For more than 20 years Karl Sundquist has been using his acoustic guitar to speak volumes. And for the past 2 years he’s been turning it up with his newest band, Big Waves and Bonfires, a group made up of Sundquist, guitarist Dan Boyer, drummer Sam Papin , bassist Josh Palmi, and violinist Jill Burkes. The band came together, Sundquist said, after he started writing a lot of acoustic — based music with the idea of recording the songs with a who’s who of area original musicians – with different people playing on each tune. The first person that he approached to play was Boyer, a longtime area musician and after getting together with him and Papin – whom Sundquist had played with in a previous band, Four Horse Johnson — it became obvious that the combination was going to work. Sundquist dropped the solo idea, Palmi was added, and Big Waves and Bonfires was born. o While Big Waves and Bonfires isn’t the outcome Sundquist initially envisioned when he started this latest project, it has essentially morphed into a supersized version of his original “who’s who” recording idea. Each musician in the band brings a wealth of experience to the group. Sundquist, a Virginia native started scribing his own brand of folksy music in high school, but got more serious in college after starting his first originals band, Heyday. That group played all over southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities from 1995 to 2001 and released two recordings: “Created to be,” and “From the hill.” After Heyday disbanded Sundquist played solo acoustic gigs until he moved back home to Virginia and formed Four Horse Johnson. They released one album in 2009 called "Transmission," and eventually disbanded in 2014. Boyer has been playing in bands covering numerous genres for over 30 years. Some of the groups he has been in include The Schwartz Brothers Band, The Electric Loons, Great Northern Express, Wolf Bay Brothers, Slim Pick'ins Band, The Roll Models, R&B, Live Bait, Dog Soldiers and Keith Secola and the Wild Band of Indians. Papin started playing drums in high school and has played in a number of groups including Relaxing Sam, Pulse and Four Horse Johnson. Palmi has also been a mainstay on the Iron Range music scene for years. He is a versatile artist that can play guitar, bass, write and sing. His previous bands have been Thrush, 3 Legged Dog, Electric Gypsy, Shattered Grave, Big Woody, Roxie Magistrate, Lost Children and Four Horse Johnson. He is also currently playing with Josh Palmi and the Strange Frequencies. In the December of 2017, the band saw Jill Burkes play violin at open mic with a friend of the bands, Kim Grillo of Hobo Revival. After watching her play the band contacted her to see if she would like to join Big Waves and Bonfires. She joined the band and quickly added a her beautiful violin and voice to the bands songs. Her violin and Dan's guitar playing feed off each other to create a unique sound that helped the bands existing and new songs grow. Sundquist said the band wants Big Waves and Bonfires’ music to have “a more acoustic vibe but still have a full sound.” The songwriting process begins with Sundquist but quickly becomes a group effort, he added. “It is a great process with the band because they want to know what each song is about and write their parts with that in mind. For instance, there is a song I wrote called "Rocket Slide" which is about the old rocket slide that use to be at Olcott Park,” he said. “Dan wrote a guitar part that sounds like going up and down a slide. Having the whole band wanting to understand what the meaning is behind the song is a benefit.” Sundquist added that often times the songs change from start to finish. “When a rough outline of the song is done, I bring it to the other guys and they put their magic to it,” he said. “That is the beauty of playing with these guys — I bring a song and can hear in my head what I want it to sound like and without even having to say anything, they pick up on the vibe. Majority of the time, they take the song to a different level than what I heard in my head originally.” As far as influences go, Sundquist and his cohorts are all over the place: From Jack Johnson and Tom Petty, to the Beatles, the Grateful Dead and even Alice in Chains. But the one thing all those musicians have in common is the ability to tell a good story with their music, which is what Sundquist has always tried to do. “I seem to gravitate to more singers (and) songwriters that are upbeat and have a positive message or good story to tell,” Sundquist said. “The ability to tell a story or give a positive message through creating a song is a gift. Finishing a song and putting yourself out there for others to hear is daunting but rewarding when you see just one person tap their foot or sing the words.” He added that his song ideas come from many different places. “Sometimes I will get lyrics in my head or have an idea for a song and write the words before any melody. Other times, I’m playing guitar and a chord progression or melody just starts feeling good. It all comes from somewhere in the ether,” he said. “For example, I always liked the saying, ‘when you have lemons, make them into lemonade." I took that concept and wrote a song call "Jelly on it," meaning if you’re left with dry toast, put a little jelly on it and make it better. Other times, I’ll catch a phrase in a book, TV Show or movie and write a song around the specific line.” o The plan at this point is to eventually get into a studio and record an album’s worth of material, Sundquist said, but until then Big Waves and Bonfires will continue performing live on the Iron Range and sometimes in Duluth. “We do plan on recording and are working on a catalog of songs to choose from. I was excited to record right away but then Dan made a good point — to live with the songs for awhile and let them evolve and breath,” Sundquist said. “We are working on new songs all the time. At some point the band will focus on 12 songs or so and get them recorded.” Currently there are three songs on their website (https://kgsundquist1.wixsite.com/bigwavesandbonfires) that have rough recordings to give fans give an idea of what the record will be like. And Sundquist also put together a CD that he has been giving out at shows — that is also available on their website for download — which consists of songs he wrote and recorded on his phone, appropriately titled "Living Room Sessions." For more information on Big Waves and Bonfires see their page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/Bigwavesandbonfires.
It is a release! Especially performing. Being in the moment and expressing yourself through songs that you wrote is like a day at the beach (that is if you like the beach). You just don't want it to be over.
I just wanna keep writing and challenging myself lyrically and instrumentally. I love playing shows and recording but I especially like the moments with the band when a new song is coming together. I want more of those moments!
I Love a Rainy Night- Eddie Rabbitt
Jack Johnson, Donavan Frankenreiter, Sean Rowe, Greg Brown, Jeff Foucault, Jayhawks, Replacements, Brett Dennen, Mason Jennings, Bruce Springsteen, Cat Stevens, The Kinks, Harry Chapin......
My kids, family, recovery, and moments that call for lasting expression.
Sitting under a coconut or pine tree with a guitar and a root beer watching the waves!
Like there is no where else I need to be! Unless the sound is bad, then I feel anxious!
I think it is going in a good direction with the resurgence of songwriters performing their own songs! Going back to working hard at your craft and not expecting that a reality TV show will be the answer.
So far it is a lot of fun!
When other musicians or bands see it as a competition. I love supporting local original music!
I do! I try to get out as much as I can to showcases.
They need to have the courage to put themselves out there with the thought that not everyone is gonna dig what your doing but if you feel good about it, someone will listen!
Rich Mattson and the Northstars, Average Mammals, Christopher David Hanson Band,