Old school fans of the local music scene, circa the late '90s and early '00s, will have no trouble remembering the wispy alt rock yelps of Sunday Driver and its frontman Alex Martinez.
Navigating a similar hardcore/emo terrain of groups like New Found Glory and the Vacant Andys, Sunday Driver broke out of South Forida's insular punk scene and landed on the national stage. And although the group found itself signed to a reputable indie label (Doghouse Records, known for launching the career of power pop troupe All-American Rejects), with a rotating video on MTV2, and write-ups in Rolling Stone, lasting success never came Sunday Driver's way. The group disbanded in 2010, never completing a follow up to its critically-acclaimed 2003 full length A Letter to Bryson City.
But Alex Martinez never stopped writing. A totally self-taught musician, Martinez exudes an every-man likability and is the farthest thing one would expect from an almost famous rock star. After Sunday Driver, his band mates went on to other ventures (guitarist Charlie Suarez taking part in the psychedelic haze of heavy hitting trio MonstrO, and bassist Arnold Nese in post-grunge outfit Atom Smash). Martinez found himself the odd man out.
"I really had nothing going on at the time," joked Martinez to New Times when we caught up with the amiable musician yesterday. He was taking it easy in his Miami home before his new project Sound Sleeper makes its Churchill's debut.
It was during this low-key phase that Martinez began crafting acoustic numbers on his own and his current act took shape. In its original iteration, Sound Sleeper was a somewhat orchestral affair. It consisted of Martinez singing and on acoustic guitar, a violinist, and an upright bassist. He soon grew tired of the "acoustic thing" however and decided to recruit a few studio musicians to help him bring to life the songs he had drafted on his own.
A jaunt to Nashville, Tennessee, in late 2012 resulted in the first four tracks for his debut EP, A Perfect Sea For Drowning. Coming full circle, Martinez returned to Miami and reunited with his former Sunday Driver bandmates -- Suarez and Nese -- who decided to join him with Sound Sleeper. Together, the three made two more songs and completed the album, released on local, growing label Limited Fanfare.
With blues riffs and orchestral spurts, Sound Sleeper is quite the departure from the emotive, plaintive tendencies of their former group. "We definitely are not catering to the same market we did with Sunday Driver," Martinez revealed. "Not like there is even an emo market anymore, though," he added. Sound Sleeper is the furthest thing from a contrived comeback, Martinez said he's just doing what comes naturally to him.
"People keep telling me that I'm singing differently than I did on Sunday Driver, but I tell them that this is me singing in my natural voice." And regarding the new-found blues influence, Martinez hasn't spent the last few years delving into the wonders of John Lee Hooker or B.B. King. "I don't even listen to blues," admitted Martinez. "It must be crammed somewhere in my head and just comes out."
With the new act, Martinez isn't coveting a second shot at rock star superstardom, it simply provides him a chance to perform with friends he's been performing with since attending North Miami Beach High School, and put a good show.
"All of us are veterans, we're not really looking to do marathon eight month-long tours anymore," said Martinez. "We're old motherfuckers, too old to be looking forward to sleeping on anyone's floor anytime soon."
With the addition of current drummer Jose Pena (formally of Miami garage punk troupe Lil Daggers) Martinez hopes to stage "weekend warrior" tours in the near future, scoping out venues near and far in the state of Florida, all within a day's drive.
It all starts tonight, however, at Churchill's Pub, where many a local band has broken out. And Martinez is glad to be playing it. "If I learned anything from my time in Sunday Driver and working with major labels, it's 'take what you can get," explained Martinez. "If anybody offers anything worthwhile, you bet I'm going to take it."
Sound Sleeper's Vinyl Release Party with special guests Heavy Drag (ex-Lil Daggers), the band in Heaven and Ex Norwegian, 9:30 p.m., January 15, Churshill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $7. Visit limitedfanfare.com.
Look for them at Respectable Street as well, on January 29. Flaunt Thursdays. 10 p.m., $5