Better than church

Lose your shirt to Sunday School’s ’80s dance-pop

Do they look like a band who takes themselves too seriously?

Do they look like a band who takes themselves too seriously?

Photo by Ashley Hayes-Stone

Check out Sunday School’s self-titled EP on Bandcamp:

Dozens of guitar pedals litter the practice room floor. The electronics of a 1986 synthesizer shake the walls, which are plastered with posters, including one of Radiohead and a massive one of Cop Out, starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. Willis peers down at the members of Sunday School as they push their pop-punk toward dance-pop.

This is Sacramento Rehearsal Studios on 88th Street, the band’s temporary home. It’s filled with an abundance of instruments, including a 1986 Ensoniq ESQ-1 synthesizer and a 1987 Simmons SDS electronic drum kit.

The vintage equipment isn’t just for looks.

“We are trying to go for a more ’80s dance kind of thing,” guitarist Alex Giddings explains. “We all like new wave and … we have gear for that.”

Sunday School began in 2014, with lead singer Will Heimbichner and drummer Cameron English. The duo would rock out in English’s father’s church in Eureka.

When a full band formed a year later, a list of band names included the Super Friends and the Weird Uncles. They settled on a church-oriented one because Heimbichner says he wanted to make a Sunday School that people would enjoy. That congregation included Heimbichner (vocals), Giddings (guitar), English (drums) and Zachary Green (bass).

They booked gigs but worried they weren’t being taken seriously—or getting the best shows. To score bigger shows and gain credibility, they needed a manager. So, Heimbichner created Oz Sullivan, a fake manager who had his own Facebook profile. They say they only used him a handful of times to book shows, or threaten venues if they didn’t pay them. Sullivan has since gone into early retirement.

In February 2017, the band played to its first packed house when it opened for Hobo Johnson at Ruhstaller, a downtown basement taproom and music venue. That April, Sunday School held its debut EP release party at the then-Starlight Lounge on 21st Street (now Holy Diver).

“I lost my shirt that night and we were pretty [hammered], so fairly solid night,” Giddings said.

The shows caused buzz, landing the pop-rock band a nomination for the 2017 SAMMIES in the Best Rock Act and Best New Act categories. They rolled into the awards show like rock stars, sporting fur coats and sunglasses.

“Will and I concluded that if we won, we would only do a speech to the lyrics of ’All Star’ by Smash Mouth and not even say anything else,” Giddings recalls. “That was the only reason I wanted to win.”

The band didn’t win. But Sunday School carried on, until Green left the band in 2018 to teach English in South Korea. They needed a replacement: Giddings had booked another gig with Hobo Johnson, this time at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.

One drunk night, a nervous and intoxicated Giddings messaged a former bandmate, Michael Gompers, to play bass.

“It was one of my better drunk decisions,’” Giddings says. Gompers said yes.

“It’s really great to play music anyway, but to be able to play with people that you have a commonality, taste and influence … that’s what it’s about for me,” Gompers said.

Outside the studio, the band puts on killer live shows; high energy, with a commitment to entertain.

“I feel like there’s a sense of us being genuine when we play,” Giddings says. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we should probably should take ourselves more seriously.”