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MUSIC SLEEPWALKERS : Clean-Cut : The intense sounds of the Santa Barbara band can be heard at Felix's Cantina and Zelo--and on a tape that's just out.

January 10, 1991|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This week's new band you've never heard of is Santa Barbara's Sleepwalkers. But that may change soon.

The quartet has just released its first tape, "Someday," and they attract a sizable following when they perform.

The Sleepwalkers might be the best band in Santa Barbara, a town that has a lot of good bands.

But they don't look the part.

Looks can be deceiving, though. John Dillinger and Ted Bundy may have looked like Mark Harmon, but nobody liked them.

The Sleepwalkers are so clean-cut that they could be model employees at a New Kids on the Block Laundromat.

"Gosh" is about the worst four-letter word in their vocabulary.

This squeaky-cleanliness might lead you to think that fun is what they are all about.

But that would be the wrong word to describe the Sleepwalkers.

Serious, intense, introspective are words more their speed--it's the stuff that gives English Lit majors reason to practice that thousand-yard stare in the mirror.

Dread Zeppelin and the Cramps, these guys ain't.

Sleepwalkers music might be described as the Talking Heads meets the I-Rails meets the Gear Daddies. Or maybe not.

They're just another guitar band with another clever singer.

In this case, it's front man Doug Rhodes who jumps around like Chris Isaak's kid brother without the wardrobe.

Rhodes is busy--he writes the songs and plays guitar--and the whole band collaborates on the music.

Keyboard player Alex Abatie, who also plays harmonica, sometimes creates some happening harmonies with Rhodes.

Bill Cochran plays bass and Seth Sutherland beats out that rhythm on the drums.

A Santa Barbara paper compared Rhodes' voice to Bryan Ferry, but nope, that's not it.

Anyway, Rhodes couldn't afford that wardrobe, either.

He's what in the show biz world is called a hyphenate--in this case he's a guitarist-car parker.

The other band members have day jobs as well.

Just entirely too swell to be true, the Sleepwalkers even like that famous singing Capricorn, Elvis.

They do a completely surreal cover of the Elvis song "Baby, Let's Play House," which was written before any of these Sleepwalkers were even born.

Next time anyone spots Elvis, he'll probably be on this way to say, "Thank you, man" to the Sleepwalkers for that cover song, which is equivalent to Oingo Boingo's version of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me."

Enough exposition, already, let's let Rhodes tell it:

How did the Sleepwalkers get started?

I got tired of living a mundane life and wanted to do something a bit more daring. I've known Alex for a long time; we went to Royal High School together.

He was in China during the Beijing uprising and just got out in time.

Anyway, Alex and I played around in the garage for a while. Then I put an ad on a bulletin board, and we hired the first drummer and the second bass player that showed up. Thus, we were off; let's see, that was Oct. 14, 1989. Our first gig was a Halloween party in Isla Vista.

How would you describe Sleepwalkers' music?

I can't really do that. I guess our music is, um, different. Every song is different--I think it would be very hard to pigeonhole our music.

It's music with a twist that we hope doesn't get boring.

I don't think we sound like anybody else.

What's the best and worst thing about the music biz?

The best thing is, of course, taking your equipment home at 2 in the morning. The worst thing is, of course, taking your equipment home at 2 in the morning. Really, there is no worst thing.

Why Sleepwalkers?

The name is very important to me.

Sleepwalking is an in-between state, much like our music. You pull songs out of the air or wherever.

We're musicians that make in-between music.

Who are some of your musical influences?

Everyone I've heard, really. I like Elvis a lot. I like a lot of old scratchy '20s songs, I like Big Band music. I like Mozart and Beethoven, anything with soul.

I studied classical guitar for a year. There was always a lot of music around the house. My mother plays cello for the Santa Barbara Symphony.

What's next for the Sleepwalkers?

I would like to make records and live off that. Music is my life--I really couldn't handle doing anything else.

There's a lot of bands in Santa Barbara that want gigs--it's very competitive--but we play as often as we can. We practice almost every night.

And of course, we'd like to get signed. It's just a matter of getting the right person to hear us.

It has happened. It can happen again.

* WHERE AND WHEN

The Sleepwalkers, Monday at Felix's Cantina, 525 State St., 962-1432. The Sleepwalkers will also appear at Zelo in Santa Barbara on Jan. 23, along with Garden Party.

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