Everyone’s got a story. If they didn’t there wouldn’t be VH-1’s Behind The Music, E! True Hollywood Stories, or A&E’s Biography. History tells us that no matter who we are, the roads behind us are filled with the riches and the debris that makes up the episodes of our lives. And not only do we all have a story, each of our separate stories sprawl behind us like the aftermath of what probably seemed like good ideas at the time. Napoleon had Waterloo, Vincent Van Gogh had that incident with his ear, and Sense Field have the album that almost was, then wasn’t, almost was, then wasn’t again. Allow us to explain.
Before signing to Nettwerk earlier this year, Sense Field was signed to another major label, which was poised to put out the follow-up to the band’s winning 1996 effort Building. To make a long story short, over the next five years the album was slated to be released eight times, but each time the date grew closer it was subsequently delayed for one reason or another. Although the band capitalized on the many delays by going back in the studio and rerecording or adding new tracks, the album never saw the light of day. In the wake of the album that never was, the band realized that while it waited patiently through the vagaries of major label stalls, in spite of a pair of national tours and the occasional gig here and there, it had effectively been out of the public eye for five years. Of course the trials of the band’s ongoing difficulties made its members question whether or not they wanted to continue, and perhaps a lesser band would have given in quietly, but Sense Field refused to concede. As a matter of fact, the band went back to the studio, inked a new deal, and made what very well may be the best record it has ever recorded..
Sense Field’s will to survive may have something to do with the rich history between the band members. Jon and Chris met during school and it didn’t take long for the native sons of the south bay suburbs of Los Angeles to recognize each other as kindred punk rock comrades. “We were very heavily influenced by the Dischord stuff and West Coast punk rock,” Bunch remembers. Evenson was a few years older, but the two had an instant respect for each other: “Jon was the only guy around,” Evenson says, “who actually tried to sing — that liked melodic punk as opposed to screaming. Plus, we liked a lot of the same melodic hardcore bands.” “Chris had the major record collection,” Jon says of Evenson, “he had the collection we all envied. He had every punk rock album and he knew about every band.” .
With Sellars, Evenson and Bunch formed the punk band Reason To Believe. In its brief career, Reason To Believe developed a loyal fanbase, released one record (“When Reason Sleeps, Demons Dance”) and managed to squeeze out a national tour. Although the tour was successful, when the band returned home, Bunch, Evenson and Sellars found that their musical tastes were expanding. Although they were raised on a steady diet of D.C. hardcore, the musicians suddenly were attracted to bands like The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine..
“There was other interesting music coming out that wasn’t pop, which was all you heard on the radio,” Evenson recalls. The bandmates decided to start a second band to accommodate their growing musical interests, recruited Evenson’s elementary school pal John Stockberger and ex-drummer Scott McPherson and Sense Field was born. “We decided not to break up Reason To Believe, so we started a new band on the side which ended up being Sense Field,” Evenson says. “We did it so we could do the songs that we couldn’t see Reason To Believe doing.”.
By the time the band’s winning debut Killed For Less was released on Revelation, Reason To Believe was defunct and Sense Field had become a full-time band. The band went on to release Sense Field — a compilation of its first two EPs, and Building in 1996, which established it as one of the most sincere and infectiou s bands around. After Building the band took a year to write and record the follow-up, and when it did, the advance praise was already generating a positive buzz within the industry. The trouble was, the album would never be released..
After a succession of speed bumps, corporate red tape and drummer Scott McPherson departing the band to play with Elliott Smith, Sense Field finally parted ways with the label that held its career in a frustrating abeyance for years. Ironically, drummer Rob Pfeiffer had joined the group just months prior to the shutdown. Though the band was freed from its contract, and free of the constraints and pressures of a label, it was faced with the daunting task not only of rerecording a new album, but not knowing whom it was recording it for. Interestingly enough, by that time several versions of the unreleased album had circulated through subterranean music channels and many of the band’s fans had already heard most of the material. In fact, the members of Sense Field were alerted to the fact that the different versions of their album were fetching high bids on E-bay. Nevertheless, Sellars, Stockberger, Pfeiffer, Evenson and Bunch decided to hole up in their El Segundo studio and record what was to become Tonight and Forever. While Bunch admits the thought of rerecording and starting from scratch was tough at first, once the recording began, Sense Field became suddenly aware of a lightness and an energy that it hadn’t felt in years. “The idea of rerecording the album was like being at the base of Mt. Everest,” Bunch says, “and we were wondering how we were going to get the energy and the optimism and the feeling back to start over. The only way we could emotionally, physically and mentally handle the idea was to be continuously open and free to do whatever we wanted and follow whatever creative ideas came to light.” Sellars reiterates, “Once we looked at it like we had this newfound freedom, the whole attitude changed and it felt so great to start over again. We felt like we could do what we wanted–we had new ideas and we ran with them. All of a sudden we were having fun, which was something we hadn’t felt in a long time. We started feeling that flush of optimism and joy.” .
Although the band was pleased with the previous incarnations of what would later be Tonight and Forever, the finished product you are now holding reveals that anything prior were merely sketches. Tonight and Forever is a lush and textured album filled with layered acoustic guitars, introspective lyrics and moving vocals that can be both plaintive and lustrous. The stirring “Save Yourself,” is a fitting invocation that invites the listener to “Turn out the light, just say good night to yourself,” then later offers “…may I remind you when you find you’re all alone is when you’ve got to be strong.” Elsewhere the crunchy pop bliss of “Fun Never Ends,” is an infectious gem; “Am I A Fool?” boasts the haunting refrain “If you see her, tell her I love her still,” and “Love Song” is a triumphant blast of an all out rock attack. The eleven tracks on Tonight and Forever find Sense Field at the top of its game. Emotional, moving, and genuinely affecting, it’s an album that examines the uneven terrain of new and old romance, the transformation of friendships, and the things people say to each other when they mean to say something else.
One of the strengths of Tonight and Forever is that the lyrical content and subjects of the songs are so varied. For example “Beatles Song” uses an art school student’s continually collapsing project to illuminate the difficulties of being in a relationship; “Love Song” is, according to Sellars, “about hoping for the best in a relationship gone south,” and “Fun Never Ends” confronts the trials of being a teenager and learning the hard lessons of life..
“Fun Never Ends” is one of the darker songs on Tonight and Forever because it honestly faces the hard facts about growing up. “When you’re a teenager,” Bunch explains, “you and your friends are on a constant quest for entertainment. ‘Fun Never Ends’ is about how each generation has to relearn the same lessons. You can’t just tell someone not to drink and drive or do drugs–sometimes they have to find out for themselves. It’s about the vicious cycle of how you can’t convince people not to do things; they have to discover them on their own.”.
Sense Field may not be afraid to tackle the more serious subjects in its songs, but that isn’t to say that the band doesn’t have a lighter side. “When we would meet people,” Bunch says, “and they’d hang out with us, they’d be taken aback that we really are very lighthearted. The lyrics are heavy, but on Tonight and Forever “Emergency Exit” is my attempt to write a lighthearted song, a song about driving around in the summer with the windows down and your arms out.” The song itself comes across as a post-punk collage and Bunch explains why: “Every line is taken from something from each band member’s life,” he explains. “It’s a fun song that steps back from all the heavy stuff that’s going on in the lyrics of the rest of the album.”.
Recorded over five months in the band’s studio (Dense Flies–an anagram for Sense Field), with, according to Evenson “no fanfare, “Tonight and Forever’s sound owes a great deal to Evenson’s budding production skills. Although some of the tracks were mixed by Ken Andrews (Failure/ON), Evenson took on the role of producer, and as a result, the album possesses a rich intimacy and a brewing darkness. Crediting a growing interest in production over the years as the main factor for why he decided to captain the ship for his band’s new album Evenson explains, “From early on I liked doing four-track stuff and I’ve always been the guy to deal with demos. I’m the only one in the band who took the time to learn how to navigate a mixing console and run a tape machine, which is actually pretty easy, but everyone else has been relying on me to do it. For Tonight and Forever, it was a necessity–it was the only way it was going to get done.”.
“We call him ‘The Captain,'” Bunch says of Evenson. “He spearheads a lot of the decision-making, and a lot of the recording. He’s the one we look to for guidance–he’s the common sense of Sense Field.” Bunch and Evenson may be longtime bandmates and friends with similar record collections, but when it comes to Sense Field they couldn’t be more different. “Jon is the ultimate optimist,” Evenson says of the effusive Bunch, “he has such a different take on life than I do–it’s like we’re polar opposite. Not that I’m like Mr. Negativity or anything, but I’m a little bit more cynical than he is.” .
The members of Sense Field have every reason to be cynical if they want, but Bunch stresses the fact that despite what the band has been through, it harbors no resentment. “We aren’t bitter,” Bunch says. “There’s a little bit of resentment, but it’s a healthy resentment, and now there’s a little bit of cynicism that Sense Field hasn’t had before. But we’ve never been a negative band and the optimism and the hope is still there in the music. There’s no glory in what we’ve been through, but it’s good to be the underdog. It’s a crazy business and part of it is us learning the ways of the music business. And you learn at a high price sometimes.” .
It’s been a long wait for Sense Field to present a new album to the record-buying public, but its members feel it’s been worth the wait. Even though the band had to endure the kinds of professional hardships that tested their loyalties to their music and themselves, the finished product captures the band’s identity better than anything it’s ever done. “It feels so much truer to who we are,” Bunch says. “It’s so true to what we wanted to record and what we wanted to accomplish all along. It’s really turned out for the better because we got to make this record that we really wanted to make