Here Comes the SUNGHOSTS

Over the last 10 years, Miami has become an epicenter for swampy, surf-inspired garage rock. SunGhosts may not be the first band birthed from that scene, and they certainly won’t be the last, but right now they’re the cat’s meow: This four-piece claimed Best Band in Miami New-Times’ Best of 2015 Reader’s Choice Poll. 

But what truly sets Nik Olas, Jared Steingold, Arminio “Crocodile Deathspin” Rivero and Luis “Louie” Estopiñan apart is their collective rejection of garage rock’s current tilt toward lethargic give-zero-fucks-ness. In a joint interview with all four band members conducted over their car radio while driving to Nashville, they bled optimism and energy. When asked about the extent of their touring over the last few years, Olas, Steingold, Rivero and Estopiñan rattled off each city and venue on several 20- and 30-day jaunts up the East Coast and all over the Midwest. “We haven’t been able to raise enough to go to the West Coast just yet,” says Rivero. “But we’re working on it!”

And instead of shrugging off an embrace of their Miami roots, SunGhosts exude pride for their hometown scene. “It’s cool for a band to be from Nashville, LA, or New York,” Estopiñan says. “But in my mind it’s even better to be from somewhere that is not known about. Maybe that can make someone sit up and pay attention — say ‘Wow, there’s not really a lot coming from there. But this is rad!’ That brings more attention to us and to Miami as a whole. It gives a lot of meaning to the band and to the city itself — we’re not just doing our own thing.”

“Rock ’n’ roll has always been a music of rebellion and love,” says Olas. “Sometimes it might cross the line to be more about money, but for us rock ’n’ roll in Miami really shakes things up. This is is a consumerist city — people listen to whatever happy-go-lucky stuff is on the radio. That’s fine, but we really like to make people think about realistic or even negative issues” — think sea-level rise on “’Til the City Goes Under” or death on “Meet Me at the Rainbow Bridge.” Olas emphasizes the fact that this is what grounds SunGhosts in their hometown scene: “There are so many other talented young bands in Miami that don’t have the right avenues to be heard.”

Unlike so many rock bands whose members pay the bills slinging coffee, food and drink, these four men have all figured out how to make a living from music. Several work at the local School of Rock academy, instilling a love of music in kids, while Rivero started his own No Wavve booking agency to give the band more control over their own destiny. “He [Rivero] might as well make money with something on the side that contributes to SunGhosts’ development,” Olas says matter-of-factly.

Other topics on which SunGhosts speak at passionate length? The improvisatory nature of live shows, and how that flows out their recording sessions and into concepting for music videos. Their admiration of hometown heroes Jacuzzi Boys, which Steingold cites as the first surf-inspired garage rock band to really make it out of Miami. Their love of everything from black metal to hip-hop to funk. The critical need for any Florida music fan to see a live show at Churchill’s, which Estopiñan says is the epicenter of Miami garage rock: “It’ll be wall-to-wall, side-to-side, front-to-back with people, for a band you’ve probably never heard of!” he raves. “And if you came to Miami, you probably wouldn’t hear much about them. That’s how strong and special our underground scene is.”

SunGhosts released its self-titled debut album, recorded with Grammy-winning producer Joel Someillán, on Orchard House Music in August 2016. It’s full of deep grooves, psychedelic riffs and enough sun-splashed soul to stretch from Miami to Seattle, and Olas says each song represents a snapshot of where the band was over two years of spread-out brainstorming and writing. “After that process, we finally found the conductive electrical current of four musicians coming together. We had fun discovering different styles, sounds and tastes, and now we’re writing a lot of new stuff that’s very developed and very far from the self-titled album.”

And though the band doesn’t have a timeframe in mind for recording and releasing new material, Olas says fans can expect to hear some of it on Dec. 21 during Jack Rabbits’ Fourth Day of Xmas. “We’re excited to get back to Jacksonville for our third show ever and second show at Jack Rabbits to share that with people.”