Denver garage rockers Sauna dreamed that meeting one of its musical heroes would lead to a record deal. And it kind of did, if not in the way the four members had expected.
“We were 16, just a few months after the band formed,” said guitarist CJ Macleod. “We saw Hunx and His Punx were coming to Denver. Naively, we thought if we gave him a tape, he’d love it and it would open so many doors for us.”
“He was kind of like, ‘Oh. Thanks,’” Macleod said, laughing. “It’s so heartbreaking when someone you were so excited to see and meet just kind of tosses the thing you made for them into a box with an air of disgust.”
But someone even more important traveling with the band discovered the DIY effort sandwiched between layers of T-shirts, popping it into the tape deck on the way to the next gig, and fell in love. Lee Rickard — co-owner of record label and store Burger Records — was acting bus driver on that tour, and he soon emailed Sauna, requesting more of the tapes to sell in his shop.
The label — which has put out material from Mikal Cronin, Ty Segall, Nobunny, Thee Oh Sees and more on cassette tape — has sold more than 100,000 copies of the once-deemed-extinct format since being founded in 2007. Burger Records will put out Sauna’s first full-length album, Cheap Date, in the coming months.
Not bad for a band that formed back in 2010.
“I was enamored with cool DIY shows, because that’s what you do when you’re 15,” Macleod said. “A friend asked if I had a band that could play a show that hers was. Absentmindedly, I said yes, even though it wasn’t exactly true. We put a band together in a week, workshopping songs about five hours a day. It was kind of rushed, but it was fun.”
The crossroads that is the summer after high school graduation nearly tore the band apart last year, as its members went off to different colleges. But then a reunion over winter break fostered new tunes that became Cheap Date, and Sauna is touring in support.
“We decided it was fun, and that we just had to keep doing it,” Macleod said. “It felt weird to stop, so we opted not to.”
Playing tonight at The Conservatory and touring the West Coast this August with Oklahoma City punkers — and fellow young guns — Skating Polly, Sauna is armed with songs that reach far beyond the humble surf-rock ditties found on that fabled, handmade cassette tape.
“The band has that stigma of being a surf-pop band, and that was my intention when we started out. I wanted that reverb-soaked, fun sound,” Macleod said. “As we grew up and started listening to more music, it’s evolved. It’s so much better than our old music. It shows our changes and different paths we’ve taken.”
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