[Sound Guy] SJC's the Union Line Have Gotten a Lot Done in a Little Time

Fast Train Coming
San Juan Capistrano quintet the Union Line have gotten a lot done in a little time

The Union Line aren’t interested in wasting time. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that I show up almost an hour late to our interview at a Peet’s in Laguna Niguel.

They’ve been a band for 15 months now; they’ve been on tour seven of those 15 months, hitting as far north as Vancouver and as far east as Boston. During their second month, they started recording tracks together. Within six months, they released a self-titled, eight-song album.

The Union Line, in a rare peaceful moment
Blythe Hill
The Union Line, in a rare peaceful moment

“We will be on Conan before 2010,” says drummer Tony Tancredi. “That’s my goal.”

But despite the members’ youth—Tancredi is the oldest at 25—the Union Line’s success hasn’t exactly come overnight. Guitarist Jordan Sabolick and his brother, bassist Adam Sabolick, played together in a band called Space Pilot that Tancredi managed. (“They were, for real, the best ones in the band,” says Tancredi.) Keyboard player Johnny Wilson was friends with lead singer Richard “Dicky” Theisen (the only band member absent at Peet’s, but he had a pretty good excuse: He was getting a wisdom tooth removed) and worked together on early versions of what would become Union Line songs. Playing music in the relatively quiet South County scene (the band are officially based in San Juan Capistrano, with members distributed throughout the area’s nearby cities), the five guys started jamming together and quickly went to work building the Union Line brand.

Adam Sabolick makes clear that despite being relatively new as a unit, they’ve all been playing music for almost their entire lives. “We all, at one point, [were]—and some of us still are—involved with the ‘church circuit,’” he says. “That has a lot to do with our level of playing. For a young musician who wants to jam, going to a church and playing, that’s such a good, healthy way to learn how to be in a band and learn how to play with people.”

Seeing the Union Line perform live, it’s clear why they won the title of Best Live Band at the OC Music Awards, beating out fellow finalists the Jakes, the New Limb, Venus Infers and the Living Suns. They specialize in rousing, percussion-heavy anthems that are strongly reminiscent of soulful classic rock, such as “On the Run” and “Mama Don’t Care.” Band members frequently switch instruments between songs, and during parts of some songs, nearly every band member is shaking or striking an object of some sort. It all sounds pleasantly loose and improvisational, although the band strive to be the exact opposite.

“I hate seeing a band that are not tight,” says Jordan Sabolick. “But when we’re playing, I don’t even realize that we’re tight.”

So while they’re reasonably humble about carrying that Best Live Band title, they also see it as recognition for something they’ve focused on. “I think it’s the most unique award out of all those awards they were giving out, and I’m not just saying that because we won it,” says Jordan Sabolick. “But it’s really hard to see a local band and be, like, blown away.”

Their reputation for stirring live shows also led to a KROQ-sponsored, Thursday-night residency this month at the Gypsy Lounge in Lake Forest, the same venue where they played their first show as a band. “Gypsy is the only place down here with good sound,” says Tancredi.

The band agree that “there’s not a whole lot of culture” in South County—in my eight months thus far in California, I had never before been to Laguna Niguel, which at least partly explains why I was late—but they still love it and have no plans on leaving any time soon.

“We go on tour, and we’re, like, stressed out for, like, a month,” says Wilson. “To come home to this, it’s so relaxing. Just kind of puts your mind at ease for a second before you get back into it.”

Though they’re home for a little while now, the band are not slowing down. They’re already talking about their sophomore release, with the usual second-album ideas floating around: retain the essence of what made them successful in the first place, while pushing things in new, “more mature” directions.

“We’re all fans of older music, and we’re all fans of vintage tone,” says Adam Sabolick. “We want to keep that idea, but we want to make sure we’re being honest with ourselves, and we want to write music that we want to write.”

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