Cleveland, Ohio — For Willow Hawks, Jimmy Wilkens and Eric Heald — collectively known on the local music scene as The Sonder Bombs — it all started with a simple video, recorded on a cell phone and posted online.
Hawks — who does vocals, guitar and ukulele— recorded a demo of what would eventually become their single, “End of My Daze” off their self-titled EP. Wilkens knew that there was something spectacular and special about it, and immediately contacted Hawks to work on the song and jam with her. Adding Heald as their drummer and performing now on the road, they haven’t looked back.
“End of My Daze”
Right off the bat, the band has become a unique voice in the local scene, finding it difficult to pinpoint their genre, but settling on a combination of garage rock and the affectionately-named ‘uke-punk.’
The Reserve caught up the band via email to talk about their inspirations, the origin of their name and their latest songs.
“I listen to punk and emo [music], but I play ukulele, so we made up a genre that we could play those styles with my instrument,” Hawks said. “It’s so weird but I love it!”
“We have the hardest time describing our style whenever anyone asks, but we focus a lot on dynamics, melody, and mood,” Wilkens added.
Since incorporating Heald into their mix, they have also experimented with heavier backbeats and continue to create with a variety of different styles in mind.
“I don’t approach songwriting with a particular genre in mind as long as it sounds good to us,” Heald elaborated. “We just — plain and simply — write music that we enjoy.”
The band overall champions a positive, catchy vibe, integrating ukulele to give their sound a light, innocent feel juxtaposed with meaningful topics of retrospection, no doubt inspired by their band’s name.
As described on their Bandcamp page, the definition of sonder is to realize that every person and passerby is living just as complex and vivid life as your own, and — as the ‘bomb’ part of the name suggests — their lyrics are an explosive realization, if you will, of the world’s complexities and people’s everyday problems, often things not regularly addressed in music, with a punchy musical arrangement and energy to match.
It’s those kinds of unexplored problems that inspires the band to create. Even more importantly, the band aspires for people to be better versions of themselves.
“There’s a lot of hatred and ignorance out there and the DIY music scene is no exception,” Wilkens expounded. “A lot of what we do behind the scenes is try to put together shows with bands that don’t have horrible people as well as make any show we play a safe space for those attending.
“I think it’s really important to talk about tough stuff. Having conversations about things like mental illness or sexual assault can really help people who don’t have experience with those things understand it. It can also be comforting for people who have more experience with those things to know that they aren’t alone.”
Described by Heald as a small band with a big voice, The Sonder Bombs have found success in their first tour last month across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, named after their latest single, “Shitty Boyfriend.”
As they prepare to perform at Mahall’s (13200 Madison Ave., Lakewood) April 13 and The Happy Dog (5801 Detroit Ave., Cleveland) April 20 & 26, the band is excited to continue what they love and gain more exposure throughout the music community.
“Our mentality has been ‘Let’s try to get as many people to hear this as possible,’ and that seems to be working for the most part,” Heald said. “Locally, we just play every show we can… I think we’ve been lucky that people like us enough to tell their friends about us and drag them out to a show.”
Hawks says that the band is itching to tour out-of-state again very soon, as they’ve received some very positive feedback from their new material.
“My favorite thing is when someone after a show comes up to me and says ‘I get it,’” Hawks said. “This has happened a few times and it feels good to know that someone paid enough attention to something we created to really understand the message.
“The best compliment honestly is when people sing along at shows. If they are listening to us enough to learn the words and then sing them back at us, it’s a special feeling.”
Aside from their usual set, the band does find the time to cover some of their favorite artists at concerts. Among their favorite bands are Say Anything, Cloud Nothings, Gorillaz, Strawberry Girl and, especially, Weezer.
“We got drunk and did a Weezer cover set for Halloween last year. It was so much fun,” Heald added. “The whole basement was singing and dancing.”
Looking forward, the band is focused on more touring, releasing their newest album and getting their message out to as many people as they can. And with a recent change in their lineup, the possibilities for expanding and evolving their sound even further are aplenty. Wilkens, as someone who has mixed and produced some of the band’s previous work, says that he also would like to open his own studio.
Photo courtesy Jimmy Wilkens