "Our first band name was Namaste," Halley laughs. "We would have had to change the band name sooner or later."
SondorBlue, now a foursome, has certainly come a long way since those early days as 16-year-old dreamers. After moving to Charleston to attend CofC, the guys were eventually joined by John Sheehan (he had harmonies and a set of speakers — an easy "in" even before he learned to play guitar) and Drew Lewis (the drummer who completed the four-piece even before he relocated here from Charlotte), releasing their first EP a year ago, only a few months after winning Palmetto Brewing's Battle of the Bands.
But those milestones seem like forever ago. Lately, SondorBlue has kicked things up a notch, securing representation through Right Angle PR, opening for Tank & the Bangas on NPR's Tiny Desk Tour stop in Charleston, and racking up highlights in top rags like Atwood Magazine and Popdust. And, just last month, Guitar Magazine premiered their cover of the Police's "Walking on the Moon" and the Huffington Post debuted the band's new track, "Ashley Ave.," the lead single off their forthcoming EP (out Fri. Oct. 13), You Will Find Love on Ashley Avenue. And the polished new video for their next single, "Escape," has a hot premiere coming soon, too.
The cover art for You Will Find Love on Ashley Avenue is an illustration of SondorBlue's former abode on said local street, the band's headquarters, the place where the four became a force. It's endearingly reminiscent of another group of local musicians whose creative lives revolved around a time and place on Line Street — SUSTO and their "Australian Country Music Hall of Fame," the house that was so significant the band emblazoned an illustration of it on T-shirts and recorded a live album there. A place so full of wonder and wholesome beginnings we decided to do a cover story on it. Fittingly, Halley says that SUSTO did have an impact, consciously or unconsciously, on SondorBlue, and in meeting frontman Justin Osborne for the first time he discovered a kindred spirit. "When I meet an artist, I can tap into something that is very personal but universal," Halley says. "It's a house, right? But it's more than a house. People can identify with it, and if you can identify with it, then that's art."
The two local, sentimental landmarks are testaments to the ways in which the streets of Charleston and its charming downtown wooden homes, some older than hell and leaning more than a little bit, can breed inspiration, surrounded by the energy of students, neighbors, and essentially life in this little city. It's that life in that old home at 125 Ashley Avenue that got the SondorBlue crew hyper-focused on their craft, where they matured and chased after a sound that would reflect their growth.
"The EP is about our times there, living together on Ashley Avenue and really falling into the identity of artists, and what that means," Halley says. "[Since recording the first EP] it made us realize how important the tones and the soundscape of what you're creating is. The first EP, we didn't know our tastes yet and hadn't created our signature sound, what we really like and the art we wanted to make — we just had songs we wanted to record. We had this idea that we wanted to be a band, but what was our signature sound? That's not only songwriting but also instrumentation and vocal arrangements. So I guess I'm really happy with this EP because it's a more accurate depiction of us growing into artists and becoming more introspective."
For SondorBlue, that meant writing songs like, "Escape!," influenced by their departure from Hilton Head. "It's an overwhelming place, such a bubble where people don't get to experience the energy of other people walking past them in a city or the issues that are brought to the surface in places like New York or even Charleston or any place where people don't feel really safe and secure," Halley explains. "That's escape for us."
SondorBlue's growth also means composing songs with all four members present, and that once meant crowding around a white board to start and finish the post-election composition, "I Hate Living Like This." Halley says, "We'll have one idea and we can't get past a verse or chorus until we all sit together and work it out. If I wrote a whole song it probably wouldn't be that great to be quite honest with you, because it's all of us together that makes us who we are.
"We've also created a collective ego now," he adds. "We have one ego rather than multiple egos, and I'd say that is the most important thing for any band. If I could tell any band one thing, if they are right where we were a year ago, I'd tell them now: Create your one collective ego and love each other, because if it's for life, everyone's gotta be on that same wave. Touring introduced us to that, having gone to places and getting paid five dollars to play to no one, actually getting your set cut short — that actually teaches you something. Keeping it light and joking around about it and realizing it all means so much but it's so absurd at the same time, that keeps us going."
Next year's full-length release is already in the works. Inspired by the Beatles, the Jackson Five, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and just soul/R&B in general (Halley's first love), the new tunes promise to preserve their signature sound — complete with knock-you-down harmonies, powerful crescendos, and memorable melodies — while staying true to how the four continue to evolve. SondorBlue plans to debut a few of those tracks at their EP-release show at Music Farm on Fri. Oct. 20. The performance will be recorded for a live concert film.