LOS ANGELES -- As far as Chris Karn is concerned, as long as he doesn't develop what he calls "typical singerisms," he's doing OK.
The frontman of the pop group Sonichrome, who recently released their debut LP, Breathe the Daylight, is referring to rock singers' tendencies to be overly protective, if not a bit wimpy, when it comes to their voices.
"I'd rather not turn into a typical singer and start going, 'I need some hot tea and a lemon,' " says the 29-year-old Karn, accenting his point with an exaggerated whine as he lounges at his label's headquarters. "I did catch myself the other day, going, 'I think the air conditioning is drying out my throat.' But that's not how I am normally."
These days, though, life is far from normal for Karn and his Sonichrome bandmates. After only a week in stores, pop radio has already latched onto their debut album's first single, "Honey Please."
It's an exciting time for the Orange County, Calif., trio.
Karn says making the transition from sideline guitarist for the moderately successful '80s pop-group General Public to fronting his own band was a bit daunting at first. But after months of recording himself in his home four-track studio, playing it back, studying the flaws and strengths and trying again, he felt confident enough to form Sonichrome in mid-1996.
"I even read some book, like 'You, Too, Can Learn How to Sing,' " he says. "That's how I learned."
Wearing a neo-retro blue shirt and tan pants, the tall, lean Karn is relaxing in a conference room at Capitol Records, located on Tinseltown's most famous corner, Hollywood and Vine. Across from him sit his bespectacled bandmates, bassist Rodney Mollura and drummer Craig Randolph. Mollura, 28, wears a black shirt and brown pants, while the reticent Randolph, 27, is clad in a bright-orange shirt and black jeans.
The players' multicolored garb is completely in keeping with the band's name -- a moniker that essentially means "sound color" -- which in turn matches the sonic variety of its music. Breathe the Daylight is an accessible, rock-pop record that embraces a host of musical styles while blending melodic hooks and introspective lyrics. "I don't think I write with a lot of testosterone going on," Karn says.
Featuring wah-wah guitars over an '80s pop soundscape, "Honey Please" is buoyant, era-surfing alterna-pop, as is much of Breathe the Daylight. "Coming Home," for example, makes a distinct reference to Motown, while "Dirty Water" threads Delta blues in and out of '90s guitar rave-ups.
"We all have a decent amount of experience playing different styles of music," says Mollura, who's played with Randolph since high school in bands covering everything from rock, punk and '80s pop to disco, jazz and funk. "It's not like we've all just been playing rock our whole lives; we all know how to bring out different feels, so it doesn't all sound mono-style."
"There's a lot of subliminal things that happen because they [Mollura and Randolph] have a lot of influences from playing in different bands," Karn adds. "Whether they openly acknowledge it or not, they'll hear something in one of the songs and say, 'that's an R&B back-beat,' or whatever, and they'll just start doing it naturally. And that's the way it sounds."
While "Over Confident" is an ear-catching opener, with its punk rhythms and pure-pop melody line, one of the album's standout tracks is the countryesque ballad "Folding."
With its disillusioned lyrics and lonesome-sounding guitar line, "Folding" initially sounds as if it were written on the brink of surrender, with Karn singing, "Salty tears are flooding my eyes/ I'm folding." But then, from the bottom, the song lifts upward.
" 'Folding' [is] about giving up, but turning negatives into positives," says Karn, explaining that the song's title is in part a reference to folding in a card game, and used as a metaphor for giving up in life.
"But it becomes like folding back your favorite pages in your favorite book ... and remembering the better times in your life, that you've been happy before and you'll be happy again," he said. "Even though whatever situation you're in really sucks."