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Rave On With Sugar Tradition!

Composed of guitarist-vocalist Antonio Keka, bassist Arlo Betley, and drummer Kevin Irwin, hellraising garage rockers Sugar Tradition have been tearing it up and leading the pack in Detroit's current rock 'n' roll scene. Following up a few limited releases, Sugar Tradition caught the attention of Feel It Records, who put out their latest EP More Sugar last fall. The EP is a roaring 14 minutes of primitive rock 'n' roll that carries the same spirit of MC5, Lyres, The Chesterfield Kings, and anything you'd hear from the Back From The Grave compilations. They're currently on the road for their East Coast Tour and we had the pleasure to chat with them from the van all about how the EP came together, their flashy clothes, and Antonio's run-in with Jonathan Richman.

PAPERFACE ZINE: What have you been listening to, reading, watching, or spending a lot of time doing?


KEVIN IRWIN: Listening to a lot of old country music like Jim Reeves and such. Recently been watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and reading Glynn John's Sound Man. Great read.


PZ: How exactly did you all meet and decide to start playing music as Sugar Tradition? 


ARLO BETLEY: Kevin and I were childhood friends and we met Antonio through another friend who brought him to the studio to jam with us. We all ended up bonding over Cream and Blue Cheer. This kind of sparked the genre we wanted to play. Fortunately we've been at it since! Actually April 17th was the seven year anniversary of us being a band. 


PZ: It's pretty clear not just from your high energy live shows, but also the latest EP More Sugar that you've grown tremendously over the years. What has the journey been like so far as a band and what are your thoughts looking back on your past records?


ANTONIO KEKA: I'm thankful for the journey we've been on together! Like any relationship, there are ups and downs that you have to work through in order to make things work and move forward. I think those kind of things have made us closer not only as a band, but as friends! The past records were okay in my opinion. I mean they were fun to make but didn't feel like it captured our sound as much as we wanted them to. More Sugar has gotten closer to that sound we have live though. 


PZ: I first saw you guys at the Nest in Cincy on a wicked bill with The Cowboys, Beef, and your local pals The Stools. What were the highlights for you from that show?


KI: It was really great to meet The Cowboys that night at the Nest especially with the original lineup, great guys! It was a blast going down there with our friends The Stools. Also the first time we saw Beef live and they were sweet.

PZ: Your EP was one of my favorite releases from last year! What can you tell readers about its recording sessions and how the six songs came together?


AB: Our friend and beloved producer, Cam Frank, made the recording process as close to a live show as possible and I think that shines through in the sound of the record. It was a very spontaneous recording session but it worked out great.


PZ: I remember Sam played me the EP in his living room a couple weeks before it came out and I was totally blown away especially from the Chuck Berry cover "Come On." What's the story behind that one?


AB: "Come On" was really fun to record. We all love that song and thought it really fit the sound we were going for. Although I will say we were very inspired by The Rolling Stones version in particular. Regardless of who plays it, it's always a good dance tune. That's how you know it's well written song.


PZ: "Don't Leave Me" is another highlight with its completely blown-out guitars and vocals. What can you tell me about the origins of this song?


AK: "Don't Leave Me "is basically our take on "Kick Out The Jams" by MC5 and "TV Eye" by The Stooges. We wanted to combine all the high energy, fuzzy tones. I remember it was the first song we recorded that day and we were exhausted from the night before. Cam made us some French press coffee that had us absolutely wired and I think that did a lot to the feel of the song. 


PZ: I had the pleasure last October premiering the music video to "Rockin' Baby." The video is very Monkees so it was a no-brainer for me. What were the inspirations behind that song and what do you recall from making that video?


KI: The riff came to me while I was playing piano. I was really inspired by Marvin Gaye. I remember the day we filmed the video it was really cold and we kept changing our outfits so that was fun. Shout out to Old Soul Vintage for providing the wardrobe! Dale Wilson directed the video and had the idea for it. Tristan Presley also helped filmed the video. It was a blast. 


PZ: Can the fan club expect more Sugar T videos? 


AK: We want to make more music videos and work with some of our friends in Detroit to make it happen. I'm hoping y'all can expect more videos! 

PZ: Both Cincy and Detroit are arguably the best cities in America for primitive rock 'n' roll right now. Can you paint a picture of what exactly the scene is like, the community, and where you all get your flashy clothes? 


AB: Detroit and Cincinnati have always been great cities for rock 'n' roll, right now especially. There are great bands everywhere you look and inspiration is all around. The whole artists community is great. As for the flashy clothes, Old Soul Vintage is the place to go. If we're wearing something flashy, it probably came from Old Soul! Support local businesses!  


PZ: Your East Coast started last night with a trip to Cleveland and tonight you'll be in Rochester for a special show with New Math. You've been playing a bunch of shows within Detroit, but how excited are you to take the new songs on the road? Also what are some of the shows you're most excited for? That Chicago show has everything you'd want from contemporary rock 'n' roll. 


KI: We're really excited to take some of our new songs on the road and test the waters. I'm most excited for Brooklyn and Cincinnati. Feel It Records just opened up a new record store and we're very stoked to be the first bands playing in there! Our friends Fen Fen from Detroit will also be joining us for the Cincy show.


PZ: What else is on the horizon for you guys following the tour? I've heard some new songs from various shows online, are those planned to be on a full-length in the near future?


AB: Yeah for sure, once we get back from tour we're gonna get to it and start recording a new record. Most of the new songs are going to be on that record so you'll be expecting to hear them. 


PZ: Lastly, what's the story behind one of you meeting Jonathan Richman?


AK: Kevin ended up playing drums for The Detroit Cobras on their first tour with Marcus Durant. They went to the West Coast and I somehow snuck my way onto that trip to do merch! We got to Chico, California and Jonathan Richman walked in with his guitar and immediately starting singing a song to Mary Cobra that was something like "Maribellleeee ohhhh my sweet marribellleee." It was the middle of The Cobras soundcheck so Jonathan started playing guitar on stage with the band. Mary invited me on to play guitar with them. Jonathan said, "We're playing C and F" to me and so I started doing so. It lasted like three whole minutes, but was so much fun. He is the kindest soul. I hope to see him again some day.


More Sugar is out now on Feel It Records. Catch the band on tour at the following dates below.




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