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On the Air

Sorentinos find soundtrack success

By Zack Stenz

THE SHOCK of the familiar can come at the strangest times. Imagine sitting in front of the television set, having an enjoyable sleaze wallow watching the made-for-television movie Co-ed Call Girl, starring the one, the only, Tori Spelling as the eponymous university student of the night. Tori's critical scene comes up--the moment when the innocent undergrad decides to take the plunge and become a (gasp!) prostitute. In the background, a haunting rock song, "Heaven Meets the Sky" plays softly.

Hey, wait a second. Isn't that song on the soundtrack by the Sorentinos, a perennially favorite Sonoma County band and winners of the Best Band award in the Independent's 1996 Best of Sonoma County awards? "Yeah, that's us," says Sorentinos singer/rhythm guitarist Danny Sorentino, looking somewhat bemused.

So what's a nice Santa Rosa band like the Sorentinos doing in an Aaron Spellingesque soap-a-thon like this? "Actually, it's through our music publisher, BUG, who we made a deal with in 1995," Danny says, sitting in the homey little practice space in a basement on Santa Rosa's west side. "They've done a good job of getting us onto soundtracks."

"We were also in the season finale of Melrose Place," interjects bass player Rob Ruiz, looking every inch the experienced rocker in jeans and a CBGB tank top. Ruiz and Danny have played together since 1984 in one version or another of the Sorentinos, a band that has undergone more incarnations than the Dalai Lama.

"We're on the jukebox in that bar where all the characters hang out [Shooters, for all you non-Melrose watchers out there]," adds Sorentino.

"And you even might have been able to hear us if Billy and Allison had shut their damn traps for a minute," says Ruiz, only half-mockingly.

In person, Danny and Ruiz are much like their music--down-home and self-effacing, and not at all above admitting that they enjoy the occasional Cheap Trick video. "They're a great live band," says Ruiz by way of explanation.

Listening to the Sorentinos' music, it isn't hard to understand why soundtrack selecters are drawn to the band's hook-filled, tuneful songs, which in turns evoke the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and even the jangly sounds of mid-'80s R.E.M. Danny's songwriting earns special praise from music industry observers like KRSH's Bill Bowker, who says: "They play well together, but I think that it's Danny's songwriting that will take them to the next level of success."

Bowker says KRSH currently has two Sorentinos songs in rotation at the station, where they have been well received by Sonoma County listeners. Indeed, the Sorentinos' heartfelt but non-abrasive music style would seem to go well with the current wave of "adult alternative" acts like Natalie Merchant, Hootie and the Blowfish, and the Dave Matthews Band that are so heavily played on rock stations nationwide.

"Yeah, 'adult alternative's' popularity helped us to a certain degree," Danny says, "but we've been through this a couple of times. When the adult country acts like Dwight Yoakum and Lyle Lovett emerged in the late 1980s, people thought we'd fit in well with them, but it didn't do us any good. So we can't pay attention to the cycles."

Which isn't to say they have a strong notion of where his music fits into the current popular music landscape. "I'm not interested in the Sorentinos being an underground band," declares Danny. "We write pop music."

So with money in pocket from the soundtrack gigs, a new self-produced album, Welcome to the Past, on local store shelves as of June 18, and a recently completed tour of the United Kingdom under their collective belt, things appear to be looking up for the Sorentinos. But Danny winces at any talk of his band being on the verge of success. "Please don't say that," he says. "Honestly, that perception has been a real pain in the ass. A lot of bands are predicated on a certain amount of success, and I've always had ambitions for this band to be successful. But each time it looks like we're beginning to get somewhere, something bad will happen or we'll have a lineup change."

"We've had more guitarists than Bad Company and more drummers than Spinal Tap," adds Ruiz, who, like Danny, is a founding member of the group.

Conversely, though, the group has also had enough tastes of success doled out over the years to encourage them to stay their present course. "Every time things look really discouraging, something good will come along, like the publishing deal, that helps keep us going," Danny says.

"We're so tired of reading these 'they're almost there' stories about us being on the verge of success. The bottom line for us is that we're here, and we're making music."

The Sorentinos' new CD, Welcome to the Past, is available at local record stores, and the band will play a benefit for Sonoma County Conservation Action July 6, then open for Box Set at the Mystic Theatre July 26. Tickets for the benefit are $30; for the Mystic show, $3.

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From the June 27-July 3, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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