Slow to Surface celebrates a decade of individuality

From left to right: Jeff Basso, Adam Handley, Benwood, Mac Purdy and Zach Saucier (Photo: FRED MORLEDGE)

Who remembers the Kickwurmz? What about Phatter Than Albert? God Among Men? Ten years ago they were some of the most popular bands in the Vegas scene, packing in crowds at bars and venues. They also all broke up years ago.

But one band frequently sharing the photocopied flyers that covered car windshields in The Boston’s parking lot is still on the scene — a scene they feel they haven’t exactly ever been a part of.

Celebrating a decade as a group — and one of the most critically revered bands in Vegas — Slow to Surface has grown musically from the days of matching grey outfits. In the summer of 2000, they refrained from stage banter; no hellos or “this song is called…” were uttered by singer Benwood, or from guitarists Zach Saucier and Steve Penhall. bassist Adam Handley remained mum, as did drummer Mac Purdy. They’d simply walk out, rock out, then peace out.

“You have to make a statement when you start,” says Purdy on behalf of the band. “Everybody wore the same thing and our first name was ‘Product’,” he says. “It was kind of like, ‘You can call us whatever you want to, we’re just a product.’ It was the most non-descript look you could have, that’s kind of what we were going for.”

Fortunately that phase didn’t last long. After playing a gig at the now long-defunct Sanctuary next to the also now long-defunct Huntridge, they scrapped the doppelgänger attire. Playing an impromptu second set for an afterparty, the guys didn’t feel like changing back in to their stage duds.  “We decided instead of trying to be something, let’s just be ourselves. That then translated into the music a little bit more as far as who we are trying to be individually.”

While their individuality has created a catalogue of original music to be proud of, it’s that same individuality as a band that leaves the business side of music scratching their heads.

“We started off trying everything,” Purdy says in regard to their sound. Then there was a solemn period of songwriting, a bit of ambient, followed by a more commercial attempt. Today he says their songs are a combination of all those elements while holding on to a distinct sound that is difficult to categorize as the band feels they’re not indie and certainly not commercial rock.

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that we’re not marketable, or, ‘We can’t sell you,’ but that we’re good,” says Purdy, adding, “In 10 years I’ve had less than 10 people tell me that we’re not good.”

Minimal lineup changes have contributed to their longevity as well. Penhall left to pursue his Ten Digit Army project and was replaced with Jeff Basso (Jay Perry also joined STS on keyboards for a while).

“We’re personalities that figured each other out long enough ago that any trouble that comes along, it’s really not that big a deal anymore,” Purdy says. “Once you get to know everyone’s personality quirks and what’s their hot button, it’s a lot easier. It’s like any type of relationship, you know? It’s one of the longest I’ve been in,” he laughs.

So why hasn’t this quintet followed the lead of the other few successes from Vegas and left town to capture the attention of the masses?

“Logistically it never really panned out for different reasons,” Purdy says. “At this point, it’s like what’s the point? And our good friend the Internet allows us to leave the town everyday. And we do well outside of this town.”

In fact, they’re big in Reno, he jokes, and the band has played there with acts such as The Bravery, Hot Hot Heat and Social Distortion, though they can’t get an opening gig in Vegas.

“But we do well on iTunes, we do well with Internet stuff. I have people tell me they’ve heard about us from Virginia and Florida and different places. We’re on a lot of stuff, just not here.”

This isn’t a huge problem as Slow to Surface, like many other artists and musicians, isn’t creating and performing to get rich (though it would be nice).

“I think it’s a career just like any art is a career because there are a lot of artists, any artist really isn’t doing it for the money, they’re doing it more because they want to make a mark, they want people to hear or see or read what they have to say, their take on life and maybe someone will relate.”

STS currently is in pre-production for their fourth CD. “We’re looking to get in to the studio either next month or March and we’re going to do it a little different,” Purdy says. “The thing that has always been commented on is our CDs versus our live show is that we don’t capture that live feel. We’re going to try to track live this time to try to capture that feel and it’ll actually probably go a lot quicker than our other albums.”

Saucier and Handley’s inimitable penchant for rocking out right into band mates, Benwood’s emotional possession of lyrics, Purdy’s mastery of the drums stemming from his Cavalier Drumline days, and Basso’s technical perfection all will be on stage January 17 at Tommy Rocker’s for a two-set show in honor of STS’s 10-year anniversary, and again on January 29 with Alien Ant Farm and Picture Pilot.

“We’re going to play some acoustic stuff because we have a lot of people that enjoy that part of us, we’re going to play some older songs for the fans that have been around for a while, and then we’re going to play some new stuff and some stuff we haven’t played in front of people before,” Purdy says of the anniversary show. “So it’s going to be kind of a span of where we were to where we are.”

And what about the next 10 years? Purdy does have some expectations for the band: “I know what I hope will happen is that we’ll still be respected musically and people will come away from shows thinking that they just saw something great.”

(Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly and at

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