Surprise and shine

The Pretty Unknown

Guitarist Cecil McCumber, with a broken string between his teeth, bassist Mac Esposito, drummer Adam Dunson and saxophonist Karl Busch are The Pretty Unknown.

Guitarist Cecil McCumber, with a broken string between his teeth, bassist Mac Esposito, drummer Adam Dunson and saxophonist Karl Busch are The Pretty Unknown.


The Pretty Unknown plays Oct. 26 at Swill Coffee & Wine, 3366 Lakeside Court, 823-9876, as part of Reno Tahoe Tonight’s “The Acoustic All Stars” series. For more information, visit theprettyunknown or

Bassist Mac Esposito describes The Pretty Unknown’s sound as “smooth, pop, jazz fusion rock.” And the band can credit that eclectic sound to their diverse backgrounds and tastes in music.

Cecil McCumber, lead singer and guitarist, grew up in Reno and was inspired by bands like the Beatles. Esposito, originally from Northern California, credits his jazz background for his style. Saxophonist Karl Busch got started in a family band in Wisconsin, playing big band swing.

But perhaps the most surprising influence comes from drummer Adam Dunson, who says he grew up listening to heavy metal but realized he wanted to be a drummer after watching Mary Poppins.

“What really just lit the fire for me for music a long time ago was when I first saw Mary Poppins,” says Dunson. “I saw that guy with the drum machine he was walking around with. … That’s really what started it for me.”

The band formed slowly, member by member.

It started with McCumber and Esposito, who were introduced through a mutual friend and played a couple of gigs together, including their first gig at Sierra Tap House and, more recently, a wedding.

Dunson compared the way he joined the band to an arranged marriage. He said Esposito just introduced him to McCumber, and they didn’t hate each other, so he joined the band.

“Arranged marriages work sometimes,” laughs McCumber.

Busch joined alongside Dunson, and they played their first gig as a band at Strega Bar.

The members have been told the band sounds like the Dave Matthews Band, but it’s pretty unique.

“We sound like ourselves,” says Esposito. “It’s all melodic, lyrical music that is easy to play, but the hard part about it is to just really make it sound good and groovin’ in the pocket.”

Though newly-formed, The Pretty Unknown has already played gigs at Reno Art Works, Naan & Kabab Benefit Show, Harrah’s The Stage venue, and most recently, Street Vibrations.

So far, McCumber has written all of the band’s songs, but that’s not to say the rest of the band hasn’t contributed as well. While the lyrics and music are written by McCumber, the other members write their parts and orchestrate, change and arrange the songs during their rehearsals, which take place in Esposito’s basement where the neighborhood kids sometimes peek in on them and occasionally write obscenities on the windows.

“Mostly it’s failed romance or being in the midst of romance,” says McCumber of his lyrics. The divorced singer credits his ex-wife for songwriting inspiration.

“I’m not a cynic about love in any way,” says McCumber. “The songs are either about how … [it] makes you feel when you are really into somebody or how they inspire you or how they make you see the world differently.”

But not all of the songs are love songs.

“‘Feel like Dancing’ is just a fun song,” says McCumber of the “overtly sexual” tune with lyrics like “If I tell you I love you baby will you take off your clothes?”

But McCumber says his favorite song he’s written, “Surprise,” is for a girl he dated who went off to Italy. “I would say that’s one of the best ones,” he says. It’s about being surprised about the type of person you find yourself attracted to and the things they do to surprise you.

The band members say they enjoy the Reno music scene.

“People are friendly,” says Dunson, who contrasted them to the “mean” people he met in Las Vegas where he grew up.

“It doesn’t take much to start talking to people and getting gigs,” says Esposito.