There’s a crowed driveway off Forest Lane near Texas Instruments where Aarón Mireles, bassist and lead singer of Sub-Sahara, lives.
Getting to his home, where the band practices, means snaking through trucks decorated with collages of band and record label stickers and parallel parking behind a grey Pathfinder.
When you finally get to Mireles' back bedroom, his little dog, Saroo Gravy, greets you. The band is enjoying a pre-practice snack of sour cream and cheddar potato chips and iced green tea.
This is a relatively new space for the band’s weekly Sunday afternoon practices.
“This place is much better than the apartment we used to practice in,” says guitarist Elvis Martinez, noting the brick and solid concrete walls of their new space. “We used to have to play so quietly. This place is basically soundproof, so we can play as loud as we want.”
If you’ve seen one of Sub-Sahara’s live performances, it is hard to imagine the rich atmosphere of its aquatic darkness being stifled by the threat of a neighbor’s noise complaint.
Mireles laughs as he says the darkness of the music is his fault, pointing to a bookcase filled with CDs. “If you look through my CD collection, you’ll see that I mostly listen to post-punk, but we’re influenced by everything.”
It is difficult to define Sub-Sahara’s sound. Post-punk would be the easiest word, but there’s an undeniable danceability to the music that can get hips swaying on tracks like “Bleeding Gums Murphy” as easily as it can get circle pits forming on tracks like “Royale With Cheese.”
“The song titles don’t really have anything to do with the song lyrics,” Mireles says. “We make songs, and we just kind of call it whatever we want based on what’s around.”
That’s also how Sub-Sahara got its name. Mireles' brother and drummer, Alex Mireles, says the name comes from the Foals song “Spanish Sahara.”
“We were just sitting around trying to think of a name when that song came on, and I just said, ‘Sub-Sahara,’” Alex Mireles recalls.
It's clear from this practice space, the band’s disregard for song titles and genre definitions, and the effortless adoption of its name that Sub-Sahara is interested in putting its music in the foreground.
On Sunday afternoon, Sub-Sahara is playing a new song, “Berry,” and still working out some kinks.
“The structure is there, and so are the lyrics,” Aarón Mireles says, “but there’s a lot of flare that needs to be worked out.”
Other songs, like “Jaguar,” remain in an instrumental state. Fans have heard pieces of “Jaguar” at recent Sub-Sahara shows. The lyrics are coming, but the band just hasn’t found anything that feels right.
Songwriting happens organically for Sub-Sahara, with the music always coming first and the lyrics coming later.
The songwriting magic happens spontaneously. As Martinez messes around with different pedals on his board, Aarón Mireles begins noodling around with a little bit of a bass riff.
Martinez’s attention falls away from the electronic conversation as his guitar joins his bandmate in a musical conversation. Looking on, Alex Mireles takes a second or two to find where his drums fit in, but he finds the rhythm with a few hits on the snare and a symbol crash.
All of a sudden, it’s happening. This is the beginning of new Sub-Sahara music — music that will be added to a database of short sound recordings Aarón Mireles keeps on his phone. Lyrics will also find their place from the notes he writes during moments of inspiration at his day job in an auto shop.
“I would prefer to actually write lyrics,” he says, referring to the romantic image of a writer scribbling in a little notebook. “But at the shop, I just don’t want the book to get stained.”
The band runs through a few of its standards, making minor adjustments and adding new details. “No song is ever really finished,” Martinez says.
For as popular as the band has become in Dallas’ music scene, its members acknowledge that they are still a band in development and are always willing the make adjustments to their music when they can afford new equipment or get constructive criticism.
“We’ve never really made music with what people will think of it in mind,” Martinez says, “so it’s always amazing to us when we see people singing along at shows — especially when we haven’t even posted lyrics.”
The band’s next live performance will be at City Tavern downtown with Catamaran, Young Mammals and Get a Life. It’s hard to find a week that goes by without at least one Sub-Sahara show.
After one final run-through of “Berry,” practice ends with the band’s post-practice ritual of playing Street Fighter on Xbox. Don’t let Aarón Mireles' skills as a singer and bass player fool you; he was really born to be a professional Street Fighter player.