Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shooting the shit with Sunset Guns

  Greetings dear readers! Sunset Guns are an incredibly fun Brooklyn based four piece, and we're proud to have them playing for us at Fort Useless on July 13th. I sat down with Jon Mann (guitar/vox) and Derek Hawkins (also guitar/vox), and chatted about the usual band nonsense. Derek starts this one out with a brief history of the band. Here's the transcript:

Derek: I guess the whole thing technically started a couple winters ago. Jon and Chuck had their own bands but they'd linked up and started writing some songs together. I was somewhat new to the city and Jon, who I knew through some mutual friends, brought me into a practice with them and George Garcia, who was on drums. We had a good session, banged out a big stupid rock n roll song, and it was just a matter of time before we started playing shows. The idea at first was to write big, scrappy, simple rock n' roll, but after about a year of that we parted ways with George, found Sam on Craigslist and started working on new, tighter, slightly more serious material.

Jon: Sounds about right. Sam was a huge Craigslist find. I do like to think we still have the big and scrappy elements, but yeah, we've tightened things up.

Hearts Bleed Radio: You guys have really good guitar interplay, (and vocal interplay too), how do your songs come together?

Jon: That's nice to hear, man, thanks. Early on, it was more common for us to come in with relatively complete songs and sort of throw them around, but increasingly - and I think this leads to some of that back-and-forth interplay - we're coming into practice with ideas or pieces of songs with the desire to get everyone's input in order to complete them.

HBR: Do you feel like one of you has the job of the lead guitarist? It seems pretty split.

Jon: It's pretty split. The other thing that leads to that interplay is that Derek and I are both riffy as hell.

HBR: And vocally, the same applies?

Derek: It's pretty even overall, but I think Jon's got a tad more noodle in him and I lean a little more on the vocal duties. I like driving the guitar a lot but I get a lot of energy by pushing my voice, stretching into my upper range, doing back to back songs that get me a little raspy.

HBR: The old tag team!

Jon: Yeah, I've never really thought of it, but we've never had a moment of 'No, I think I should sing this one,' or anything like that. It's always just fallen in place. 'I've got some lyrics for this.' "Do it."

Derek (left) and Jon (right) get down to business

HBR: Do you write lyrics together? Or at least talk about the meaning of the song? Y'know, to make sure it makes sense? DOES IT MAKE SENSE?

Jon: Yeah sure, sometimes. 'Haymaker,' for instance, was about a 50/50 collaboration. 'Thunderclap' and '25th Hour' were also situations where I had incomplete lyrics and asked Derek to give me a chorus or a bridge or whatever.

Derek: I'd say we always want to tell a story in our songs. Lyrics don't have to be super deep but we want them relatable. But the spontaneity of our whole process carries into the lyrics too. There was one practice when Chuck stepped out to take a piss and comes back singing this line, "I guess that's why we need a chaperone 'cause we knew all along what would happen when we're left alone." He sang that, I played a chord progression, and maybe 20 minutes later we had one of our favorite songs. I went home and finished the lyrics that evening I think. Whole song based off that one line.

Jon: Haha, yeah. Chuck's the guru. You can't count that kid out. I think we've got some room to expand, too, man. Sam's got a really nice voice that we haven't really been able to utilize outside of the studio yet.

HBR: That's a great track, it's on your debut EP, "You know damn well what I'm talking about". Tell me a little bit about the recording process.

Derek: Lots of Modelo, for one.

Jon: Well, we recorded that in DC with my boy Thomas at his studio Persona Non Grata. I went to college with him in Charlottesville, VA, where he played in some really excellent bands. When he started recording people up in DC - he had a brief stint where he was using Inner Ear's studio - I knew it was gonna be great. We got down there over a long Memorial Day weekend last year and just got to work.

Derek: I think we went through four cases when we recorded last summer. Four cases in a weekend, that is.

HBR: Four cases in a long weekend, damn.

Jon: Haha, yeah, that too. Except my license had expired, and that dipshit clerk at that 7-11 wouldn't sell to me because they were too close to the college there. I'm a grown-ass man.

Derek: ...Stay loose, have fun. I want recording to feel like a show when you're on the road.

Jon: That's a great way to put it. Most studios are in basements anyway, right?

HBR: Did you track the instruments all together?

Jon: Yeah, we played everything live.

Derek: Everything except the pan flute.

Jon: Thomas did do one really rad trick with Chuck's bass.

HBR: Tell us about it.

Jon: Chuck didn't have an amp in the room - Thomas recorded it direct, then played the track back through this old, beautiful vintage amp he had and mic'ed that... So the take was live - in the room with all of us - but through a little studio magic it came out sounding so nice.

HBR: Cool, is that the bass sound on the entire EP?

Jon: Haha, yeah. I hope homeboy won't get mad that I revealed his trick. Sorry, Thomas.

HBR: You just put him out of business.

Jon: I'll make it up to him: in March, we went on a three-day tour of Virginia with his band, Typefighter, and I am choosing this moment to tell you how awesome they are. Their single drops at the 9:30 Club on July 27th. Get it in your life.

HBR: I listened to "YKDWWITA" and "In The City" by The Jam today, back to back. Good album pairing I must say. Does everyone in the band have similar tastes in music?

Jon: That's awesome to hear, dude. I love The Jam and take that as a big compliment.

Derek: Wow -- thanks man. Funny, that's not the first time someone's compared us to early Jam. I think we all have overlapping tastes, but there are some broad differences.

HBR: What's the broadest difference that comes to mind? (This is your chance to spill the beans on Chuck's love of some hippy band/boy band...)

Derek: I've got a rootsy streak in me that I don't think Jon and Chuck quite share. Chuck especially. He's not all that into the 12-bar blues and that sort of thing. He's got the the synth poppy bug in him in a big way though, which really informs what he does on bass.

Jon: I think Derek and I draw from some pretty similar wells of 80s and 90s punk rock that Chuck sorta skipped over, being older than us. Sam's also been in some pretty far-ranging bands - from a sort of Replacements-y band in Portland to a folk-pop band in Denver - but he also told me once he played in hardcore bands in high school, so he's got that in the tank, which I like. But then we also pull from a lot of places that aren't those. Lately, I've been trying to pull from more diverse places with the realization that if I write the song, it's gonna sound like me regardless.

Derek: Sam has a jazz background, which is really cool and we relate on that. And, yeah, Jon and I have some freakishly overlapping taste for punk rock, post-punk

HBR: I feel like everyone who played drums in high school was in a hardcore band at some point...

Jon: Derek was the true high school hardcore dude for our band. Make him play you his high school band sometime, they're no joke.

HBR: Yeah, Derek, can you link me to that?

Derek: Oh man, yeah, I can shoot you a couple songs. I think our Angelfire page is long expired though.

HBR: I should start a comedy/music blog where musicians in their late 20's through early 40's send me old recordings from their long defunct high school bands, and I review them.

Derek: I would read that blog religiously.

HBR: What are you guys using for pedals these days? Let's nerd out a little.

Jon: Right now, my lineup is pretty basic. I run a Boss GE-7 Equalizer as a (mostly bass) boost into a Fulltone OCD, typically with a MXR Carbon Copy after it for some slapback or a Electro Harmonix Holy Grail for some reverb on a couple of songs.

Derek: I keep it simple too. Fulltone into a Vox with occasional Line 6 or Ibanez delay. I use a Death By Audio Fuzz War on Chaperone and Loose Knots.

Jon: But then, I can't do that giant reverb, looping, Cathedral thing that Brooklyn seems to have fallen so wholly into sometimes. It's maddening to me. The reverb and delay on 'Little Stranger' are about as close as I'm willing to go.

HBR: Yeah, this town is NUTS on the delays, I mean, it's what's in style, I suppose. Jon, the OCD is your only distortion pedal?

Jon: I've got a Tubescreamer around, but I don't tend to use it. I've been thinking about breaking it back out. I also have a Big Muff around, but I find that tricky to use in a two-guitar band. It just kills the tight type of thing we wanna do.

HBR: Yeah, the Muff is for TAKING OVER, It's hard to use more than a little in a two guitar band.

Jon: If I don't mention this, Chuck'll kill me: the original impulse for this band (when it was me, him, and our first drummer) was to run both of us through Muffs.

Derek: Next record.

Oh, what epic things are they discussing? Good thing it's being written down!

Jon: We were gonna get so wrecked and run his bass and my guitar through Muffs. The drummer we were playing with - Dennis - was so tight, too. He woulda hated us. This was pre-Derek. Those were dark times... And the only way outta the darkness was double muff.

HBR: Haha. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can begin to heal, right?

Jon: Rock Bottom woulda been a good name for that project.

Derek: Weren't y'all tossing around Rundowns or Lowdowns as a name for a while?

HBR: I hope somewhere there is a bassist who's stage name is "Rock Bottom"...

Jon: And Hangdowns. It was a dark time... I actually still like 'The Rundown' or 'Rundowns' quite a bit.

Derek: Naming bands fucking sucks, as everyone who's ever been in a band probably agrees. Those email chains/google docs with all the names... they get really bad. It doesn't take long before it's all jokes.

HBR: Yeah, but it's all about deciding on something that's kinda OK, and then not being a terrible band.

Jon: It's the question no one wants to take seriously, because if you suggest something you really like, and someone dogs it...God, it's just a recipe for bad blood, and it's like the first thing you do as a band.

Derek: "Cool, AIDS" was the absolute low, our old drummer proposed that at one point.

Jon: Oh, God, I forgot about that.

HBR: Haha, at least it wasn't "Beach Eagle" or something crazy derivative like that.

Derek: Haha

Jon: Dude, I'm saying...

HBR: What's the inspiration for "Sunset Guns"? Where does that name come from?

Derek: When Sam joined the band we wanted something that sounded cool, had some significance but wasn't soaked with meaning. A sunset gun is the volley shot a ship sends off at the end of the day. Sounded cool, fit with our attitude.

Jon: I should also mention that "Sunset Guns" was suggested to me by some friends of mine who were on their own very intense search for a band name. Everybody's gotta do it.

HBR: That's actually really cool. But wait, why do they shoot the sky at the end of the day?

Jon: Usually it's a Navy maneuver. Patriotism, homes.

Derek: Not to get political here, but something that occurred to me after we landed on Sunset Guns was that we were in a band with a firearm in the title. And shortly after we cut the record there was some horrifying gun violence here. So our response was the album art. I did the cover for Damn Well and in it tried to address without going overboard that it's not a violent image or sound we're going for. Aggressive yes, but not violent. I took some old photos from the Library of Congress of infantry men doing drills out in Queens during WWII, brushed them in pink and stuck flowers in their rifles.

HBR: I wouldn't think that you'd be taken that way, but it can be unsettling when real world (non-band) events coincide with stuff like that. I wrote a song for The Planes called "Get In The Riot", and like, the first time we played it was right when those crazy riots in London were going on, a couple years back. Like, the song was just about going to rock shows, about as a-political as a song could be.

Derek: Yeah, man, you've got so little control once you release your material into the world.

HBR: It was one of the few times I was happy that we weren't famous, and didn't just drop that on MTV the day before big chunks of London went crazy.

Jon: Ah, MTV doesn't play music anymore anyway. You're safe.

HBR: Haha, you're right! I'm gonna let you guys go in a second, but I want to say thanks for playing our showcase on 7/13, and I wanted to ask you if there's anything else coming up that you'd like to plug.

Jon: Looks like it's gonna be a rad night. I love Fort Useless.

Derek: Yeah, we're stoked to be playing that place. Went there for the first time a couple weeks ago and dug it. Cool DIY space, good people, good sound. Thanks man.We play July 25 at Don Pedro, that's our next one. Jon: We've also got a show two nights later in our buddy Michael's backyard. He's the bassist for Bloom, and we're gonna shred his neighbors ears.

Jon: Before you run off, man - I'm sure he's being modest, but Derek's other band Hollow Hills is putting out their EP pretty soon at a show. Derek, you gotta say something, man.

Derek: I'm drumming for the first time. Mildly terrified. Wildly excited.

HBR: It's a trip. It's the only rock instrument you can fall out of... Thanks again guys!

Derek: Thanks dude! Grateful for the chance to talk with you

Jon: Always a pleasure, homes. Thanks for hanging out! And God, July 13th. That room's too small for us and you know it, Perry.
Can't wait.
Three bands enter...

Will three bands emerge at the end of the night? That's the question that America has been asking. The only way to find out is to come on down to the showcase! We hope to see you there.

RSVP to the showcase ---> here.

Like Sunset Guns on Facebook ---> here.

And give HBR some love! ---> here.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading this interview-hope mine comes out as good-you do have the enthusiasm-Derek-best of luck to you-let us know about your gigs and we will also-