The 21st century hasn't been kind to lounge acts. The glory days of natty strangers sipping cocktails in velvet-and-smoke-filled rooms are long gone, replaced by patios packed with Pabst drinkers and e-cig puffers.
One local band, however, won't let this era go without a fight. Orange County's King Salamander is bringing the lounge vibe into the present with Salamander Lounge, a new album out on iTunes September 26.
"Salamander Lounge plays like a story, from beginning to end," says King Salamander mastermind and frontman Sterling Musk. "It's a concept album about this lounge, and the whole album takes place in it. The characters come to life, the decor, the atmosphere, the environment, the history is all in there."
King Salamander will bring their traveling lounge act to Hybrid Studios in Santa Ana on September 26 for a private release party. Guests will be treated to copies of the album, a music video premiere, and beverages from Hotel California Tequila and Anaheim's Bottle Logic Brewing, as well as an afterparty at Bosscat Kitchen N Libations in Newport Beach. Both alcohol companies, along with Eastside Distilling from Portland, are simpatico with the lounge motif and have product endorsements with the band.
"[Bottle Logic] provided all the beer for the music video, and they're providing it for the release, and they're doing a signature beer with us … it's been a great partnership," Musk says.
The five-piece band – Musk on vocals, Charles C. Horse on lead guitar, Jack Mason on guitar/percussion, Desmond Murphy on bass and Cullen Van Stouden on drums – built the album around the lounge idea, and brought in a brass section, backing vocals, piano and Latin percussion to fill out the retro sound.
"It's like an old school big band, but with more of a modern sense and song structure," Musk says. "I wanted to create a lounge that I could own and perform at, or would like to go and hear the music that was in my head. [The album is] the soundtrack to that.
A top-shelf lounge atmosphere requires more than adopting a musical style and playing dress-up. King Salamander developed custom equipment for Salamander Lounge from the ground up, starting with the bass drum.
"There's an actual minibar in the bass drum," Musk says. "I found the biggest bass drum I could find, a 26-inch Gretsch kick drum, and we were able to make a bar that holds a bottle, a decanter and three glasses that hang from the top on a magnetic strip, so it can be stabilized inside the bass drum."
The band's equipment list also includes a guitar made from a cigar box; a finished wood mic stand designed specifically for Musk, topped by a Shure 55 limited edition red velvet and black microphone; custom guitar and bass amps from Carl's Custom Amps and Analog Outfitters, respectively; and a one-of-a-kind piano with purple and red keys to match the band's color scheme. A second piano was also converted into a bar that travels with the band for special events.
"All of this stuff is influenced by Randall May, who's kind of a mad scientist for drums and music stuff," Musk says. "I get these crazy ideas, and most of the time the band thinks I'm insane, but we've actually been able to do them."
Writing a booze-soaked concept album, building custom equipment, and resurrecting a bygone genre might seem extreme to the average garage band. To the members of King Salamander, all of the extra work is a natural development of their original vision.
"The lounge just kind of lends itself to being different. Our music is different, our vibe is different, and I think that having these instruments that came to life from our minds is huge," Musk says. "That's just what the lounge is."