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Photo: Peter Anderson

Ride your bicycle down to Urban Lounge on Friday, April 8 to see Heber City rockers Holy Water Buffalo pair up with indie-dance-pop group Shark Speed and openers Red Dog Revival. $5 gets you in.

Holy Water Buffalo
Zaz McDonald - Keys/Organ
Jeff Vanderlinden - Bass
Tommy Brunson - Guitar/Vocals 
Steven Siggard - Drums/Backing Vocals 

Settling into the dimly lit back room of Heber’s Angry Bull Saloon, it becomes apparent why Holy Water Buffalo likes sticking to their home turf. “We went to high school with the bartender,” keyboardist Zaz McDonald says while the barmaiden hands us our beers. “The support is incredible. All of our family and friends are here, and driving to Salt Lake or Provo isn’t too far.” Plus, they all say, “It is so beautiful up here!” If there was ever a local band needing to advocate for their state, Holy Water Buffalo might just fit the bill. “From what we have seen, Utah has so many of the good characteristics for a musician, and not very many of the bad,” lead guitarist/vocalist Tommy Brunson says. Big smiles and nods from the others confirm this notion.

As two sets of best friends merged out of high school, the infant stages of the band took root in this town outside of Park City. Barely into their 20s, these four have a real energy and passion for the music they are creating up here. “We like that we are from somewhere else,” Brunson says. “It’s nice to not be ‘the band from Salt Lake’ sometimes.”

Inspired by the classic, late ‘60s sounds of The Band and The Allman Brothers, combined with an affinity for current groups Dawes and Delta Spirit, the ball was set in motion for these four friends. Add some high school band training, and Holy Water Buffalo was formed.

“My dad is the band teacher at Wasatch, so Zaz and I learned to play sax with him,” says the soft-spoken drummer, Steven Siggard. Brunson also took a lesson or two from the school’s band teacher during his high school days. Bass player, Jeff Vanderlinden, who was too interested in hockey at the time, has since “developed quicker than anyone I have seen. He’s made leaps and bounds,” says Brunson. The group now works on their sound together at a non-denominational church in Heber. “Having a practice space readily available is key for us. It is where we really learn to work together and turn ideas into songs,” Brunson says.

With serious faces, each member of Holy Water Buffalo tells me that practicing together is what has always been the most important aspect of their band. While always working on new material as individuals, the ritual of getting together in a room and creating as a group is what really matters to these guys. “When Tommy brings an idea to rehearsal, it gets processed differently by three other people,” McDonald says. “The songs develop into a sound that works with everybody.”

It has been roughly four months since HWB’s self-titled album was released and their efforts seem to be paying off. Winning the Battle of the Bands at Velour in December, along with an abundance of local radio play, HWB is starting to be recognized. “The feedback has been positive for sure, and we couldn’t have asked for better support from Ebay down at KRCL. That dude has helped out a ton, and we are super grateful,” Brunson says.

Playing shows during Sundance was also a good way for the Heber gang to get some exposure on a larger scale. “I usually hate Sundance,” Vanderlinden says. “It’s just such a hassle, you feel like, ‘Ahh! Why are all these people here?!’ But this year it was fun. We had a good time and made some new contacts.”

With a newly purchased van, tricked out with custom upholstery and trailer, Holy Water Buffalo is set to hit the road. Spring and summer will involve spreading their music beyond familiar territory. “We just hit up Vegas and plan to tour a little outside of Utah this summer. From there, we will see what happens,” Brunson says. When asked about future plans for Holy Water Buffalo, they all agree that they just want to keep playing music and experience new places along the way. Talk of moving if necessary is not discounted, but, as Siggard says, “Utah is our home. And besides, It really is great here.”

Shark Speed
Jared Christensen - Drums
Greg Wilson - Muliti-instrumentalist
Joe Christensen - Guitar   Dave Clark - Bass
Thayne Fagg - Guitar/Vocals

“There were a lot of awkward moments at first. Kicking people out is no fun!” Shark Speed frontman Joe Christensen says. Having cycled through a good portion of Utah County musicians over the years—mixed with auditioning classmates for new openings—makes following the development of Shark Speed’s current lineup no easy task.

It all started with brothers Joe and Jared Christensen, who grew up playing music in the basement of their parents’ Las Vegas home. Moving to Provo for school introduced the brothers to a larger network of musical friends. “We just started grabbing people. Anyone who said they played music, we were like, ‘come over,’” Jared says. After a series of failed attempts using this method, the brothers randomly met up with guitarist/vocalist Thayne Fagg, who also grew up in Vegas and had mutual friends with the two brothers. As for bassist Dave Clark and multi-instrumentalist Greg Wilson, “We were just huge fans. We’d go to the shows and would play together at first with our other band, Jacket Weather,” Clark says. “We all just really meshed well and enjoyed the music we started playing together.”

Clark’s enthusiasm for the band is especially overwhelming. His quirkiness starts to make a little more sense when he talks about his first show playing bass as part of Shark Speed. The way he describes it, he was literally quarantined to the side of the stage because he had contracted swine flu. “I was up there wearing my mask, doing my thing off to the side,” he says. The rest of the guys just shake their heads and laugh, seemingly accustomed to Clark’s antics. Today, contagious or not, the rocking dance-pop group feel they are “as cohesive as we’ve ever been,” Joe says.

When asked about the transition from a more ‘indie rock’ sound into their latest, upbeat dance tempos, Jared says that it stemmed from a combination of things. “I was listening to Daft Punk yesterday and a little Led Zeppelin the day before, so it really just depends on what we’re feeling. But I think we’ll always stick to our rock roots,” he says. “It’s what we are listening to right now and what we like to play, so I’ve said ‘let’s add some of this in here,’” says Fagg.

The rise of various ‘indie dance’ scenes going on in parts of Vegas and Utah have also influenced Shark Speed’s new direction. “We used to go to a lot of dance and house parties in Vegas and at the W Lounge and just started getting into it,” says Joe. For Fagg, their sound is now more energetic due to the support from fans. “[Our music] is definitely more upbeat because of the response we get from the people who come to see us play and their reactions to our music.”

They all agree that it’s been Provo’s venue, Velour, in which they are truly indebted for acting as their “launching pad.” Because Provo is somewhat of a college town with lots of ‘flavor of the week’ groups, “bands don’t usually have too long of a ‘shelf life’ down there,” says Clark. “But with Velour, it has been really good to us. Selling out that place, whether people are there for the music or just for the party aspect, has been a huge confidence booster for us.” The response from Provo crowds motivated the band to take out student loans to pay for recording their first album. 

With the release of both the full-length album and their latest EP, Education, Shark Speed is still on the move. “We don’t have plans to stop playing. I kind of felt like I had to go to college so I could support myself to play music,” Joe says. “That’s the nice thing about owning our music and not answering to a label. We’re free to tour when we want and just do what we want.” Jared says, “For some bands, it’s like ‘If we don’t get signed, if we don’t succeed, we lose.’  But in reality, dudes who think like that have already lost. They aren’t doing it because they love it.” The consensus of this band seems to focus more on the fun they have along the way, rather than ever worrying about “making it.” Regardless of families, new jobs or even moving for dental school, Shark Speed plans to keep the tempo going­­––created at whatever pace they choose.

Photo: Peter Anderson Photo: Peter Anderson