A Quick Q&A With Mark Sexton

Lead singer of the Reno-based band The Sextones talks touring, Dennis Hopper, and the group’s first show in Indianapolis.

Famous for casinos and quick divorces, Reno, Nevada, is also home to a bustling music scene. For Mark Sexton, guitarist and vocalist for The Sextones, Reno serves as a community for a melting pot of musicians inspired by different genres and sounds that make the local music scene stand out from much of the country.

As a quartet, The Sextones combine elements of soul, funk, and rock to be what Sexton describes as a “new breed of modern soul music.” With each member growing up listening to the sounds of the 1960s and ’70s, the band incorporates its admiration for artists like Stevie Wonder into its current works.
Its debut album, Moonlight Vision, was recorded at California’s Prairie Sun Studios solely on analog tape. After spending a year in post-production, the band is embarking on a 15-stop national tour, including the group’s first gig in Indianapolis at The Rathskeller on April 22.
From the road, Sexton spoke with IM about the magic of analog, road-testing their work, and Dennis Hopper’s 1969 cult classic Easy Rider.

Why did you decide to record on analog?
We’re all superstitious nerds and believe in the analog mojo that happens when you record on tape. A lot of our favorite records have that magical quality, because recording on analog adds a lot of color and artifacts to the sound. On top of that, there’s a built-in structure of having limited options and needing to make good choices on the fly. There’s an honesty in this type of recording, and we set out to make something that was undoubtedly timeless. We wanted to make a record that someone could listen to 30 years from now and not cringe, thinking, This is so 2017.

So Prairie Sun Studios provided the right mojo?
It has the right mojo. It’s an analog-savvy studio and has the right atmosphere for us to do what we need to do. A lot of modern recording studios don’t have the prowess and the practice in the analog world. They’ve adjusted to the modern techniques. When you ask if they have a tape machine, they say ‘Yeah, but it’s broken,’ or ‘We haven’t wheeled it out in like a year,’ whereas Prairie Sun uses that technology every day.

Spending a year in post-production, was there anything in specific that you were focusing on?
I think we were going back and forth trying to figure out the identity of the soundscape. We had to decide if we were going full-out vintage, like a throwback sound, or try to do something a little different. At the end, I think we decided on doing our own take of a vintage-sounding album.

And a lot of these songs are road-tested?
Yeah. A lot of these songs on this album go back three or four years. Some of them are more fresh, but it gave us plenty of time to road-test songs and see how the audience reacts to them to decide what gets the final cut for the album.

The title song was inspired by the film Easy Rider. How did that come to be?
I think we always knew we wanted to write a specific type of song, like a Hendrix Band of Gypsys–era type of song, which had some early funkadelic influences in it. After seeing the movie and listening to the soundtrack, we were inspired by the lifestyle the two represented. The film was just a cool tool we used for writing the song. We let it pour out after seeing that movie.

You’ve been touring since you were in high school. What do you look forward to the most?
My favorite part is reconnecting with old friends and connecting with audiences. Those are the most rewarding parts of touring. Seeing familiar faces at your shows and seeing new ones, and dipping into the local culture of all the different cities you go to in America. Those are some of our favorite aspects.

Do you pick up any of those cultural aspects as you go from city to city?
I hope it’s something that influences our work. It’s not like we go to Memphis and go, “Oh, we’re a Memphis soul band!” But I think it’s eye-opening to see some of the grit in some of these places. Every city has its thing, you know. We’re excited for our first time in Indianapolis to see what that’s all about.

The Sextones will be playing The Rathskeller at 8:30 p.m. April 22. Free entry, 21-plus.