peek III: sex change for the girls
by Bing Futch
The Fairbanks Inn gig went smoother than predicted.
With only one rehearsal between us, we had managed to play our entire set without too many fuck-ups. There were plenty, of course. New drummer JENNA CYDE was dealing with new rhythms that had ostensibly changed in the hyped-up mode of the evening. Lead singer SUE BOWLUS kept pace with guitar and signalled changes while bassist COURTNEY LOWRANCE hammered home the notes. We surged through it all and managed a rousing response from the slim crowd assembled. TIN CAN JETS and NOVEMBER were next on the bill and it was still early, but by the time we had ripped open “Tribal”, the assorted watchers-on were cheering before the songs ended. Not bad for a group of people thrown together like tossed salad.
Bowlus says SOSUMI was born out of a desire to socialize. “[It was] a good reason for us to get together, all of us loved music and we got free beer out of it, we’re all good friends.” While hanging out at Sadie’s Tavern, the reknowned lesbian bar in Winter Park, the girls began bragging about being in a band, prompting establishment owner Judy Shaw to book them for a show. This caused the girls to go scattering for their instruments, practicing and taking the punk crash course in learning your craft while you perform. The debut show, in July of 1997 was a smash. Soon, Bowlus, Lowrance, lead guitarist Rihan Al-Samurai, drummer Tracey Gibbs and singer Mia Livingston would develop a thick lesbian following through effective word of mouth. They began gigging frequently, showing up often at a place called Mojo’s Cafe in Cocoa Beach. “We were sort of a house band,” says Bowlus, who resides with girlfriend Lowrance in that beach town, just feet from the ocean.
Sosumi’s music is in part inspired by surf rock, tumbling drum rolls and throaty bass lines tear along pell mell underneath cascading waves of distorted guitar. The frenetic “Insanity” never seems to take a breath while “Tribal” is immersed in shimmering waves of 60’s mythology. The subject matter is often bawdy, from the lurid details of “My Hand” to the wisdom of silicon breast implants in “36DD”. The music addresses plenty of alternative lifestyle issues, mainly pertaining to lesbians, but has also found a wider audience who are probably made up of men who like lesbians, especially attractive ones in rock bands that tend to rip their shirts off and start playing in their bras.
Torn between her love of music and a fondness for windsurfing (she’s an instructor) Bowlus remembers when she became aware of the importance of music in her life. “People came out and started digging the music,” says the guitarist. Feeling a connection with the audience and wanting to go full time, Bowlus encouraged the other band members to push the band past the hobby stage and into a full-time operation. A demo was recorded in December of ’97, but Livingston moved to England for a teaching job in the summer of ’98 and was replaced by keyboardist/singer AMY STEINBERG. Al-Samurai left the group in the fall and it was only recently that Steinberg left to form her own band. Gibbs wasn’t able to dedicate more time to the project and after some bruised feelings, an amicable passing of the torch brought the energetic Cyde on board along with yours truly filling in on keyboards until another lesbian rocker could be found.
It was a bold move, letting a man into the sacred coven of the lesbianhood, and I had originally offered to masquerade as “Vicki Fox”, wearing make-up and drag to keep the image intact, but Bowlus acknowledged that it was time to focus on the music and not the image. “We’ve been known as a lesbian group and we consciously pushed that as an angle,” she says. “But having a male voice adding to the harmonies, and the dynamic of having a different style on the keyboards, it’s turned out some great jams.”
So great were the jams, in fact, that Sue asked me to join the band officially before the next gig at Liquid Cellar. As if I don’t have enough projects going on right now, I thought. I already liked Sosumi’s music and they were hungry for the road, much like myself. It’s a grim sort of roulette that some musicians play in Orlando. They play out in several different groups to satisfy a particular jones in style, perhaps. A jazz jones quenched by the sitting in with this quartet and a rock jones squashed by a two-night a week gig as a headbanger. And depending on who your fellow band members are, some of them have to have real jobs and maybe some of them don’t. Face it, once you’re firmly ensconced in the fabric of some menial existence trying to take a bite out of the American Dream , then you’ve got a schedule that can’t readily be ditched for a merry jaunt across the countryside in a crowded band van with a trailer dragging along behind. But, there are certain blissful factions that can get away with it and once they get behind the wheel, there’s no stopping them.
I dream of Grammy with the light gold touch, sure. But most of all, I dream about hot dogs by the dusty roadside as we pit stop in Arizona on the way to the next gig. Every day, playing, creating, seeing people’s faces bobbing around, seeing new places each moment that your eyes are open. Selling records and always having a place to go, but no place to be. Sosumi has that spirit, that unquenchable, need-to-be free mentality and the four of us have already bonded through a few interesting experiences that shall remain a mystery until another time. Exchanging the “four wild chicks–great raunchy music” mantra for “three parts estrogen, one part testosterone, mix well , stand back”, the band is prepared to hit the road this summer with new CD in hand. I’ll, of course, be there in the thick of it. And who knows? Perhaps with one more turn of the wheel, this is where the rubber meets the road. Maybe this is where the vehicle finally gets into motion.
The road to toursville is paved with surfboards.