- Brothers Eric and Adam Sarmiento share writing and vocal duties on The New Tribe’s new single, “Elevator.”
Meet the new The New Tribe, (mostly) the same as the old The New Tribe. Drummer Adam Sarmiento said the band started in Norman “like 25 years ago,” played for “three or four years,” then “called it quits” until a special fan asked that he and his brother, guitarist Eric Sarmiento, reunite with keyboardist Chris Gomez for a one-off show in October of 2016.
“Our mom was having kind of a significant birthday, and she requested it,” Adam Sarmiento said. “She was excited to hear those old tunes and feel the vibe again.”
The Sarmientos’ mother wasn’t the only one who enjoyed revisiting those vibes.
“We realized how much we liked playing with this particular group and the whole aesthetic of what the band was about,” Adam Sarmiento said. “There’s something about the chemistry of the three of us that it was hard to replicate in other bands. That’s what we’ve been doing ever since, playing as much as we can and writing and recording as much as we can. … A lot of what the band is about is kind of being optimistic during adverse times and situations. So we found it to have a lot of power and resonance.”
Released in April, Step Outside is The New Tribe’s first full-length album, which Adam Sarmiento said comprises “mostly the old tunes that we never got a chance to record in the old days.”
“That album is kind of unique in the sense that it’s all old material, but we were recording it new for the first time,” Adam Sarmiento said. “When you write songs 20 years prior, it’s almost like covering someone else’s songs by that point. You’re kind of a different person so many years later and so much has changed. You’ve learned a lot musically and just in life.”
Before Step Outside, the only recordings of The New Tribe were a four-song demo cassette, a single included on a compilation benefitting Amnesty International and whatever the band’s fans thought to tape in concert.
“We did kind of have a little following back in the day,” Adam Sarmiento said, “and there’s some amount of bootleg live recordings. There’s some fans out there that still have the old tapes and still know the old songs, but for the most part, given the amount of time between the two phases, we’re kind of considering this practically a new band for the majority of audiences.”
A “double A-side” single, available on 7-inch vinyl on Friday, features two new songs: “Elevator” and “Light One Candle,” based around the adage “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,” a favorite saying of the Sarmientos’ grandmother Hazel.
“She was a real cool lady,” Adam Sarmiento said. “She was kind of a suburban housewife, but she was really into a lot of this New Age-y stuff, far-out stuff like listening to blank tapes and hearing voices, and we got books from her on psychedelic mushrooms and cooking with cannabis and all kinds of crazy stuff.”
The lyrics to “Elevator,” meanwhile, express the desire to reconnect with life. “I’m so low, but I want to be so high,” the song says. “I want to live before I start to die.”
“These new songs are more where want to be going and kind of our new direction, I guess you could say,” Adam Sarmiento said. “What we’re doing now is what we wished we had been doing back in the day. I feel like we’re kind of realizing the potential of what we wanted to be doing back then. We just didn’t have as much experience to translate our desired goals into a final product.”
Making musicThough the band, which currently also features bassist Sterling Finlay, is spread out between Norman, Dallas and San Marcos, Adam Sarmiento said they are playing and writing songs together every chance they get. The next New Tribe album might be a double-LP.
“We already have 11 tunes for that, and we’ll probably have more than 20 by the time we’re done,” Adam Sarmiento said. “We’ve been blessed with some productive times on the songwriting front. I think we’re kind of inspired by this whole experience.”
- Formed in the early ’90s, The New Tribe reunited in 2016.
While certain aspects of making music have improved since the ’90s, Adam Sarmiento said, the local music scene has not exactly changed for the better.
“We have more access and ability,” Adam Sarmiento said. “It’s easier to make recordings and we have access to ways of distributing it, but at the same time, there’s kind of a flooded market. People seem kind of cynical and jaded about music, like it’s really hard to get people out anymore at the local shows, I think, because there’s so many competing forms of entertainment.”
In the original days of The New Tribe, Adam Sarmiento said, music fans seemed to have more energy and enthusiasm.
“The scene in the ’90s around here was a little more vibrant, I would say, in Norman,” Adam Sarmiento said. “You had three or four venues on Campus Corner, and they were usually pretty well packed with lines out the door and stuff. So that was kind of the original scene and it was sort of a ’90s kind of hippie renaissance and we were definitely in the mix of that. It was kind of a fun time to be playing shows. People had fun in those days; let’s put it that way. … I feel like we’re still searching to rebuild that community that we had back in the day because a lot of the old fans have moved on or they’ve got kids and they’re too busy to go to shows anymore.”
But the band is always thankful when longtime fans show up at gigs.
“The older fans kind of know the drill,” Adam Sarmiento said. “They’re the ones, usually, who start the dancing and getting into it. I feel like that’s not as common around here at shows anymore, so maybe the older fans can lead the way showing the young folks how to get into it more.”
The New Tribe celebrates the release of its new single 9 p.m. Friday at The Root with Astral Planes and Jarvix and is scheduled to perform Saturday at Illinois River Jam in Tahlequah.