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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Four high schoolers build indie-grunge rock band into successful endeavor, face futures post high school

By Jordan Tolley-Turner For The Spokesman-Review

Sitting in a loft as a crowd begins to build and chatter in anticipation below, four Spokane high schoolers can say they were a part of another sold-out show at the Big Dipper – a popular downtown music venue.

In the course of the past three years, it has grown increasingly difficult for the young men to count their number of shows and gigs across town, many of which have been at the same venues where they were once young concertgoers. All things considered, it really wasn’t all that long ago that the four musicians, now known as Shady Angels, were first picking up their respective instruments, falling in love with music, and dreaming of a chance to lose themselves on stage.

These days, the indie-grunge rock band (or “gringy rock,” as lead singer/melody guitarist Brayden Moore jokingly put it) is a staple of Spokane’s music scene and is well known among avid fans of the expanding local sound. Just a few years ago, though, Shady Angels was the usual collection of high school kids and the age-old story of a suburban garage band.

Shady Angels consists of Moore (age 18), drummer Jameson Sanborn (18), bassist Curran Chodorowski (17) and lead guitarist Owen Sonntag (17). Moore, Sanborn and Chodorowski attend Lewis and Clark High School, and Sonntag attends Gonzaga Prep. Moore and Sanborn are in their senior year, and Chodorowski and Sonntag are juniors.

In late 2021, it wasn’t much else but happenstance and a love for music that brought a few young high school students together to Sanborn’s garage. The initial group would “jam” and eventually began to write their own music. It wasn’t long before the chemistry of power chords, quick fills, Moore’s signature rasp and a refreshing sense of youth and honesty reminiscent of the 1990s alt-rock scene began to come together in a harmony that would surprise even the young rockers themselves.

As this idea began to look more and more like a project that could transform into something special if done right, they struggled to find a name. But it was Moore’s father Dave who stumbled upon a titular title perfect for a young band looking to break into the scene; a name that would command to be heard by newcomers and veterans alike.

No, that name was not Shady Angels, but instead the call of a common road sign designed for warning and a lack of acceleration – Slow, Children At Play.

As a band that “wasn’t taking it too seriously,” they stuck with the name for over a year and began to play public shows – many of their first being with other local namesakes such as “Monke Business” and “Vika & The Velvets.”

As they racked up shows and went through a few lineup changes, the true art of making one’s own music began to find itself at the forefront of the group’s processes.

Each member has his own influences, from the timeless licks of B.B. King, the techniques of Paul McCartney, the uniqueness of Deftones and the versatility of Pearl Jam – just to name a few. These influences have been with each member for years, and together they combine to create not only a wall of sound when a chorus comes crashing down but a sonic roller coaster of highs and lows with just about every song.

Initially, combining forces wasn’t the easiest process. Moore, being the lead singer and songwriter of the group, would more often than not come up with the bare bones of a song and then it would go from member to member until a cohesive sonic narrative was completed. With experience and time, the group has arrived at where they are today with the ability to work as a collective, share opinions and produce a sound that is definitely reminiscent of ’90s grunge and alt-rock.

“It has definitely changed from, ‘Here’s what I got, what do you guys have to add to it?’ to ‘OK, well here’s what we are making now,’ ” Moore said. “We learned what works well for us.”

Eventually, they felt the initial joke of being named after a roadside sign no longer fit the style and sound of a band that had quickly grown away from performing covers to paving their path sonically. Thus, Shady Angels was born when Sanborn and Moore combined two lyrics from the rock band Tool.

This growth led to the recording and release of a seven-track project, “Heirloom,” in August. It would feature fan favorites, such as “Song A” and “Act of 17,” as well as one of the first songs written by the group, “Broken Record.”

The release of the project was an instant moment of fulfillment for the band of once young dreamers aspiring to hear themselves on a record.

“It means everything to us,” Sanborn said as Sonntag chimed in. “Since I was 12 years old, I’ve imagined holding a CD or going on my phone and hearing something that I helped create.”

“I mean, we never thought we were ever even going to make a record,” Moore added. “I still feel really proud of us.”

Shady Angels has released two recent singles, “I am a Superman” and “Corvids,” but are all aware of the elephant in the room – graduation and college.

With Moore and Sanborn at the tail end of their senior years and preparing to leave or focus on postsecondary education, Shady Angels will remain for just a few more months – right about until the three-year anniversary of the band’s humble beginnings.

“The band has taught me to be patient, to be vulnerable, and how to have a really good time, honestly,” Moore said. He will be attending Western Washington University to eventually become a history teacher “unless this rock star stuff works out,” he added with a laugh.

For Sanborn, the band “has given me a new artistic outlet and given me a whole new avenue to express emotion and how I feel through music.” He will be earning his associate’s degree at Spokane Falls Community College before transferring to a university to study sound engineering.

In fact, this isn’t the only blow dealt to the group via graduation: Previous bassist Owen Swanson left last summer for the University of San Francisco.

“My time in the band gave some of the closest friendships I’ve ever had,” Swanson said. “And music is really important to me, so having the opportunity to make it with the people I cared about, and to be a part of something in Spokane, meant a lot to me.”

Chodorowski and Sonntag have a year of high school remaining, but both hope to continue making music and honing their crafts as they’ve been doing with the band.

“It’s opened me up to more of an emotional state and given me more ability to process my feelings,” Chodorowski said. “And I’ve loved the ability to create and then perform that in front of a crowd.”

“This band has brought me confidence and the feeling of knowing that when you really put in effort it will pay off,” Sonntag said, adding, “And it’s given me some of my most meaningful relationships,” before the rest of the band nodded and voiced their agreements with Moore chiming in: “We all really love each other and have had a really good time.”

As the interview concluded, the four high schoolers descended from the Big Dipper loft and began preparation for another Saturday night performance. It has grown much easier for the group to wipe the nerves away, but with closure on the horizon, each one of their remaining shows leaves room for a little extra emotion to bare.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Jameson Sanborn’s name.