By Alex Distefano
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By Nate Jackson
By Nate Jackson
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Somewhere out there—tucked inside the daydreams of a whimsical and weird 14-year-old, maybe—exists the world of Slings: a world where puppy-eyed bull skulls skip down a floating xylophone and a giant red octopus slow dances with tree stumps (one for each arm) to a soaring melodica melody. In this world, everyone and everything—the bull skulls, the xylophone, the octopus, trees and melodica, plus a few canary-yellow baby chicks and also an old guitar and salt shaker—is a friend, a comrade, a partner in song and life and the jubilee you get when you combine them all together. The world of Slings, the music created by David Pope and Dustin Poulton, isn't for hard hearts and cynics, but rather for lovers and dreamers and lonely lost cowboys. It's more than music for a particular mood or even a season—it is, as anyone remotely involved with the band knows, a way of life.
"There are a million bands out there, and they're all just worried about themselves," explains Pope. "I don't want to be the first to the top. I want to do our part to pull everyone out of the woodwork."
To step inside the world of Slings, you must begin in Gainesville, Florida, where Pope and former band mate Andy Blaire first collaborated 11 years ago. As big thinkers living in a relatively small college town, Pope, Blaire and their band mates spent years collecting—as opposed to, say, amassing—a following of like-minded musicians and artists, people who supported them as well as their own selves. And people who, in turn, the band supported.
"We really like the notion of family," says Pope. "Not a scene where you have to earn your way in. The most important thing to us is 'How supportive are you?'"
It's a sensibility tailor-made for smaller towns like Gainesville—and Nashville and Louisville—where bars and venues fall next to one another, where people are friendly and it's easy to say hi to someone after a show. But when Pope and Blaire moved to Orange County four years ago, finding a community like the one they had back home wasn't quite so easy.
"Out here, you're always on a mini-tour," observes Pope. "It's hard to develop things without a hang-out spot."
With the help of Poulton, his sister and their friends, Blaire and Pope re-introduced the world of Slings—which goes down like Neutral Milk Hotel, Yo La Tengo, Grandaddy and Belle and Sebastian; see the country-fied "Walk With Me" and check the surf guitar on "What's That" for a better idea—to Orange County. By the beginning of this year, they were prepared to—some might say officially—debut their new community.
Titled The Sounds When We Move, Slings' self-released compilation CD features two tracks each ("There's no way you can make a band pick just one song," says Pope) from 10 bands, including such locals as Sendaero and Ann Lynn, ex-pats the Blank Tapes, LA bands Satellite Class and the World Record, and also bands such as Ohio's Bears and New York's Spider. The world of Slings is in everything from the album's cover art (illustrated by Carly Pope, David's wife and Poulton's sister, who designs the band's posters and merch, including a button featuring the puppy-eyed bull skull) to the track list, "written," as Pope calls it, like the band "writes" a show: "You want to create an atmosphere, to write it in a way that's going to keep the whole night fun." And of course, there was a release show: a true, spirited jubilee featuring Ann Lynn jamming with Slings, Slings jamming with Sendaero, everyone onstage and signing, if not for the people in the crowd, then for one another.
That show, held in April, also marked a new era for Blaire, Pope and Poulton: the final show by Slings as a three-piece. Blaire, who married in May (followed by Pope in June), decided to leave the band and focus on other things—his new family, namely. Which now leaves Pope and Poulton: two men with lush, atmospheric melodies and only four limbs each with which to play them. But chances are they'll have more than enough help getting back on their feet. "I believe there's a point to life in every aspect," Pope says. "I see the benefit of being involved, not just 'Help me.' That way, we're not swimming alone—we'll always be able to stay afloat and hang on to each other."
SLINGS PLAY WITH ANN LYNN, TEN YEAR GAP AND THE SESSIONS AT SOLART GALLERY CAFE, 2202 N. MAIN ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 926-4375; WWW.SOLARTGALLERYCAFE.COM. SAT. CALL FOR TIME. $5. ALL AGES.