Nov. 6 2013 03:29 PM

San Diego duo creates a big sound with minimal elements


It doesn’t take that much to start a band—just rhythm and melody. You don’t need two guitarists, or a horn section, or a Bez to shake maracas and ensure the drug supply is ample. From The White Stripes to Japandroids, dozens of bands have proven that all you need to rock out is a guitar and a drum set. Hell, Suicide did it with just a keyboard and a microphone.

Making two musicians sound like three or four, though, takes a little extra creativity. Some bands opt to use loops or samples to broaden their sound, but that’s not necessary for Gloomsday. Guitarist Justin Cota and drummer Lori Sokolowski—both of whom sing—simply play the living hell out of their instruments, yielding a fun, rhythmic indie-rock sound that packs a surprising wallop.

It took some time to build up to the fuller, richer sound it has now, however. When Gloomsday began in 2007 under the name Knives, Sokolowski was still new to the drums and the duo’s songs were a little rawer.

“We were more punk-sounding when we started, because that was my skill level,” Sokolowski says over a round of drinks at Bar Pink in North Park. “But as I’ve gotten better at drums, I think our sound has grown a little more complicated.”

“It’s gotten deeper, but not heavy for the sake of being heavy—heavy for the sake of being full,” Cota adds. “And we just kept rolling with it, because it was fun.”

In May, Gloomsday released their second album, Paradise Tossed, which features 12 songs with the duo at their gritty, swagger-dripping best. Cota plays a Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom guitar, which is tuned one octave lower than a standard guitar, giving the band’s sound some extrameaty low end. And Sokolowski is versatile behind her kit, giving a song like “Love Soaked Ritual” a rollicking, danceable momentum and “Where the Mountains Kiss the Sky” a bluesy, Sabbath-style heaviness.

Gloomsday’s music incorporates a lot of different influences—punk, garage, pop, riot-grrrl, doom metal—into a streamlined and accessible form that sometimes recalls a slimmed-down Queens of the Stone Age, or The Sonics with the low-end cranked as far as it’ll go. Cota and Sokolowski say they’ve heard people compare them to a long list of stylistically varied groups that includes The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Melvins and The White Stripes, though, Cota says, “I have purposefully written music that would not sound like White Stripes because of that fact.”

In describing their own music, the duo settled on “doom-pop,” but because of the styles they blend, Sokolowski says they’re a “fusion band.”

“When people hear ‘fusion,’ they just cringe,” she says.

Cota and Sokolowski—who’ll play Tin Can Ale House on Friday, Nov. 8—have been playing music together for six years. But the story of the duo goes back to 2004, when they made a 2,100-mile haul from Milwaukee to San Diego. Cota had just ended three years playing in hardcore band Forever is Forgotten and had started dating Sokolowski one year prior.

With nothing in particular keeping them in Wisconsin, the couple pulled up stakes and headed west. And though both were musicians, playing music together wasn’t the first thing they had in mind when arriving in San Diego.

“We had no intention of starting a band when we moved out here,” Cota says. “We just wanted to get good jobs.”

But Gloomsday is just one of a handful of different bands that each musician has played in since relocating. They both perform in the trio Gateway Hugs—with their instruments swapped—and Cota fronts the much heavier Deep Sea Thunderbeast. At this stage, Gloomsday is pretty well established in San Diego’s music scene, though the name they chose is a lingering, if tongue-incheek reminder of the less-attractive conditions in the city where they met.

“We come from the Midwest, and the city we lived in—Milwaukee—it gets pretty gloomy there,” Cota says. “I might be out of line by saying we come from a place with a lot of people with chips on their shoulders. There’s kind of a mope-ish attitude.”

“Southern California’s not like that,” Sokolowski adds. 

“Being [in] San Diego, I thought it’d be kind of ironic to have a band with the word ‘gloom’ in it,” Cota continues.

“But I tell people that it’s not Doomsday—it’s just a shitty day.”

Ironically, it’s pretty hard to feel gloomy when listening to Gloomsday or watching their dynamic, upbeat live shows. And for the band, providing a memorable experience is one of the most important things they can offer.

“I write to engage an audience, entertain the audience,” Cota says. “The music scene is so saturated, not just in San Diego but across the globe. Everyone is in a band.

“I want it to be something fun.”

Email or follow him at @1000TimesJeff