In 2001 the release of Tonight & Forever, rock group Sense Field’s fourth full-length album, marked the end of a frustrating five years during which the band’s label, Warner Bros., postponed the album’s release eight times. Tonight & Forever finally saw the light of day on a new label, Nettwerk America, fulfilling the promise the group had demonstrated on its earlier albums and EPs. Tonight & Forever, wrote Richard A. Martin of the Boston Phoenix, “achieves a synthesis of [Southern California] punk, 1980s art punk and tightly-wound modern emo-core. [The disc] sets a standard for the groups who are now striving to pick up the musical themes that progressive emo bands like Shudder to Think [and] Sunny Day Real Estate introduced a decade ago.”
Although the “emo-core” label has long been used to describe the group’s melodic, emotionally charged pop-punk, some of the band members aren’t sure the term carries much meaning. “The emo tag, I could take it or leave it,” John Bunch, the group’s singer and one of its songwriters, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “What good music doesn’t have some emotional value? In truth, we’re a punk-inspired rock band … with thoughtful lyrics.”
The seeds for Sense Field were planted in 1986 when Bunch met guitarist Chris Evenson while they were schoolmates in suburban Los Angeles. Both youths were tapped into punk’s blitzkreig-bop ethic, and ad-mired the fast-loud-and-furious din created by 1980s punk ensembles like Minor Threat, Black Flag, and the Minutemen. Bunch says that Evenson had a punk-rock record collection envied by all their friends, while Evenson remembers that, as a vocalist, Bunch stood out in the Southern California punk scene because “he actu-ally tried to sing … as opposed to screaming.”
In 1989 Bunch and Evenson teamed up with guitarist Rodney Sellars, bassist John Stockberger, and drummer Scott McPherson to form the punk band Reason to Believe. The group did one tour, playing on bills with punk acts like Fugazi and All Pitchfork. But soon afterward the members’ musical tastes began to broaden, turning instead to the more melodic, and more dynamic, hard rock of the Pixies and My Bloody Valentine.
In 1990 Reason to Believe started a side project they dubbed Sense Field, a Buddhist term. They envisioned it as a band that could do the kind of music that fell outside of Reason to Believe’s straight-ahead punk. But when Sense Field flourished, Reason to Believe was put to rest. In 1994 Sense Field released two EPs on its own label, Run H20, and then released its debut album, Killed For Less, on the Revelation imprint.
In its review of Killed for Less, College Media, Inc., wrote that “Sense Field … obviously knows a thing or two about its place in the punk/hardcore stratum, but the band refuses to play by any of its regionally or categorically imposed rules. For starters, the singer rarely breaks into anything resembling a scream or even a gruff voice, instead relying on atypically smooth, melodic tone to give each song its emotional weight. And while the band’s back pocket is stuffed with enough power chords and meaty rhythmic textures to feed any sizeable hardcore fan for at least a few days, Killed for Less is forged as much from grand rock gestures as it is slippery mosh pits. Fragments of Cheap Trick or even (gasp!) early Queen find their way into the mix at certain points.” Colin Bartos of the Michigan Daily wrote that Sense Field is a band that “comes along and blows you away because they don’t sound like anyone else….Killed For Less has songs ranging from acoustic ballads to all out power-pop masterpieces.”
Later in 1994 Revelation repackaged the two EPs as an album, dubbing it simply Sense Field. Taken together, all of the band’s 1994 releases caused a stir among the major labels, and Warner Bros, signed the group. Sense Field released Building on the Warner Bros, label in 1996.
Building “sports bouncing bass lines, sharp guitar riffs and propulsive rhythms, matched only by Bunch’s over-the-top vocals and unfettered, energetic delivery,” wrote College Media, Inc., in its review of the CD. “The band sets itself apart from its contemporaries with its ability to strike a near-perfect balance between conventional rock melody and punk energy without a hint of contrivance. Songs such as ‘Overstand’ and
Members include Jon Bunch, vocals, songwriter; Chris Evenson, guitar, songwriter; Scott McPherson (left group, 1999), drums; Rob Pfeiffer (joined group, 1999), drums; Rodney Sellars, guitar, songwriter; John Stockberger, bass.
Group formed in suburban Los Angeles, 1991; released debut EP Premonitions and follow-up EP Sense Field on their own Run H20 label, 1994; signed with Revelation Records, released debut album, Killed For Less, 1994; released Sense Field album (repackaging first two EPs) on Revelation, 1994; signed with Warner Bros., released Building, 1996; signed with Nettwerk America, released Tonight & Forever, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Nettwerk America Records, 8730 Wilshire Blvd., #304, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, phone: (310) 855-0643, website: http://www.nettwerkamerica.com. Website —Sense Field Official Website: http://www.sensefield.com.
‘Different Times’ are built around a straightforward pop hook anchored by a propulsive, air-tight rhythm section and furious guitar licks … while ‘In the Light of Things’ and ‘Wondering Time’ are slower and moodier, smoldering with raw intensity.”
Then came the album that almost never was. The band recorded a follow-up to Building for Warner, but the management team that had signed the group to Warner left the label—something that frequently spells trouble for a band. The label sent journalists advance copies under various titles on a few occasions, and the album was even reviewed, but it was never released, as Warner postponed the date several times. It was a frustrating period for the band, which nonetheless continued to tour, released a few EPs and singles, and placed a few songs on various compilation CDs. They also took advantage of the delays by going back into the studio a few times to rerecord tracks or lay down new ones.
Obviously, being in limbo for five years, with no new album to maintain their enthusiastic fan base, was a trying experience. They even lost a member during that period, as drummer McPherson left in 1999 to join Elliot Smith’s band, and went on to tour with Neil Finn. McPherson was replaced by Rob Pfeiffer. “We ran into some roadblocks along the way,” says Bunch, “and there was a moment when there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel—not only that, but there was no tunnel. And then out of nowhere we just started chipping away, one song at a time, and then finally found the right place (Nettwerk) to put out the record. It made me feel a little bit better when I read that Tool and Weezer both had five-year periods between records. So that made me feel like I wasn’t alone at sea.”
Despite the long delay, the album was met with enthusiasm when it was finally released. The infectious “Beatles Song,” a love letter to the Fab Four, captures the swoony intoxication that only a catchy pop tune can conjure. “I must have played ‘Beatles Song’ about 500 times, wrote John Soeder of the Plain Dealer. “It nails the giddy feeling of falling head-over-heels in love with a piece of music. I fell for the rest of this emo-core quintet’s latest release too.”
Martin, of the Boston Phoenix, said “Tonight [& Forever] kicks off with a buzzing rock number seasoned with staccato guitar riffs and well-defined verse/chorus transitions…. Then the band unleashes a killer power ballad, ‘Save Yourself’ [with its] escalating, increasingly complex melody, and Bunch’s sensitive-guy lyrics pull all the right heartstrings…. ‘Here Right Here’ shows off Sense Field’s budding pop sensibility…. It’s an impressive start, and the intensity never lets up.” In fact, “Save Yourself” was a hit single on various radio formats, and also surfaced on the soundtrack to the television show Roswell, prompting Shiri Appleby, one of the show’s stars, to appear in the video for the song.
In 2001-02, the band appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn and CNN Headline News, and performed at such events as the Boarding for Breast Cancer concert with Crazytown and New Found Glory, and at Atlanta’s Music Midtown with No Doubt, Nickelback, and Bush. Fittingly, for a band that’s been tagged as an “emo” outfit, many of the members feel strongly about the redemptive power of music. And the emotion Bunch wants to convey is a positive one: “I’m hoping this record will bring a lot of happiness,” Bunch told the Boston Phoenix. “And spread as much joy as possible. I turn to music to get through things, and that’s what I want our album to do.”
Killed for Less, Revelation, 1994.
Premonitions (EP), Run H20, 1994.
Sense Field (EP), Run H20, 1994.
Sense Field (LP), Revelation, 1994.
Building, Revelation/Warner Bros, 1996.
Part of the Deal (EP), GrapeOS, 1999.
Tonight & Forever, Nettwerk America, 2001.
(Contributor) Roswell (soundtrack), Nettwerk America, 2002.
Boston Phoenix, January 10, 2002.
Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 8, 2001.
Michigan Daily, November 18, 1996.
“A Review of Building” College Media, Inc., http://sensefield.net/sensefield (September 29, 2002).
“Review of Killed for Less” College Media, Inc., http://sensefield.net/sensefield (September 29, 2002).
Sense Field Official Website, http://www.sensefield.com (September 29, 2002).
Additional information was provided by Nettwerk America publicity materials, 2002.
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