Climbing to the top

Alt-rock band Sonnder is ready to take their career to the next level

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

The members of Sonnder know all about the daily grind. Most work multiple jobs and find creative ways to earn extra money, like donating blood…or saliva. But at the end of a long day, getting on that stage is the only thing that matters. They’re hungry for success and so far, it’s paying off.

Fantastic four: Band members of Sonnder are (from left) Ryan Killough, bass; Ryan Weidman, vocals and guitar; Kat Stein, keys; and Mike Liszka, drums. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

Before a recent show at Bourbon and Branch in Philadelphia, Sonnder was completely at ease backstage, munching on mac and cheese and chatting with friends. For three of the four members, the City of Brotherly Love is basically a second home. Lead vocalist Ryan Weidman, who resides in Doylestown, drummer Mike Liszka, also from Doylestown, and keyboardist Kat Stein, who hails from Washington state, met at the University of the Arts while studying music.

While his new friends were undergraduates, Weidman was in a graduate program for music education. Originally, he got into music because of his passion for singing and performing, and though he enjoyed teaching and serves as a substitute in Central Bucks, he chose the degree because it seemed logical at the time. But he knew he was meant for more.

Finding his path: Lead vocalist Ryan Weidman always knew deep down he was meant for the stage. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

“I just felt very worn out in my studies,” he said. “I had just went to school to practice and play music all the time and now I was just reading books for a year, writing papers and lesson plans. I felt really burnt out and thought, why am I doing music anyway?”

These thoughts took a toll on Weidman, and he found himself battling mental illness and suffered from a bad breakdown. To recuperate and get his head on straight, he spent some time in California during his spring break. After much self-reflection, he decided what was next. He wanted to start a band.

Back on the East Coast, Weidman linked up with Liszka to start writing, and Stein joined a few months later.

“We took promo photos before I ever played with you guys,” she laughed.

By fall 2013, Sonnder was established…for the most part. At one point, the band had a violinist as well as another female vocalist singing with Weidman.

“It was kind of like weird folk,” he reflected.

Since its creation, the band has also seen a whopping 14 bass players come and go, though they’re confident they’ve found a good match in current bassist Ryan Killough, a multi-instrumental singer-songwriter from Tinicum Township in Bucks County.

Sonnder released its first EP entitled “Thief” in August 2014, but local recognition didn’t truly begin until December of that year. On Weidman’s 25th birthday at none other than Bourbon and Branch, Sonnder announced an upcoming singles project, where it would release one song a month for all of 2015.

Local stations WXPN and Radio 104.5 were taking notice. They began playing Sonnder’s music and gave them the opportunity to perform at venues like Festival Pier and TLA.

A captivating energy: Sonnder commanded the stage during an intimate performance at Bourbon and Branch in Philadelphia. SAMANTHA BAMBINO / TIMES PHOTO

“They helped us get a lot of fame and notoriety in the local music scene,” Weidman said. “It’s cool to be asked to do those things.”

All of the singles released during the project culminated in 2016 in the band’s first full-length album, “Entanglement,” a unique blend of alternative rock and pop. From the catchy “Siren Calling” to the emotional “Late October,” there is something for everyone.

“It definitely changes song to song,” Liszka said of the band’s genre. “We’ll play stuff that’s heavier from time to time but then we’ll go the poppy way, too.”

Though “Entanglement” has gained them a solid local following, the band knows there’s still work to be done.

“We are grinding and dying for this project,” Weidman said. “But this is what we want to do, what we love. It’s our passion.”

And they’re doing whatever it takes to keep the dream alive. Stein nannies twice a week and works at a local bar the remaining days, which she described as “the same as taking care of kids.”

In addition to substitute teaching, Weidman fills in at Bourbon and Branch, works at Express and finds unique ways to earn a little extra cash. Sporting a blue bandage across his arm, he had just come from donating blood. But he admits the weirdest, and grossest, thing he’s done for the sake of the band is donate a saliva sample.

“We’re talking 12 milliliters of spit,” he said. “That’s a lot of spit.”

It’s this dedication to the craft that keeps pushing Sonnder forward. For the first time in almost two years, the band is back in the studio to record an EP, which is slated for release this fall. It’s been a lot of spontaneous writing and experimenting, especially with the new darker undertone Killough brings to the table, but they’re excited to rebrand.

“We’ve all grown a lot as musicians and progressed in different areas in life, so it should sound a little different while still in our personality,” Liszka said.

To promote the upcoming EP, Sonnder will be hitting a few locations in Bucks County this fall, including Triumph Brewery in New Hope for a special Halloween show. A brand new music video will be shot this month for “About Time,” and the first single off the EP, which will be called “Never Want You Back,” is expected to be released in September.

“We have so much more to say and share with everybody,” Weidman said. “The music is only getting better and coming from a more sincere place.”

To view upcoming tour dates and listen to Sonnder, visit sonnder.bandcamp.com ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com