Like recently profiled Absinthe Rose, Sentinel are a band that I really wish I had been familiar with quite a bit sooner… although the two equally impressive bands differ in nearly every other way… Sentinel are a Bay Area dream pop trio, inspired by post-punk, ethereal wave, and shoegaze, who have been at it for close to two decades, and whose latest effort, Points of Light, dropped this June. The album boasts songs that are a little more popularly accessible than, although not entirely dissimilar to, Dead Can Dance and Ride, who are admitted and obvious influences (They also cite The Police, Coldplay, and The Arcade Fire as influences… which would seem to bridge that gap.) The album itself actually resembles a dreamier, more ethereal, and more subdued take on the aesthetic of the first two Garbage records (whom they also claim to be a big fan of.)
Sentinel is comprised of guitarist Dennis Bestafka, vocalist/bassist Tarabud, and drummer Bill Mowery. I recently got a chance to chat with Dennis about Sentinel’s history, influences, and highlights. I ask him about the highlights of the band so far and he tells me that the local music community has been incredibly supportive and inspiring and has also allowed them quite a few big opportunities.
“I’d say probably getting consistent airplay in the Bay Area has been a highlight, with stations like Live 105.3 FM. Aaron Axelsen has a Sunday night show and he’s been playing us for the past 10 years or so. Almost every station has a local hour and it really gives a lot of courage and confidence to the bands to take things to the next level. But we’ve also been on all kinds of podcasts in Europe, the UK, Japan, Latin America, which is so amazing. Right now we’re on NPR in Hawaii, which is really cool. We always do instrumental versions, as well as vocal versions, of the tracks, which has landed us in places like NPR and The History Channel. Our last show was at Great American Musical Hall and we played a sold out show there as the support, which was really great. And we’ve played some pretty big festivals. The music and arts scene here is great. I mean, I’ve lived all over as well, from Minnesota and I lived in Texas and I was on the East Coast for a while, but it’s really nice here in the Bay Area. There’s a lot of tolerance and mixed ethnicities and it’s kind of small and there’s a lot going on for such a small space. The bands in the Bay Area stick together and huddle together and stay active.”
Dennis tells me about Sentinel’s progression and evolution of recent years and says that the experience has been quite positive, but that their latest output and their current state as a band would seem to encompass that whole experience.
“We’ve been a band for a while now and we’ve been in this current lineup for five years now, but people seem to like us, which is really encouraging. We’re trying to be consistent and persistent, but people seem to like us. We have a really solid record this time, so it’s like, ‘Just go for it!’ This is the first time we’ve had a publicist, which is really nice, but I would say that we pretty much do everything ourselves. By trade, I’m a recording engineer. We love the process, we love recording. Sometimes we write and record at the same time, sometimes to get something out of just jamming. We took pretty much the whole year off last year to focus on these songs.”
In addition to their musical influences, Sentinel have a pretty wide array of life experiences and cultural influences that would seem to be influential to their process and aesthetic, whether directly or subconsciously. I ask Dennis about the trio’s own personal backgrounds, careers, and interests, and he confirms that they are all involved in a variety of things.
“Tara, she’s a pretty interesting gal. She’s from Colombia and she’s very artistic. She does a lot of handcrafts and makes a lot of jewelry, she has chickens and she’s really into gardening and, by trade, she’s a therapist, which makes it natural for her to delve into the melancholy a little bit. Our drummer, Billy, is an actor by trade and does web design. I’m a music gear-head and I’m basically an EMT by day. I’m a veteran. I was in Iraq.”
Because Sentinel’s most obvious musical influences, which tend to come from the late-‘70s, ‘80s, and early-mid-‘90s (and those who have appropriated those golden eras of sonic subversions in the past decade and a half), I’m curious as to what music actually seems to most inspire Sentinel and what kinds of fans of music are most into their own sounds and Dennis tells me that their listeners do tend to have a similar amalgam of tastes to the three of them: “Foremost, people who probably have the same influences like us most: U2, Metric, The Cardigans, The Mondays… The band had a wide reach, in terms of influences. I think that maybe our influences stretch across decades a bit: The Beatles, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Cocteau Twins, The Verve. They’re probably my biggest influences of all-time.”
Sentinel are currently still plotting out their future endeavors, which they’re hoping reach far and wide, but they do have a date scheduled to play at Eat Real Fest (at 2:30pm), a food festival, on September 19th, and are hoping to take the live show on the road in the near future, while also continuing to record some new sounds.
“We’re going to be at Eat Real Fest. Our next show is a festival in Oakland, it’s a food festival, and we’re keeping our feelers out for a proper record release show and holding out for a really solid venue. We’re trying to be business-minded and just get away from playing any club on the weekends. We’d like to book a small, like two-week, West Coast tour, and we’re definitely putting our feelers out for an indie label. We have tons of more material and tons of stuff to lay down.”