The Seattle-based duo Sundae + Mr. Goessl comprises two award-winning musicians with a genuine love for jazz/pop tunes from the 1930s. But an added factor, a mischievous sense of humor, adds even more to that musical equation.
“We named our last album ‘When You’re Smiling’ because we really want to make people happy and make people smile and like we’re having a great time because that is definitely a huge part of the act and why it works so well in a live setting,” singer Kate Voss said in a recent phone interview.
Voss and Jason Goessl, the duo’s guitarist as well as Voss’ husband, will showcase their musical and comedic gifts Friday at Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts in Menomonie. They also are performing June 28 at Pine Hollow recording studio in Eau Claire.
For the Tainter performance, Sundae + Mr. Goessl will share the stage with Cathy Reitz and 7Swing, an Eau Claire-based band featuring vocalist Reitz, a rhythm section and three horn players.
Drawn to vintage jazz
As for how Voss and Goessl chose to focus on vintage music, they said it was a natural attraction.
“That’s both of our favorite type of music,” Voss said. She and Goessl, who also joined in on the interview, spoke from Boise, Idaho, where their current tour had taken them.
“When I first approached Jason about playing music with me, that’s what I wanted to play,” she said. “He very fortunately said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my favorite kind of music too.’ So we just sort of ran with it when we first started playing music together.”
The two met in Seattle’s music scene in 2012, although both had coincidentally moved to the city in 2001. Voss arrived from an area a couple of hours north of Seattle.
Goessl, originally from Denmark, Wis., came to Washington state from Minneapolis, where he worked as a musician. Goessl also attended UW-Eau Claire and played in the school’s nationally known jazz program.
Goessl explained how he was drawn to the music from an earlier era.
“Through years of playing music I just always come back to the stuff I like to listen to and practice — old school jazz,” he said.
That interest, which includes collecting vinyl LPs, has led him to seek out recordings by Les Paul, Chet Atkins and other guitar wizards such as Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and Charlie Christian.
Voss also relates to the music of Les Paul, especially when the songs include Paul’s singing partner.
“Les Paul and Mary Ford is one of my very favorite musical acts,” she said. “I love the way Mary Ford used to layer her harmonies and just the way they would interpret these songs — and at the time they were coming out they were pop songs from Broadway and things like that.”
To reflect the appeal of their approach, it should be noted Sundae + Mr. Goessl’s credits include Voss being named Earshot Magazine’s
Vocalist of the Year and, for the group, Best Duo of 2017 from Seattle Weekly.
Sense of whimsy
As much as they appreciate the music of that era, they also share the belief that those songs, and the serious musical chops they require, go well with some comedic elements.
“(S)omething both Jason and I feel very strongly about is that we found there seems to be a lack of fun, whimsy and joy in music these days,” Voss said. “And so when we started cultivating this act at first … we just would play these songs. Then I started telling some jokes and getting some banter between songs.”
She also found that the melodica — which she compares to “a harmonica and an accordion if they had a baby” — fit with the theme.
“Kind of silly, but I know how to play it so people would be so stunned,” Voss said, “and so we really wanted to cultivate something that would spark joy in people and make people feel happy about anything and let them forget about what’s going on in the world right now and in their life right now and just really have a fun, joyful time.”
As Goessl explained, it didn’t take him long to recognize the sunny side of Voss’ personality.
“Kate’s a very fun-loving, happy person generally,” he said as she laughed in the background. “And is a jokester as well.”
Their mix of serious musicianship and good fun, he went on to say, allows them to appear at a wider list of venues than a typical jazz act. That’s part of the purpose behind the group’s moniker.
“The kitschy name and everything is just getting the entertainment aspect,” he said. “So Kate tells jokes, and her delivery and her whole thing onstage is great. I can play the silent man. I don’t even have to say a word. I just have facial expressions and guitar noises.”
While their repertoire features mostly covers, they are working on more original songs, which will be reflected in the album they’re currently working on, expected to be out in late winter or early spring 2020. The album is being recorded at Pine Hollow.
But, as Voss pointed out, “All of our arrangements are original arrangements even if we’re incredibly inspired by certain performers. … We definitely take our time figuring out how we’re going to present each piece.”
One song that shows their flair for making material their own is “Bang Bang,” the Cher hit redone in a well-known cover by Nancy Sinatra.
The latter version got renewed popularity when filmmaker Quentin Tarantino used it in the soundtrack of his movie “Kill Bill Volume 1” (2003), and the Sundae + Mr. Goessl version faithfully stays with that arrangement on “When You’re Smiling.”
“We just started putting it in our gigs, and people just flipped out over it so we had to put it on the record,” Goessl said.
Voss became interested in covering “Bang Bang” in part because of a similar adaptation of the song by the popular Seattle band Prom Queen, led by Celene Ramadan and for which Goessl has played.
In fact, they put a Prom Queen song titled “Pretty Little Thing” on their 2016 album, “Makes My Heart Sway,” and will cover another song of theirs on the next album.
Considering their material, the historic Mabel Tainter would seem to be an ideal venue for Sundae + Mr. Goessl. The date came about, Voss said, when Reitz brought the theater to their attention and suggested the two groups might want to do a show together.
“When I checked it out I was like, oh my gosh! This is totally perfect for us,” Voss said. “That’s ideally where we would like to perform all of our shows — in historic, gorgeous, kept-up small theaters. And we have been developing our theater shows for the last few years now and it just gets better and better.”
Although now a Seattle resident, Goessl has continued to keep a connection with the Chippewa Valley. He plays a custom semi-hollow-body guitar made by Eau Claire’s Gordy Bischoff, and his pickups are made by John Galep of Dawgtown Custom Shop of Menomonie.
And, as a matter of fact, Voss pointed out, Goessl was, at the time of the interview, wearing a Bischoff Guitars T-shirt.
Like the duo’s other concerts, the local crowd can expect to hear their distinctive blend of strong playing and lighthearted humor.
As Goessl explained what the evening might entail: “We’ll play this serious jazz ballad … our hearts are pouring out … and right after that we go into a little goofy skit.”