Longtime Black Sun Ensemble collaborators, Sun Zoom Spark (1995-2005) formed in 1995 when its members relocated to Tucson Arizona from various places in the Midwest. Praying to their own eclectic muse, Sun Zoom Spark celebrates the rock and roll tradition by combining textural ensemble improvisations with acid/art rock, power-blues and folk influences, creating a unique blend of modern alternative and 60’s/70’s inspired psych-rock.
Formed around the initial core group of Eric Johnson (vocals, guitar), Bryan Kohl (drums, vocals) and Steve Goetz (bass), SZS recorded their first project “Against the Giant” in Madison Wisconsin in 1995. Before the project was completed, Eric Johnson moved to Tucson and was joined by Bryan Kohl at the end of 1995. Instead of showcasing the material from “Against the Giant,” the band chose to move onto new material. “Against the Giant” remains unreleased. The duo spent 1996 developing a new direction that combined Kinks-like songwriting, the folk-rock of REM and the garage-band bite of the Stooges. Sun Zoom Spark completed “The Red Planets” project in fall of 1996. A few cassettes of the projects were made but for the most part, “The Red Planets” also was never officially released. In 1997, high school friend and former band mate, Young Arnold moved to Tucson and joined Sun Zoom Spark on bass, creating a more flexible and often heavier sound. The power-trio began to play gigs around Tucson and set about recording a series of tracks in 1997 that made up several “compliation-style” recording projects. “Alpha Jerk” and “Slightly Fantastic” collected both demos by Eric Johnson and songs recorded by the full band. While both projects were duplicated to cassette, neither has been officially released onto CD. During this time, Sun Zoom Spark played often in local and regional venues, contributed to small film soundtracks, and was the featured artist on local television and radio showcases. In early 1999, the band recorded “Electricity,” which finally saw a proper release in 1999 and was remastered and re-released in 2003. “Electricity” got great reviews from both national and international critics.
“With guitar, bass, drums and vocals as their tools, Sun Zoom Spark lays down a really far-out vibe, coming more from a diet of Pink Fairies, Jefferson Airplane, Byrds & Pink Floyd than anything to do with Sabbath or their ilk. When the band rock out, then you turn the volume up to 11 and let it rip, with some red-hot guitar riffing, fuzzed and surging to effective degree. There’s a decided late sixties American feel in part while a more early seventies UK “Glastonbury Festival” vibe takes most of the rest.” -Andy Garbaldi (Dead Earnest)
In mid-1999, Eric Johnson moved temporarily to Seattle Washington and left Kohl and Arnold to join the now-reforming Black Sun Ensemble. Johnson returned in 2000 and the band continued to perform until bassist, Young Arnold left the group in September 2000. During this time, Kohl and Johnson began work on recording John Paul Marchand’s original rock opera “Twitch A Rock Opera from the Earth,” which eventually showcased over 20 Tucson musicians on project. In early 2001, original SZS bassist Steve Goetz moved to Tucson and rejoined the band in Arnold’s place. While Johnson and Kohl were busy with supporting Black Sun Ensemble, the new SZS line-up did record two projects that year. “In Stereo” was released in fall 2001 and was met with strong reviews from both local and international critics. The other project, “Left for Dead,” was an improvisational recording inspired by the poetry of former band mate John Galuska. This project was left incomplete for nearly 14 years, until, in 2014, Johnson completed the overdub work, mixed and mastered the material. “Left for Dead” was released in September of 2014. In early 2002, Goetz left the group and the band went on what seemed to be permanent hiatus while the remaining members continued to support Black Sun Ensemble. In mid 2002, Tucson’s Sparrow and Cicada Theater Works Company, approached Johnson and rock opera creator, John Paul Marchand to stage a version of the opera, that eventually employed a cast and crew of nearly 40 people. Johnson reformed Sun Zoom Spark to serve as the opera’s “orchestra” for the performances. Johnson recruited Black Sun Ensemble’s saxophonist Brian Maloney (bass), Greyhound Soul organist Bobby Hepworth (organ, synthesizer) and J Ratcliff (drums). The quartet enjoyed the playing the rock opera enough to continue on playing regular gigs with both old and new SZS material through 2003. In the January of 2004, Sun Zoom Spark began recording “Saturn Return,” which was released later that year. Sun Zoom Spark also contributed to a Chrome tribute album, “You’ve Been Duplicated”, released in March 2005 on Aktivator Records.
SZS’s track “March of the Chrome Police” was recorded at Signalhouse Studio. Engineer and muli-instrumentalist John Axtell contributed on synthesizer, along with Brian Kessler on drums. Keyboardist Bobby Hepworth left the group in mid- 2004 and was replaced with John Axtell on guitar. This version of the band played the annual “Great Cover Up” benefit gig at Club Congress in November of 2004, delivering a memorable set of all 13th Floor Elevator material. In December 2004, J Ratcliff left the group. The group did place one final show, The Kinks Tribute Concert in July of 2005 with Brian Kessler on drums, in support of local community radio station KXCI. After that, Sun Zoom Spark’s 10 year history came to an end. In 2010, Eric Johnson created a documentary “Sun Zoom Spark Saturn Return” out of film the band and others shot during the recording of 2004’s “Saturn Return” CD. The DVD was released fall 2010.