Interview Sleepy Sun: ‘We Have A Lot Of Shows Ahead Of Us’

Alex Lynham catches up with guitarists Matt Holliman and Evan Reiss.

It would be fair to say that Sleepy Sun’s second album ‘Fever’ was a masterwork. A study in fuzzy, acid soaked rock, it bled unusual textures and boasted expansive atmospherics and attention to detail. For a band hailing from the desert it seemed natural to resort to that hack term ‘soundscape’, but that really does encapsulate the rich tapestries that Sleepy Sun paint.

After the success of ‘Fever’ however, it seemed for a short while like the wheels might have come off. Frontwoman Rachel Fannan left the band in very unamicable fashion, and the loss of their harmony vocals - and indeed vocal interplay between her and Bret Constantino, their frontman, threatened to take a little of the magic out.

A year later, with new album ‘Spine Hits’ in hand and a world tour just kicking off, Sleepy Sun appear to have weathered the storm. DIY catches up with guitarists Matt Holliman and Evan Reiss to find out how they’ve navigated safe passage through a choppy period for the band.

Your second record was a very sprawling affair – yet ‘Spine Hits’ is suddenly more focused, more accessible even – how do you account for this? Was it a conscious choice?
Matt: We first started writing the tracks for ‘Spine Hits’ in January of 2011. Consciously taking time off from touring helped to focus on piecing songs together. There was the vague idea that we wanted to record by the end of the year and it all actually came together very quickly in December. By that time we had amassed enough tracks, and had taken them out on a few tours over the year to give them time to evolve and grow.

I spoke to you after the Edinburgh festival in 2010 and you were content with the band’s progress to date – how has the last year and a half been in the world of Sleepy Sun?
M: It’s been a little different than when we first started touring in early 2009. From that point we basically toured for two plus years nearly non-stop. In 2011 we ended up centering ourselves back in San Francisco to rehearse constantly.

It seems like in between the last album and this one, you’ve been on the road a lot more than previously; did that affect the new record?
M: We actually toured a lot during the ‘Embrace’ and ‘Fever’ era, although since ‘Spine Hits’ has just been released we have a lot of shows ahead of us. Kinda the rest of the year.

If you don’t mind me asking, how has Rachel’s departure impacted the band? Has it changed the songwriting process at all? Previously, you described it as very much a collaborative effort; with a second vocalist gone, does that concentrate the creative pressure more?
M: Honestly, not much has changed. The five current members of the band wrote the songs on ‘Fever’, and she made various contributions in the studio. Evan picked up a bit more of the vocal work than he did on the previous records.

Lyrically, the new record also had quite a different feel – though it was quite hard to pin down exactly why – what do you think were the themes of ‘Spine Hits’, and in fact, do you agree that there was a substantive change in the lyrical material?
Evan: Thematically, I think the lyrics on the album partially reflect the past two years of being out on the road. There’s definitely a sense of urgency that I can hear within the context of the other records. And I do agree that there has been a shift in lyrical content from record to record. To me, it’s a natural progression that reflects the state we are in as a band at this moment. Mental illness, love, lust, archery, youth in revolt, burritos…it’s all in there!

And how about the record tour? It looks like a pretty exhausting run of dates! Will you be focussing on new material, or can we expect some old favourites?
E: Yes. The tour is going swimmingly. We’re going to be playing the new record and some oldies, as well. Let’s party.

After the tour’s over, what’s the plan? Are you going to get cracking on new material or take a break?
E: My guess is that we’ll take a collective bath and wash ourselves of all the dirt and sin our bodies will have had collected over five weeks touring. Afterwards, we have a short break and then we’re heading straight to Europe for a month. But yes, we’re always working on new jams if we have free time.

A couple of years ago (and mainly based on the way ‘Embrace’ was released) you said that illegal downloading didn’t especially affect you as a musician; if anything, in fact that it helped you. Having grown a fair bit in stature and sales since then, do you still take the same view?
E: I think so. I believe we’re still at a level where the band is always going to benefit from new listeners (whether or not they pay for the records). My hope would be that if someone downloaded our album for free, and they liked what they heard, it would encourage them to come out to a show and have a good time (maybe even buy a t-shirt or vinyl if they’re feeling frisky).

Let’s say somebody bought a copy of ‘Embrace’, but hasn’t heard anything by Sleepy Sun since – how would you describe ‘Spine Hits’ to them?
E: You know when you’re a kid and you eat a bowl of really sugar-y cereal? Well, when you’re done… you’re left with a heavenly trough of liquidated crystalline cow’s milk. Yup.

Looking to the future, what most excites you?
E: Hummus and motorcycles.

Sleepy Sun’s new album ‘Spine Hits’ is out now via ATP Recordings. They are on tour in Europe in the next couple of months.

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