The perfect storm
Noise and passion brew up a Tempest
Rock music has energy and power that can’t be matched. For a young mandolin player who grew up in the Norwegian folk tradition, rock ‘n’ roll can be a storm of noise and passion.
That is exactly how it feels for Lief Sorbye, front man of the band Tempest.
“When we plugged in, to me, that is what it sounded like. It sounded like a tempest,” Sorbye says about the band’s name. “I was used to people crocheting and knitting on the front row in coffee houses, as far as audiences were concerned. All of a sudden we had power and volume, and people got up dancing and jumping around.“
Not to be confused with the Shakespearean play, Tempest has been playing a blend of folk and rock music since 1988. Over those 22 years, the band has released 12 albums, played 2,000 gigs and cycled through 14 line-ups.
This summer, the band returns to Reno for the Rollin’ on the River concert series.
Since its inception, Tempest has worked to carve out its own niche: highly energetic Celtic music but with electric guitars. The band is a way for Sorbye to participate and update his Norwegian musical tradition.
Sorbye says the two genres blend well together. Infusing the traditional Celtic style with rock music highlights folk’s natural energy.
“That’s what’s great with rock ’n’ roll,” Sorbye says. “You can take any style of music, add to it and make it your own.”
But Sorbye isn’t the only one dabbling in Celtic rock. The band is rounded out by Adolfo Lazo on drums, Michael Mullen on fiddle, James Crocker on guitar and Damien Gonzalez on bass.
Yet the band has changed a lot since it started, even though it has kept three out of its five original members (Sorbye, Lazo and Mullen). Over the two decades Tempest has existed, 21 members have played with the band.
Though Tempest has seen many members come and go, Sorbye says the turnover has been one of the keys to the band’s survival.
“With new blood there’s always going to be new inspiration,” Sorbye says. “This current line-up, who haven’t been changed for at least four years now, is starting to gel really, really well. It’s probably the strongest of all the line-ups we’ve had.”
Many bands say they offer a variety of musical styles and cultures, but Tempest’s current line-up lends a little more credence to that assurance. Sorbye grew up in Oslo, Norway; Lazo was born in Cuba; Crocker is a former UK folk rocker; and Mullen and Gonzalez both grew up in California.
And for all the places band members aren’t from, Tempest has probably toured there, Reno being one of them. Sorbye remembers a Rollin’ on the River concert the band played a few years ago.
“I remember it was a hot summer’s evening, and people just started appearing, and the whole park got packed, and we had a couple of thousand people up dancing in the twilight.
“It was wonderful, because we had that sort of casino skyline behind us, this beautiful fresh river and the energy from the audience in front of us. We created our own little earthly paradise for the evening.”
This time Tempest will be playing songs from its new album Another Dawn, released earlier this year. The band’s first single from the album Let’s Live For Today is a Celtic cover of a late ’60s grassroots hit. But fans can also expect to hear plenty of old songs from the band’s back catalogue.
Regardless of devotion to the band, Sorbye hopes the Reno audience will find something to like in Tempest’s performance, whether it be a leather-clad teenager or adults full of Celtic pride.
“Whether you’re into folk music or rock ’n’ roll, it doesn’t matter, you’ll find something you like about us,” says Sorbye. “We have enough energy to satisfy the young punkers, but they can also bring their grandmas because they love dancing to us, as well.”