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Back to Earth

Former Galactic Cowboy Dane Sonnier is having fun again -- with and without his spatula

During their respective spells with the Galactic Cowboys and Atomic Opera, Dane and Len were perhaps the least devoutly Christian members of their outfits. Both drink alcohol, both like cigarettes (Dane smokes voraciously during our interview) and both are content with a certain vagueness of faith.

"I have a strong belief in God," Len says. "But organized religion has sort of turned me off in the past couple of years. I don't go to church; I have my own personal relationship with God."

Adds Dane, "It's not our mission to save the world."
Thus, when the older Sonnier leads his band in the harmony-drenched chorus to "Redefine" (one of the band's more propulsive originals), singing, "I want to redefine the meaning of a friend," he could be addressing his faith, or he could simply be chiding a close companion who's dicked him over. It's not clear, and that's the beauty of it: The narrator is there to observe, not to preach. On "Jones Time," Len -- who sings lead on occasion, but lacks his brother's soulful pipes -- documents a female junkie's surrender to the needle. And on "Way to Live," the group's oft-present female protagonist is deserted by her husband, left with "seven kids in a project house where they did live." Grim stuff. But the Sonnier Brothers handle things with believable empathy.

The band's definitive anthem is "Live for Today" (not the old Grass Roots chestnut), a universal ode to keeping one's head in the present. With its uplifting all-for-one sentiments, twisting chord progression and irresistible, hymnlike chorus, it's usually the tune that makes converts out of first-timers in the audience. The song is also an obvious choice for a first single if the Sonniers ever land a label deal with the seven-song demo they're shopping. Originally, they had help in that department from Taylor, who co-produced the demo with the Sonnier Brothers (at the time, just Dane and Len with a studio band) last year. Early signs of interest were promising, but soon Taylor's leads began to dry up, and the two parties split amicably.

"We took a stab at the whole relationship thing [with Taylor] again. We basically just solidified our friendship, and that led to the natural progression of him playing with us [Taylor plays keyboards on the demo]," says Dane. "Then, you know, it was like, 'Let me try and shop this.' But toward the end, it was just ...."

"He wants to play, man," Len jumps in, referring to Taylor's work with his own jazz fusion outfit, Moons of Jupiter. "He doesn't want to manage bands."

So, for now, Dane is managing the Sonnier Brothers Band, and doing so with some success. Aside from playing weekly at the Urban Art Bar, the group can often be seen opening for touring acts at Rockefeller's and the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Live, the band is a powerful, professional unit, which is remarkable considering they don't have the money to afford a rehearsal space.

"So basically we just get our rehearsals done by playing gigs," Dane says. "We've just made a point to take any gig -- no matter what the price. We'll play anywhere with anybody."

Once you've had and lost everything, it seems, you learn to appreciate even the smallest pittance.

"To me, music had always been about fun," Len says. "And when you take the fun out of it, what's the point?"

The Sonnier Brothers Band performs Thursday, February 27, at the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam. Doors open at 8 p.m. With Hr and Ty and the Semiautomatics. Cover is $5. For info, call 225-0500.

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