“Lemme hear ya say … I. Can’t. Stop,” Mark Sexton, beckoning to the crowd, croons into the microphone.
The lively crowd — nodding, bouncing, grooving to the beat — loudly shouts back in unison: “I. Can’t. Stop.”
Sexton is doing what he does most Saturday nights: stirring up a dance-centric vibe while performing an array of original funk- and soul-steeped jams with his band, the Sextones, also featuring Alex Korostinsky (bass), Dan Weiss (drums) and Ryan Taylor (keys).
But this isn’t most Saturday nights. The Reno-based band is nearly 6,000 miles away from home, on the other side of the globe, playing in a church-turned-hospital-turned-music venue — Altes Spital, which translates to “old hospital” — tucked in the village of Viechtach in Bavaria, Germany.
After playing a blistering set to a host of dancing Bavarians who are packed in front of the stage and jammed in the overhanging mezzanine, the Sextones have their crowd approval punctuated by the venue’s owner, Ollie. Hopping on the mic, Ollie, speaking German, addresses the concert-goers before turning to the band and tacking on — in English — an emphatic endorsement.
“Guys … I want you back!” yells Ollie, triggering a wave of cheers from the Sextones’ newest batch of European fans.
This raucous Saturday night in mid-September, as seen in videos, was a microcosm of the Sextones’ first-ever international tour, which ran from Aug. 31 to Sept. 23, 2018. The Reno quartet trekked hundreds of miles through Europe, playing 21 shows over 24 days in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Austria, France and Switzerland.
Indeed, the Sextones have come a long way — in more ways than one — since they first started turning (and softly nodding) heads in Reno-Tahoe area pubs more than a decade ago as the formerly known as Mark Sexton Band. Back in those days, becoming a touring band — let alone one that plays overseas — was tough enough.
“Before we graduated (college), we were playing a lot of bars and getting kicked out for lying about our age,” recalls guitarist and vocalist Mark Sexton, who years ago attended the University of Nevada, Reno. “The whole time we were in school we daydreamed about being on tour. We counted on summer or any break we had — winter break, spring break — and would send emails to venues and plot a tour as soon as school got out.
“We got really serious about it when we graduated from college and were ready to pull the trigger on doing it full time. We wanted to do it while we’re young and see how far we can go with it.”
Ten years later, the Sextones haven’t slowed down. Not only is the group fresh off of introducing their sound to European crowds, they’re only a year and a half removed from releasing their official debut album, “Moonlight Vision.”
For the 11-track LP, the band reverted to old-fashioned forms of recording. Gone were laptops. Gone were isolation booths. Gone was tracking one instrument at a time. Instead, the Sextones set up shop in the same room at Prairie Sun Studios in Sonoma County, Calif., tracking all of their songs live to 2-inch analog tape.
Tracking to analog was a throwback move inspired by the band’s biggest funk and soul influences, said Sexton, pointing to artists like Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, and Sly and the Family Stone, among others.
“Trying to create our own classic soul album was really the goal,” Sexton said of “Moonlight Vision.” “We wanted it to sound warm … we wanted it to sound like a big hug. That’s why we recorded it onto analog tape. It’s definitely got a warm analog vibe to it.”
And with the rhythm section recorded together to give it a “live feel,” the band didn’t lean on the power of heavy editing; they had to nail their in-studio performances.
“We needed to know before we recorded what we were going for,” Sexton said. “We recorded in a really crunchy way that you can’t undo. It was a nice challenge in decision-making on the spot.”
Added drummer Dan Weiss: “I think as our music tastes matured, so did our writing and the way we approach how we play music now. It just comes with time and age.”
Harnessing a more mature sheen to their sound, the Sextones’ debut effort was embraced on the West Coast and throughout the states. What’s more, “Moonlight Vision,” released in April 2017, put them on the international map long before their Euro tour this fall.
A few days after “Moonlight Vision” dropped, the Sextones’ email account had an unexpected surprise hit their inbox, recalls bassist Alex Korostinsky.
“We just got an email that says, ‘Greetings from Japan,’” said Korostinsky. “We were like, ‘what the f**k?!’”
The message was from Japanese record label P-Vine Records out of Tokyo. They wanted to sign the Sextones to a record deal. Ironically, the Reno band had pitched itself to the same label a few years prior, but never got a response.
“We weren’t sure if they ever got that (initial) email,” Korostinsky said. “They said they saw us on iTunes. It was like … well, whatever it takes. So that was a cool opportunity.”
In fact, the Japanese-released “Moonlight Vision” — a special edition with a bonus track — has its own kiosk in every Tower Records in the Japanese territories, he added.
Naturally, the Sextones have their long-term sights set on someday expanding their international touring to Japan. Korostinsky feels it will take “another solid release” before they get the right momentum in Japan for a tour.
For their recent European tour, the Sextones were connected — through fellow Reno band Hopeless Jack — with a booking agent out of Brussels that takes on American bands one month at a time, Sexton said.
While Sexton said the band was a little bit nervous going into the tour, their minds were quickly put at ease once they plugged in and played for welcoming crowds like the one in Bavaria.
“In a lot of ways we didn’t know what to expect going over there,” Sexton said. “But it was really great. And audiences were really attentive, which was really cool. We’d play in a village in the outskirts on a Tuesday night and walk in the venue thinking, ‘Is anybody going to show up to this place?’ And it’d be pretty full. We’d be like, ‘whoa!’
“I don’t know if it was the hype of us being an American band or if that’s just the level of appreciation that they have for live music there, but people were definitely a little more locked in. Instead of fighting for the audience’s attention, we got it a little easier.”
Korostinsky said while playing in France he even caught a guy singing along to one of their songs.
“I can only assume he checked us out prior and learned it and enjoyed it and all that,” he continued. “While they’re not as rowdy as American crowds, they’re just more patient, and really just there to see and hear you play.”
And then listen to those songs when they get home. According to band members, they sold all of their vinyl records halfway through the tour.
“When you tour in the states, from our experience, you’re barely selling one or two vinyl a show,” Korostinsky said. “Over there, that’s all anybody wanted was the vinyl records. And after we sold out of the vinyl, CD sales spiked.”
Since returning to the states, the group has been working on new songs — which they’ve peppered into their live sets — and the initial framework of a new album, Sexton said.
“We’re at the point where we have a full album’s worth of material,” he continued. “It’s really a matter of us getting together and deciding how and when we’re going to record it and release it.”
Stylistically, Korostinsky said, the band is shifting in a few different directions. While the Sly and the Family Stone-like influences remain, the group is also exploring more roots-rock sounds (think: Little Feet).
Another shift: the Sextones’ new material has “some political overtones,” which Korostinsky said is unavoidable in the current political climate.
“‘Moonlight Vision’ was more about love motifs and whatnot,” he said. “While there are still some of those songs, it’s definitely more politically-charged. Not in an overtly Creedence Clearwater way. But you’re not helping by staying silent about the political climate.”
In-between ironing out the mechanics of their new songs, the Sextones will be booking shows on the West Coast and beyond in the near future.
Synth player Ryan Taylor, the lone member who lives in Truckee, said a perk of being based in the region is the proximity to big cities with vibrant music scenes.
“As far as West Coast touring is concerned, we’re a relatively short drive, touring-wise, to get to LA and San Diego, and it’s about the same to go up to Portland and Seattle,” Taylor said. “So you can hit all the big cities — it’s centralized.”
Come April, however, the Sextones won’t be anywhere near the West Coast.
The band will be making good on Ollie’s request to come back to Bavaria. The Reno soul band will embark on their second European tour, hitting many of the same venues on their first go-round across the pond.
“Our tour manager said we had a good first European tour,” Sexton said. “He was saying, ‘This is a good one, this will be good grounds to build from.’ I’m stoked. I hope it’s something that turns into our niche, where we can tour Europe twice a year.”
Added Korostinsky: “Hopefully we’ll play in front of more people, and play in front of the same people who saw us the first time and took a chance on us without really knowing much. And just build on it.”