"We'd like to think that our music has hips, as they say," chuckles Jason Pomar, lead singer, bassist, and keyboardist for pop-rock power trio Sun Domingo. "I dig music that has hips. With all of us coming from a rhythmic background, I'm glad that it translates that way for some people."
The Atlanta-based band headlines the Windjammer this week in support of a newly released concert album titled Live from Montreal (Rock Ridge). Pomar, guitarist Edgel Groves, and drummer Nathan Lathouse recorded the 12-song collection over two boisterous nights in Montreal last April while supporting British band Marillion. Listening to the tracks, it sounds like they wowed French Canadian prog-rock fans pretty effectively.
With a rock style infused with the emotional thrust of the Tragically Hip, the nerdy-but-smooth funkiness of Barenaked Ladies, and the technical flare and complexity of Permanent Waves-era Rush, it's no surprise that Sun Domingo went over well in a large Montreal concert hall.
"A few years ago, we used to identify as an alternative rock band — but what does 'alternative' mean any more these days?" says Pomar. "I guess we're kind of progressive, but there's a wide range of what that could mean, too. We finally came up with 'post-modern rock.' We've come to that, because it allows for drawing from all sorts of different channels of inspiration. We don't get pigeon-holed into a specific style of music."
Sun Domingo started out in 2004 as a college-town quartet in Athens, Ga., splitting its time between Atlanta, Greenville, and Virginia. Pomar's terrific vocal range (he could hit those high Sting/Bono/Geddy notes with ease) and the band's penchant for precision caught a few ears in the region.
After a few lineup adjustments in 2006, the band solidified as a trio and refined their influences, peppering bits of classic and contemporary pop, rock, and alternative styles into something very dense and polished.
"The other two guys in the original lineup were from Virginia and wanted more time at home," says Pomar. "They had a graceful exit, but we needed to fill some stuff in really quickly, so Edgel switched from drums to guitar, and we enlisted our friend Nathan, who got up and running pretty fast. It's been the three of us ever since."
A major part of Sun Domingo's story is their impressive diligence and dedication to road work — the act of going out and hitting the same towns over and over, gradually earning acknowledgement and recognition with solid and sincere performances and steadily building a fan base in each region.
"It takes a lot of time in the trenches before something kind of breaks for ya, you know, but the last year has been really good for us," says Pomar. "We'd love to get out to the West Coast and possibly Europe sometime soon. Those trips are definitely on the wish list. Here on the East Coast, the major cities and college towns are relatively close together, so it's a little easier to travel around."
The hard work on the road led to a few key showcase gigs and concerts in recent months, including a five-day appearance on the 10th anniversary Rock Boat, which features such acts as Sister Hazel, Augustana, Marc Broussard, and Pat McGee.
"We had that watershed moment last April when we went up to Montreal for Marillion weekend," he adds. "It was the first opportunity we've had to play for a truly international crowd, and the crowds were so attentive to the music and the lyrics. We weren't accustomed to the level of involvement from the fans — especially after gigging around the Southeast and dishing out the Skynyrd covers for small crowds here and there. Sometimes, it's like throwing stuff at a brick wall; it's hard to get a reaction from crowds at some of the usual gigs."
Pomar and his bandmates sound like they're barely holding back at all on Live from Montreal. Tight, sophisticatedly syncopated, and locked in, the band chemistry is fiery, and the tunes gain momentum and groove hard. "New Love City" swirls and lilts in comfy 6/8 time — a welcoming warm up to the rest of the set. "Santa Teresa" starts with a James Brown-styled funk beat and gradually takes shape as a jangly modern-pop piece with Pomar's high-tone singing reaching impressive heights. The slower, acoustic-based "A Song in Your Name" treads on David Gilmour/Crowded House territory — sweeping, anthemic, with a few tricky twists within.
"I think our earlier stuff sounds a bit sweeter than this new material," Pomar says. "Now, the songs seem a little tougher, meaner, and a bit more electric. You write what you know. I feel a lot freer to really speak my mind, maybe criticize a bit. I tend to pull fewer punches now than I used to. It's nice not to feel like you have to please a lot of people; you can truly be yourself and get to your better stuff."