Earlier this month British band Sunstack Jones released their fourth album with Mai 68 Records. The band traces its origins back to 2011 when they started as a songwriting project but over the years they grew to become a fully fledged performing band by 2016. Golden Repair finds the band branching out into new territory with rich three-part harmonies, a stronger emphasis on their live sound and songs that are rooted in collective songwriting with the five band members often facing each other in a circle while playing to come up with ideas. Tracks like the blues tinged “Nowhere Near An Ocean” and “Almost Hear the City” have a raw energy closer to mid career Verve or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club than what you’d usually associate with Sunstack Jones. Elsewhere “Shouldabin” and “Wintersong” carry themselves on gentle chords dripping with reverb and gorgeous harmonies. In many places it feels like the heaviest version of Sunstack Jones we’ve heard yet, but the album still retains much of the dreamy tranquil indie pop fans of the band would expect. The combination of dreampop and folk may have been perfected in the ‘90s by Mazzy Star and Mojave 3, but Sunstack Jones continues to carry the torch proudly into the 21st century.
Fadeawayradiate caught up with the group’s songwriters Chrisy and Lorcan to discuss their latest album, coping with COVID as musicians and dives into the history of the band as well as their influences.
What was the process of recording this album like compared to previous records?
Chrisy: We made this one how we imagined our favourite albums were made- 5 best friends in a room playing music with the red light on. Things were made up on the spot, unexpected changes occurred and there was an excitement in the air. Previously we’d kind of done drums, bass and rhythm guitar and then overdubbed everything else. We made a conscious decision to record live because there’s just a lot more soul in hearing things naturally ebb and flow. The beauty is in the imperfection.
Lorcan: In the early years, we’d been more of a studio band. We’d have the odd practise, then send each other song ideas, work out parts sat at home and then come back, a few practises, and record in the studio, track by track. It always sounded great but also meant that a lot of our stuff was recorded separately, so had less of a gang feel. When the last LP came out, we really put some leg work in and hit the road, playing whenever we could, a few gigs every weekend for a full year. As we played more and more, the songs became stronger, and we just really grew in confidence and hit our stride. We knew that the songs were the shit and that we could just walk into a room, all stand there, play the tracks together and capture that live feel.
Are these songs written from personal experiences?
Chrisy: Yeah- personal experiences, thoughts, emotions, viewpoints
Lorcan: This LP is the first that really feels like it’s the whole band. Take away any one of us, and the record just wouldn’t feel the same. We were a proper unit by the time we went in with Si, and everyone knew where they fit. It became this really intuitive thing, and everyone was writing, contributing and making this magical massive wall of beautiful noise.
How did you come to work with Simon Jones (bassist from The Verve) on this album?
Chrisy: Si recorded the album – engineered it. It was produced with our longtime collaborator Paul Den Heyer. We just found out that Si had a studio nearby and called up and said ‘can you record us?’ – it was about the time our last album had come out (that Nick McCabe had worked on) so we went down and played for Si and a few mates – scoping us out. We played some of the tunes we were working on with one room mic recording it all- they sounded great so we got to work.
Lorcan: I was made up to be recording with Si, but nervous too. It could have fallen really flat. But as soon as we got there, he was just dead down to earth, and we knew that he got it. That gave us the confidence to really go for it. When someone of legendary stature like Si Jones gives you the head nod of approval, you know you’re on the path to righteousness.
Has the pandemic affected the album release at all and how are you as musicians adapting to the situation?
Chrisy: Massively yeah- the release date was put back, we couldn’t gig, we couldn’t get it distributed properly – utter nightmare stuff. We’ve adapted by eating and drinking more and playing way less. We were supposed to be back in the studio with Si a few weeks ago but Tier 3 put the stoppers on that. So currently it’s just kind of plotting and planning for next year – hopefully get around the UK and Europe and record the next LP. Dates are pencilled in…
Is there any themes or messages lyrically or otherwise that extend across the album?
Lorcan: The themes are ones everyone can relate to. Life, love, concern for the world around us that seems to be falling apart. We’ve all got day jobs, so our struggles and hopes and dreams are the same as everyone else. The turmoil in Britain and the world at large at the minute is starting to feel threatening and unfamiliar, and that played into the lyrics. But the music is sonically uplifting and transcends the day to day, and for me certainly that’s something we try and convey – music that takes you away from the here and now, even if just for a few minutes. It’s something we’ve always aimed for, but I think this record has nailed it. Some mad sounds came out of the sessions, and it was really down to us all tapping into something that just seemed to be in the air. It was like an out of body experience and you’re just an observer, but you’re actually in it. Both of the days we recorded at Si’s were these beautiful, sun filled days in mid spring, and there was just this air of possibility…it was really tangible, and I think we were so tuned into each other, that it just flowed into the music. Like Chris said earlier, some of the songs on the LP were written on the day and are up there with the best on the album. And we knew going in with the songs we already had that they were strong.
How did Sunstack Jones initially meet and become a band?
Lorcan: Me and Chris were mates from when we’d lived in Leeds. He had a good haircut and a white parka, so he stood out. We were both already in bands, but always musically on the same wavelength. When both our bands ended, we were both just sat around twiddling our thumbs. Chris rang me and said he had a few tracks that him and his brother Richy (our drummer, who Chris met when he was born) had done and would I like to do some guitar on them. A few weeks later, we had 10 tracks good to go, and before we knew it, we’d accidentally stumbled into the band. A few line up changes, and we added Dave on guitar and Jules on bass. That was probably 2016, and that’s when it all really came together. Jules has these mad bass patterns that aren’t immediately obvious but just add these really interesting dynamics, and Dave sounds like he’s fresh from meeting the devil at a crossroads somewhere in the wilds of The Wirral.
Who would you say is your musical hero or heroine?
Lorcan: Ooof, that’s tricky…one? I don’t think I could say one. My personal influences are pretty easy to sound out I reckon: The Verve, Funkadelic, and 60s style garage psych stuff. I listen to a lot of funk, old stuff, hip hop, doom, whatever really.
What inspires you as musicians and songwriters?
Lorcan: At the risk of sounding like a massive hippy, in my head, I’m trying to add these soundscapes to the songs that I suppose I draw on from nature and those beautiful moments in life. The sun, the sea, the sky, the stars, the woods, a look or a smile, and all that wonder. I want to try and make a sound that has this ethereal hypnotic quality that taps into that same feeling that you get when you’re away from all the shit that the modern world throws at you. And I think we were all on that same page with this LP. Simultaneously though, I think our sound is equally rooted in where we are and where we’ve been, and our collective experiences. There’s a lot of 3am feelings in the music, an altered state quality and a lot of that comes from a lifetime of late nights and bright lights/ low lights, that I suppose are a communal way of trying to get away from all the shit that the modern world throws at you.
Chrisy: You sound like a massive hippy Lorc. But you are right.
Finally, is there an artist, album or song that changed your life?
Lorcan: Another biggie! What are you trying to do to us?! There’ve been a few watershed songs or albums for me I guess…Nirvana Nevermind changed everything for me, then The Verve with A Northern Soul, DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing (whilst driving through the desert), and hearing Sly and The Family Stone for the first time. My record collection weighs a tonne so it can change on a daily basis
Chrisy: The Fabs. As people congregate in churches, mosques and cult tents to be closer to God- we play music to be closer to Beatle.