Full Time Aesthetic sat down with Brooklyn’s own doom punk band, Desert Sharks, to chat about their new album and new guitarist, plus their song writing process, wigs, and alligators.
Tarot card design by Lindsay D. Williams.
How did you decide to choose “Sleepy Pie” as your first single to release?
Stephanie Gunther (bass/lead vox): This is the catchiest one on the new album, for sure. A lot of the songs are kind of heavy, not that this isn’t heavy, but it definitely has a dreamier sound. The backing vocals are more dreamy.
Cait Smith (rhythm guitar/backing vox): It’s got sort of like a familiar surf rock vibe while also taking a dark turn. Seemed like a good way to hook people.
The video was so fun, with, like, the sleepover thing, and then it quickly went into a horror thing. Are you all horror fans? How did you get the idea to take it to that level?
Stephanie: I think most of us are horror fans. We knew going into it that because the song is about being a dream girl, we wanted it to devolve in some kind of way. We weren’t sure exactly where we were going to take it, but then our friend Jeanette Moses who shot the video, came up with that idea. “What if you get possessed and there’s blood?” So we were like, that’s totally along the lines of what we were thinking, so it kind of just worked out that way.
Sunny Veniero (lead guitar): That’s also one of the reasons we released that song first, because we sent her the two singles and asked her which one she wanted to do a video to, and it was “Sleepy Pie,” so that’s what we released first.
Cait: Yeah, she’s a super pro. Excellent director and editor. We knew this video was going to be good, so we thought we should lead with that. It turned out, we were right!
It was great! And who played the mom character?
Stephanie: Emily from Substitute Scene, also Sunny’s gf.
Sunny: Head of our record label.
Stephanie: She wore my wig that I like to lovingly say—who did I say it made me look like? From Twisted Sister?
Everyone: Dee Snider! [laughter]
This is your first album since 2019, and we’ve all been through some things since then. How do you think the band has changed, and how have you changed as musicians? I know you have Cait now. How are things now?
Stephanie: I think the world stopping changed songwriting for us, for sure, because we always would practice in person, and then we were forced to start using technology more, like use GarageBand more. It ended up really serving us, because all our previous times going in to the studio, we didn’t have demos really. Like, we had phone demos from the practice space. Being pushed to work with GarageBand more, we switched our writing style to where it’s like, let’s actually record it out how we want the final product to sound. We experimented with it that way which was really helpful with backing vocals and guitar solos and stuff like that. I would say that was the biggest change in our process.
So what was that like, going with your own recordings where you laid it out, arranged it, composed the songs the way you liked them, and then you took them to [recording engineer and producer] Jeff Berner. How did that go?
Stephanie: It was amazing. Jeff is amazing. We did two cover songs with him in 2021 so we got to see how he works. The way it feels when you record with Jeff Berner is that you have this other member in your band who is just as excited and just as dedicated to getting the sound that you want. He’s helped capture exactly what we want. We show him the demo and we’re like this is the vibe and he’ll turn that up, you know? He gets it.
It sounds really good, what I’ve heard so far.
Cait: He knows the fun, weird pedals to pull out.
Sunny: Yeah, totally.
Cait: You know, to sound like a swarm of bees.
Sunny: Like, how do we make a weird spaceship sound here, and he’d be like I got it! And he’d come out with all these things.
Cait: Like pedals from the 80s…
Sunny: He had really great ideas, too, like the little things to add that we never would have thought of.
Stephanie: He’s 100 percent in. That’s why he’s awesome to work with.
Desert Sharks in 2022 (photo by Kate Hoos)
How did you start working with Substitute Scene, your record label?
Stephanie: Emily [O’Brien] is just as excited and dedicated as we are. When we were deciding who to work with, even with Baby’s Gold Death Stadium we were like, we want someone who likes our band, who’s excited about the release. We’d rather work with someone we know who’s excited and wants to put in as much effort as we want to. Emily fits all of that. She’s awesome.
Cait: Every artist she works with, she really loves, and it completely shows. She totally throws herself in for these artists and it’s really great.
Stephanie: She’s, like, the nicest person ever. When you feel awkward and shy, she’s like, “I’m Emily! I have this label. Check out this cool band!” And you’re like, “Thanks, Emily! Thanks, Mom!” That’s why she was a great mom in our video.
Cait: She turned in an award-winning performance.
I was sold on it.
I saw that you have this cool shirt with the tower tarot card on it. Why did you choose the tower card in particular out of all the tarot cards?
Stephanie: It stemmed from when we were writing the album. The last song we wrote, I called it “The Tower.” I dabble with tarot. I’m not going to act like I’m an expert. I had a tower year. The tower card is one of the most intense cards because it represents major upheaval, chaos, and destruction. But on the other hand, it offers space for newness, enlightenment, and change. We were all going through all of that, especially during Covid and everything.
I knew I wanted to write that song specifically titled “The Tower,” because I was in a tower year in 2022. When we worked on it, we thought this would be a really good theme for the whole album because we all went through this massive change and massive upheaval. But then we also had positive change, like we had Cait join the band. This is the first record with Cait on it. It feels like we found our missing puzzle piece and our sound is finally complete.
How did you all find Cait and bring her into the band? How did you know that Cait was the one?
Stephanie: We wanted to give her a rose.
Cait: Like when you gave me the practice space key ceremoniously. We met many years ago, I guess, because I had a band that I fronted back in 2016 called No Honeymoon. I was playing around with that for a couple years. I had played with these guys a couple times. Seen them a few times. I always loved Desert Sharks. We were friendly from around. Then I saw that they were hiring for a new member. I was like [gasp], it’s gonna be me!
Stephanie: She was right!
Cait: I sent an email, a very professional email.
Stephanie: It was the sweetest email.
Cait. Such a nice email.
Stephanie: Then she came to the first practice and had like notes and knew every song, and we were like, oh my god!
Cait: I came prepared.
Stephanie: We fell in love very quickly.
Cait: It was great.
Sunny: I remember afterwards, the three of us were gonna have the conversation of what do you think? And we were all like, duh!
Cait: I came in prepared and it was pretty great! And here we are a year and a half later. An EP later.
Desert Sharks in 2023 (photo by Kate Hoos)
You just had a release party for the “Sleepy Pie” video recently, how did that go?
Stephanie: It was awesome. We did a show at Our Wicked Lady’s rooftop with Big Oil and The Planes. For most of us, we hadn’t been to OWL’s rooftop in a really long time and it is nice up there! There’s fog machines and laser beam lights and things like that. But aside from that, a sea of friends showed up.
Sunny: We played the video before we performed.
Stephanie: Yeah, it was the best vibes you could hope for. It was really, really exciting.
So then next you have your EP release party at the Sultan Room April 1st with Choked Up and Kissed by an Animal? Are y’all super excited about that?
Cait: Super excited.
Stephanie: There’s some outfit planning for that.
Do you have any backstage rituals, like something you always do or a way to get yourself in the zone?
Sunny: We have to immediately find a drink ticket.
Cait: I’m with that one. Get the drink ticket.
Stephanie: A beverage or smokage will help. I forgot to mention this, we had this livestream yesterday and I put lapis in my pocket which is for your throat chakra.
Cait: I think it worked, because we sounded good. Like your vocals were super good.
Stephanie: Thanks! So I have to keep lapis in my pocket, is what I’ve learned. Although I might have lost it. Rebecca, tell us yours, you haven’t said anything.
Rebecca Fruchter (drums): My pre-show ritual is I don’t have one, currently. I just try to show up to the show on time.
Stephanie: You show up and you say you don’t want your drink ticket and you give it away.
Rebecca: And then I set up all the merch. And adjust the drums, as you know you have to do.
Stephanie: I think what we need to do is start planning some pre-show rituals. Like each show, we’ll introduce a new one and see which one works better.
Cait: Workshop it.
Sunny: We’ll hold hands in a circle.
Stephanie: Like before a game, when you put your hands in the middle.
Rebecca: What are we gonna say though?
What would you do if you got possessed in the middle of the show?
Stephanie: I think it would only add to the ambience.
Rebecca: Great energy!
Stephanie: I don’t think people would know the difference though. It would be lovely to be able to Alice Cooper it out and have a whole scene with blood and stuff, but we’re not at that level. Maybe in the future. Like for “Sleepy Pie.”
Stephanie: Maybe we should bring Toby though.
Rebecca: Yes, actually, my coworker was like, “Oh, is Toby going to be at the video release?” And I was like, “Oh no,” and he was like, “You should bring him.”
Cait: We definitely should bring Toby.
Sunny: Toby is the alligator in the video.
Oh! I love the alligator.
Cait: He really stole the show, him and Emily.
Stephanie: We should have a photo of Toby and Emily and be like, here are the real stars.
Desert Sharks in 2023 (photo by Kate Hoos)
I saw that you describe your music as gloom punk? What’s the distinction there?
Stephanie: Bandcamp called us gloom punk and we were like, ooh, we like that. People say we sound like this band or that band. We had a couple people say we sound like Ramones meets Black Sabbath. That was the highest, most beautiful compliment ever. I think gloom punk absorbs that. We have a little bit of metal, a little goth, a little punk, a little garage that we try to squish in together. I feel like it’s fitting.
Is there anything else you’re working on? Will you go on tour?
Stephanie: We have a couple small tours coming up. Just local stuff starting in April, hopefully Midwest in the summer, and more in the fall.
Sunny: For merch, we have a vinyl record that’s coming out and it’s on preorder right now.
Stephanie: The first 100 get a tarot card.
Cait: We have a long-sleeved shirt with tower card album cover.
Stephanie: And some stickers!
Cait: We have two more shows in April after the release. April 6 at Pet Shop in Jersey City and April 8 in Philly at Dobb’s on South.
If you could guest star on any TV show or in a movie for any director which would you pick?
Stephanie: Do you mean like acting, or a song of ours is played on the show?
Yeah, either on the soundtrack or you perform as a band on the show, like in a party scene? It could be one that’s on air now or an old favorite.
Cait: So like, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Yeah, obviously Buffy.
Stephanie: I don’t know how it would fit in, but I like Yellowjackets a lot. They could have a flashback to high school and we’d be the 90s band.
Cait: That’s good.
Rebecca: Yeah, that’d be a good one.
Stephanie: Hey, Yellowjackets! Have us on your show!
The Tower is out 3/31 via Substitute Scene.