Last modified: Thursday, August 21, 2014
Middle school pals don’t always stick together, especially through high school and college and beyond, but Hadley natives Michael Sokol, David Skelly and Brett Long have stayed tight. They’ve gone to concerts, geeked out over music they love, written songs and started a band together: Bunk.

Earlier this month the trio released its self-titled full-length debut CD; They’ll have copies for sale when they play the Taste of Amherst on Saturday at 7 p.m. Rob Schmidt will join the band on bass.

“Bunk” is a collection of 12 fine-textured pop songs that reflects the three friends’ close-knit collaboration. “As we were finishing writing the songs for this new record, we locked ourselves in a cabin in Vermont for a few days, and it was the most creative and productive I think we’ve ever been as a band. Something about not having Internet and cellphone service,” Sokol said. “And we went back to the cabin to record the album. We thought those exposed wooden beams would give the album that warmth and coziness we were feeling when we wrote those songs.”

Even at its loudest moments, there’s still a gentleness, a focus on melody and mood. Like the groovy “Choosing To Fall,” with its harmonies and shades of Orleans and Todd Rundgren. Or the percolating pop of “Titans,” which shares some DNA with Wilco and Fountains of Wayne. “Seems To Be” is over and done in less than two minutes, starting ghostly and ending in a country chug; it wouldn’t be out of place in McCartney’s '70s catalog. Little keyboard hooks pop out in nearly every song.

“A lot of thought and care goes into our chord progressions and melodies,” Sokol said. “We’ve been teaching each other theory and arranging for years, and we try to inject that excitement into our music.”

But Bunk doesn’t bang listeners over the head with clever moves. Instead they’ll deftly weave a surprising color into a song, like the dusky jazzy F chord that sets off the chorus of the album-closing “Erasing Everything” (which features Dave Houghton on impassioned vocals during the psychedelic outro).

“2081” is a jangling hit with wistful chords, one of the record’s catchiest choruses and a breezy energy that’s perfect for summertime. The trio made a video for the song in the Sokol family basement (where they also rehearse), in front of a wall-filling record collection that’s given them “incredible inspiration” over the years.

“We’ll just randomly pull some [records] out and display them as we practice,” Sokol said. “Looking at NRBQ or Miles Davis or Big Star vinyl as you play just brings a certain energy. There’s something in the air there.”

And what’s in the name? Are they big fans of “The Wire,” naming their band after one of that TV show’s most colorful characters? Nope, said Sokol; though they love the program, the name simply came from the close friends’ riffing off of each other.

“We would refer to our band with silly musical puns like Duke Smellington and Thelonious Junk. Somehow, through continuous goofy wordplay, we arrived at Bunk. We were booking a gig and needed to commit to a name and Bunk stuck. To us, the word ‘Bunk’ represents that strange place between playfulness and seriousness where our music exists.”

You can hear the new Bunk record and find out more information at bunktheband.com

Birthday bash

Stephen Desaulniers plays bass, yes, but that’s like saying Levon Helm played drums. Such a simple statement doesn’t capture the soul and unique style that those players bring to their instruments. Whether Desaulniers is playing with the Ray Mason Band, the Scud Mountain Boys or anyone else, his tone and feel are unmistakable.

It’s Desaulniers’ birthday and a number of local musicians are teaming up for a four-act celebratory show at the Luthiers Co-op in Easthampton on Thursday at 7:30. In order of appearance: Ray Mason playing solo; the Ray Mason Band; Brothers Born (Mike Wyzik (Ghosts of Blake) and Joel Stroetzel (Killswitch Engage)); and Quiet Union, an always-changing band which, on that night, will consist of Bob Hennessy (Rocky Roberts Band), Jason Smith (Fancy Trash), Wyzik, Desaulniers and special guests.

“I think the idea is for everybody to play with everyone else, but we’ll see,” Desaulniers said. “The only rule is that I play with everybody!”

Ken Maiuri can be reached at clublandcolumn@gmail.com.