Dress you up
Mount Whateverest glams up its look, strips down its sound and learns that being accessible isn't a bad thing
If Mount Everest is the world’s tallest mountain, then it seems safe to infer that, as its name implies, Mount Whateverest breaks the record as the world’s most chill, who-cares kind of band.
Yes. And no.
The Grass Valley-based band, says singer and guitarist Chris Streng, once existed as an “indie band with heavy-metal aspirations.”
Now, he says, it’s evolved into a “classic-rock band with no aspirations.”
But that doesn’t mean they’re slackers, exactly, just that they’ve changed their approach by shedding pretensions and re-evaluating goals.
It started last fall when the band’s existing members were asked to play a Halloween show. Streng and bassist Steven Melendez thought it would be a good idea to play some covers—T. Rex, David Bowie, Kiss and that sort of thing. But, in order to do it right, they reasoned, they’d need the look: flashy clothes, hot backup singers, etc.
“We wanted something to visually signify that this was different,” Streng says.
They embraced the concept full force. Streng, for example, morphed into Kiss’ Ace Frehley, while his wife Sasha Soukup got into the spirit as the David Bowie alter ego Ziggy Stardust.
After everyone else put away their costumes and jack-o’-lanterns, however, the members of Mount Whateverest kept up appearances.
“We adopted these personalities, and it just carried over,” Streng says. “We really got into dressing up. No one wants to see a band in the clothes they wore to work. It’s good to get a break from reality.”
The band’s sound shifted, too. Cynthia Harrell joined Soukup on backup vocals, and drummer Jonah Wells, a longtime friend who’d drifted in and out of their musical circle for a few years, rejoined for good.
The result, Streng says, was more straightforward.
“We all kind of accepted that being accessible wasn’t a bad thing,” he says.
Accessible, perhaps, but even though a Mount Whateverest set is fun with all its shaking and shimmying and crowd-pleasing glam sound, this is hardly just another two-bit party band. Rather, it’s a sophisticated group whose members draw on years of experience playing in bands such as Psychic Zoo, Jeepster, the Stratford 4, and Sasha and the Shamrocks.
And on the topic of Soukup and Harrell as hot backup singers? Disabuse yourself of any notions that these two women exist merely as ornamental ladies in waiting. In addition to singing background vocals and generally getting the party started, both take the lead on various songs and play instruments.
“There’s this idea—it just being the dudes who rock out with the chicks singing [backup], but we don’t want people to get too settled in that idea,” Soukup says.
The band released a self-titled album in 2012 and recently rented a house “deep in the woods” of Grass Valley to record its follow-up.
The resulting record, Electric City, is set for a release later this year, sometime before Mount Whateverest launches a European tour in September.
Here or abroad, Soukup adds, it’s about making people happy—hell, it’s about making themselves happy.
“We are having the best time,” she says. “I love ’serious’ music, but there’s something about where we are at in our lives. We had a couple of really serious years, and then, we thought, ’If we’re going to do this, why can’t we just be the band who plays to a bunch of happy people on the weekend?’ It’s just more fun.”