Billy Dale walks around Wednesday, putting up flyers for the upcoming Sundowner Syndrome show at Rockhaven. A few students ask if he's in the band. He tells him he's the drummer.
They start following him around, in awe.
It's a phenomenon he's vaguely used to. See, Billy Dale (along with bassist Hunter Correll, lead singer Joe Resinger, and guitarist Chris Matthews), is a rock star. They are: Sundowner Syndrome.
They've played countless gigs on their home turf in Woodford County, gotten radio time on z103's Starlight Lounge, and even headlined for nationallytouring bands on major labels here in Lexington.
Their problem is that they're one of the few bands in town with a curfew.
They're still in high school; they have tests, homework, and lockers like all other high school students. But they also have groupies, as evidenced by the would-be fans trailing Dale through Lafayette High School.
It's hard not to be optimistic about the future of a teen band who set up off to the side at Icthus (the Christian rock fest) and played Metallica tunes. "We had two acoustic guitars, a snare, an ALE-8 bottle, and I just sang," says Joe Resinger.
The Deadly Dish Towel
Correll, goateed and polite, awkwardly lugs his two basses through the Dales' front door and down the stairs to their regular practice space: the Dales' downstairs den.
Every band has to start somewhere, and this rec room is it for Sundowner. Half the room is filled with amps and a full drum set; the other half has a couch, a TV, and shelves containing hundreds of stuffed animals.
As the other band members trickle in, small talk erupts about the set list for the upcoming performance, and how they did on a school assignment. Then they jam. The house shakes with each song; Dale's parents often take walks on practice days.
As Sundowner thrashes out covers of Rage Against the Machine, Incubus, and their own heavy tracks, a stuffed Garfield listens with a cryptic smirk on his face.
Even with the less than optimal acoustics of the den, the band sounds surprisingly mature and cohesive for their age and their history.
Sundowner Syndrome has existed in some form or another only since June of 1999, when Dale and Correll got together to play Metallica and blues. Noticing they weren't getting anywhere (remarkably self-aware for a rock band) they picked up Chris Matthews on guitar and threw him out two weeks later because "he sucked."
Another member was added but was let go Pete Best-style because he had to move for mysterious reasons. Matthews was picked back up.
Dale had been wooing Resinger for months, as his elder brother Jason is the lead singer for C.O. Jones, and the savvy Dale figured "he [Resinger] could probably sing too." Resinger eventually allowed himself to be persuaded.
After a few hours of practice, the band is eager to talk about themselves.
First on their agenda is the origins of their name.
."My grandma lives with me," says Matthews as the others smile. "She's lived with us for 10 years. She got Alzheimer's before I was born; Sundowner is the type of Alzheimer's she has. She's just really evil. And horrible," he states flatly, in a moment of unjaundiced candor, familial respect be damned.
Lest anyone accuse them of insensitivity, Resinger adds gravely: "Here's something people ought to know about us. We all have handicaps... Hunter's deaf in his right ear. Billy's partially colorblind."
"I'm colorblind too. I have a deviated septum and I have flat feet," lists Matthews.
"And I have a third nipple," adds Dale.
"No you don't," says Resinger.
"We should say I do. Then people will come to see it."
"And I'm fat," adds Resinger.
"I'd say about 98 percent of the band has some kind of ADD," whispers Dale.
Resinger concludes, "We don't see the evil in Chris's Grandma; we just think she's funny. But she has tried to kill Chris with a butter knife... And she tried to strangle him with a dish towel."
"No, she strangled me with her hands; she beat me with a dish towel," Matthews corrects.
As Sundowner thrashes out covers of Rage Against the Machine, Incubus and their own heavy tracks, a stuffed Garfield listens with a cryptic smirk on his face.
But if the band is famous, it's not even so much for their natural talent as it is Billy Dale.
Dale is very emphatic about the band. At their first show at Rockhaven, he did a strip show on stage as the band tuned, then did the entire show wearing nothing but a Speedo.
That same devotion has made him the de facto manager for Sundowner, and a great one at that.
Dale has gotten them gig after gig, playing lock-ins, their high school's Spring Fling, the airtime on z103, and eventually Rockhaven.
Over a posh pre-show dinner at Dairy Queen, they discuss the ramifications of being rock stars.
"Joe bummed eight dollars at lunch one time just cause he was in a band," says Matthews, as he spoons into his blizzard.
"It's definitely brought a lot of popularity. I made a sign that said I was homeless and would do nothing for money, and people gave it to me because they knew me... because I was in a band," says Resinger.
Correll tells of a gaggle of girls who begged him to be in a picture with them, after confirming he was the bassist for Sundowner Syndrome.
"We have freshman groupies," says Resinger, neither thrilled nor disgusted with the prospect.
But sex and rock 'n' roll go together like the oreos and ice cream in Matthews's Blizzard. Almost all girls love rock stars.
"We'll get girls that like us because we're in a band," says Resinger, "but we like to set one person that we like but we can't get. So there are all these girls that we could have chances with but we just want that one girl [who] we can't get. So that's our problem."
And of course, that's the substance of at least 80 percent of all great power ballads.
"The main thing I write about is bad girl experiences," Dale admits.
Then he fesses up. "Really, though, I'm in love with my drums. I'm in love with my music. Something like that. Whatever."
"Also a lot of girls that we don't want to like us, like us," groans Correll. "I get so many nasty girls who come up to me and say, 'You are so hot on stage!' I'm like, get away from me!"
"You know they're dirty when they come up to you and say that," says Dale, agreeing. Thus the lady friends they do have suffice.
Not to say that, Yoko Ono-style, that love has shaken Sundowner Syndrome to its very foundation. Matthews can barely stop laughing to tell it.
"We were playing at a lock-in for middle-schoolers, like a youth club thing. Billy was a sophomore, and there was this one girl should I say her name?"
"No," says Billy.
"There was a girl who shall remain nameless, and she kinda liked Billy. She was in eighth grade, and Billy had a girlfriend."
"She [the girlfriend] broke up with me six times," pipes in Dale. The other band members laugh at Billy.
"Billy was really whipped by her," continues Matthews. "But Billy showed us he wasn't as whipped as he seemed. He cheated on her with the eighth grader."
"Yeah, I made out with her," admits Dale, clearly somewhat impressed with his own slyness. He tells of how he made his friends lie that she kissed him rather than that he kissed her.
Limp Bizkit should have such worries.
As for drugs, the other standard part of the standard rock 'n' roll equation, Sundowner Syndrome might as well be a polka band. After a bit of needling, a couple of them do admit they have an occasional cigarette on stage, which they are quick to point out that about 80 percent of their classmates smoke; otherwise, alcohol and drugs are not their thing.
That they feel the need to justify themselves about cigarettes makes them look even more innocent, as does Dale's insistence that not only does the band stop by Dairy Queen before every show, the band are actually regulars here.
The Dairy Queen staffs denies they've ever seen them before. Requests for free food due to their status are summarily denied, even after Dale gives them an impromptu puppet show. Before he can harass them further, it's time to leave for the gig.
Former Roadie Tells All
"When they started, none of them had their drivers' licenses, so Chris's mom and I drove them to their concerts," says Pam Dale. "They were real quick to load and unload gear, so they could chat with their fans."
(Hey, we don't know that Lars Ulrich didn't start out being driven to gigs by his mom.)
Now three of the four have cars, and do their own driving.
Sundowner rockin' out at Rockhaven.
For Pam Dale, and her husband Bill, it's part of the mixed emotions that their son's accomplishments have brought.
"I was not very supportive in the beginning, because I didn't think it was important. I'm surprised they made it this far," admits Bill.
"The thing that concerns me is getting too well-known too quickly," adds Pam. "I'd like to see him finish college. I don't know that with their style of music they'll get quite as famous as the Backstreet Boys, but I'd hate to see him in the same situation. Though I doubt Brian minds it very much."
Pam knows a bit more about the consequences of fame than the average person. "I knew Brian Littrell [of the Boys] when he was real little and went to school with his mom. I can imagine what Jackie went through to begin with, with his fame, where you can't even go to the mall with someone screaming. I hope it doesn't get to the point where it affects our families to that extent."
While both are proud of him for his talent and his initiative in getting the band as far as it has, they are less thrilled with his chosen genre.
"There's a lot of profanity, particularly groups that play that type of music, that I would classify as satanic, and we don't tolerate that," says Pam. "We've tried to teach him his morals come first. There have been times where he's printed lyrics off and we found them. Usually you can't understand what they're singing, but we've put some restrictions on their lyrics.
"They still sneak them in, though," Bill acknowledges with a smile.
"We're going to keep trying to redirect their music to bluegrass and polka," he adds. "It would be more my preference if they played music that was a bit more mainstream popular."
Though the parents do like at least some of their material - not exactly an endorsement, from the band's perspective.
Of "the Happy Song," Resinger says, "It's probably the softest song I've ever heard in my life... We refuse to play it on stage."
"All the chicks like it," Correll protests (he wrote it).
"No, our Moms like it," reiterates Billy. "When your Mom likes your music, you know you shouldn't play it." A universal truth.
As for the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, Bill says, "We try not to even worry about that."
"We let their girlfriends take care of that," Pam laughs. "We don't really worry. We have two older children, and they've checked it out and assured me it's okay. The only times they have had an opportunity to play in clubs that serve alcohol I have stepped in and talked to the owner before I said he could play there because they all are underage.
"They are a good bunch of kids, they're real responsible and we know their families."
Replies Sundowner Syndrome, later, in unison: "Our parents are very naïve."
To Sell Your Soul For Rock 'n' Roll
Sundowner shows up at Rockhaven, unloads, and sits out, talking to many of their high school friends who have come up to see them.
The band playing before them, 7th House, is unloading at the same time. The difference between the two groups is obvious - about a foot of height and three tattoos apiece. 7th House is professional with a recording contract, while Sundowner Syndrome are just some kids from Versailles but the kids are headlining.
Maybe that's a bitter blow for 7th House, but it hardly excuses them for what follows.
During their show, they start dragging the girls - aged fourteen to eighteen, generally - and begin dancing lewdly. And the girls, suckered by the allure of the rock star, blindly comply.
It comes to an ugly head when the singer yells, "First girl to show her titties gets a free CD." Sadly, one girl complies.
After this unfortunate/sordid moment, the girl is ushered off-stage and kicked out.
The band plays uncomfortably on, quitting soon after.
The Sundowner kids appear refreshingly shocked and appalled by the incident.
They talk as they set up and tune. "I've never seen anything like that before," mutters Correll, fiddling with his monitor.
"It upsets me that they'd do that at an all ages club," says Dale. He attributes it to a combination of just trying to get attention and self-centeredness. "Their egos are too big because they're 'rock' stars," he says, shaking his head.
Could this be Sundowner Syndrome in 10 years?
"I don't think you'll ever see that from us," assures Dale. "You might see us flashing the crowd, but not the other way around. That stuff's just wrong." The Rockhaven crowd seems to agree, as they disparage 7th House for their behavior.
But Sundowner Syndrome begins to play and the incident becomes forgotten.
The Dales' den hasn't done them justice.
From funk to metal to hard-edged rock, Sundowner easily demonstrates why they've gotten as far as they have, and have the recognition they deserve.
Sundowner hasn't had much chance to sell out yet, but their youth has worked for them more than against them. "We get more praise for being young," says Dale. "Sticky [from z103] called us 'super-young but really good, and they're only going to get better with age.'"
That's the reason they regularly headline over bands with more age and experience. That, and they draw more people to their shows than many of those older bands as well; tonight, Rockhaven was unusually full as people waited to hear Sundowner Syndrome.
Of course, the place had mostly cleared out by the end of the show. Most of the fans had to be home by midnight.
I Can Make It All Worthwhile As a Rock and Roll Star
"We're gonna do an album sometime," says Dale confidently.
"When we actually have money," says Correll.
"We're trying to tour next summer," says Dale.
The rock n' roll fast track is just beginning for Sundowner Syndrome. Headlining locally was the first step; as they work on an album and tour, they excitedly tell that they're recording their song "Escape" for a local independent movie's soundtrack. As the Dales mentioned, it's all happened very fast.
"I never thought anything like this could happen," says Correll, obviously pleased. "I'm ecstatic. My idols are Metallica and people playing arena any time they want, and I can see us doing that if Billy keeps it up the way he has been."
"My goal is to get it up there quick," says Dale.
Maybe Sundowner Syndrome is a little naïve themselves, despite their recent successes. After all, they may face their biggest problem yet: college.
Resinger and Correll graduate next year, and Dale and Matthews will only be seniors in high school.
They don't anticipate it being a problem, but one wonders if they really appreciate the enormous chasm between high school and college.
Their confidence seems pretty unshakable as they dream of filling arenas, while they still can't get into bars; right now, the band is eagerly anticipating word from A1A, to see if they can play there. Dale constantly reminds places that the band can stand offstage so as not to be in the bar. But the price of fame worries them still.
"That'd be fine, as long as we'd get to play there," Matthews adds wistfully.
The Big Time?
Sundowner is taking another step forward. Steve Zimmer, local promoter and owner of Rockhaven, has expressed interest in managing them. "Sundowner is one of those energetic bands that you know will go far," reports Zimmer after a recent gig. "They're better than a lot of the 20-something bands that play in the region. The most amazing thing about them is the amount of tightness and cohesion they have at the stage in their career."
Zimmer has sent out contracts; the parents of Syndrome are going to have a lawyer look over the paperwork.
"But it looks to be a done deal," says Dale, an unmistakable gleam in his eye.
The idea is that Zimmer could provide the experience, the connections and frankly, authority, that Sundowner currently lacks. The lads all seem excited at the news, but there are rumblings, as they wonder if they're giving anything up.
But it's a move that may make Sundowner Syndrome full-fledged rock n' roll stars even sooner than their previous optimistic conjectures. The next rungs in the rock 'n' roll ladder will be much easier to reach. Perhaps you can expect to see Sundowner Syndrome hitting the road just like 7th House, supporting a CD, trying to make national airwaves, playing club after club, trying to decide whether to stay (or enroll) in college or keep trying to make it.
Here's hoping they remember it's the band - and not those innocent, impressionable pre-teen fans - who are supposed to do the flashing.
Sundowner Syndrome has already gotten farther than most other kids - high school or college - sitting in their garages waiting to make it big.
"We [just] don't want to have a VH1 special done on us," Matthews observes sagely. "A 'Where are they now?' thing."
Despite the problems that mega-stardom could bring, the crazy kids from Sundowner Syndrome remain steadfast in their desire to risk it.
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