INTERVIEW with UK psychedelic indie rock quintet SUNSTACK JONES

INTERVIEW with UK psychedelic indie rock quintet SUNSTACK JONES 4

UK psychedelic indie rock quintet Sunstack Jones have recently released their fourth LP, 'Golden Repair' - recorded and engineered by The Verve's Simon Jones. Lee Campbell had a chat with Chrisy (vocals), Jules (bass) & Richy (drums), and talked about touring with Buffalo Tom and the process behind making the new album.

sunstack jones
Hi, guys, I appreciate you taking the time for a chat. I’ve been listening to it for the last few days and wanted to say congratulations on a great album. 

Chrisy: Thank you.

I wanted to start with the opening track “Where You Wanna Go”. It's a very chilled out start to the song, and then it just explodes with this epic guitar finish for the outro, which goes on for about three or four minutes. I thought it was fantastic. What is the background of this song and how did it come about?

Chrisy: It came about when we were making a video for one of the songs on the previous album. The guitarist (Lorcan), he came in and he hasn't written any of the songs before and I had my acoustic guitar for the video shoot and he had this idea. He had the verses mapped out and pretty much the melody and then we were like "oooh, are we having a bit of a George Harrison moment here?” sneaking in with this epic tune. Everyone was like, "that’s great" and then went home and I finished off the words with him and we just tweaked it a bit and then we put harmonies on. Then the ending came about and where it stops before coming in big again. I carried on playing on my bit and everyone got in straight away and that's the take that we kept.

It's a real belter to open the album. You are probably asked this a hundred times but can you tell me where the band's name came from?

Chrisy: We wanted a name that sounds like a mad old bluesman or something. It was a mix of something exciting and interesting like made-up words and something utterly mundane like mine and Richy’s surname - Jones, and that was it.

The title track 'Golden Repair' is an interesting one. On the surface, when I first listened to it, it's pretty much an instrumental. I know there are some lyrics in it but they’re quite ethereal and fleeting. It's a great song, an unusual choice for the title track - is there any story and reason behind that?

Chrisy: I think the reason it became the title track is that the sound of it summed up everything we wanted the record to be really. That was kind of made up on the hoof. Again Lorcan played that tune at rehearsal once, but I videoed him. It was about a year and a half before we recorded it and one day I said, “I’ve got this one on my phone, play that''.

We hadn’t played it before, but then we played it and that's what we recorded straight away on the day. It became the title track because that was the spirit of it, plucking things out of the air. Because we were making it up on the spot, the lyrics that are in it are not to the forefront; they were actually the lyrics to another song that we’d recorded. I don't know if I had a mic, and I was just kind of half-hollering to the sky the words for the song and we just kept them on because it sounded good. I treat it as an instrumental, but it has got words in it.

It took me the second or the third listen to actually hear those lyrics, because the drums and the bass and the guitar really jump at you in the song, as a lot of your tracks do; the rhythm section is really strong. I thought it was quite a statement to put your title track as a fairly musically based choice as opposed to being lyrics-based. It's quite unusual. It almost sounds like a movie theme in a way, has that sort of feel to me about it. You could hear it in a Tarantino movie.

Chrisy: If you could sort that out for us, we’d accept it (laughing). It's also like the band Phoenix, French band. They had a couple of albums where their centre was Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, with really long instrumentals. Doesn't sound like anything that we do, but that was in my mind as well.

It's trying to find that balance between not sounding too self-indulgent and keeping it honest.

Chrisy: Hopefully it doesn't sound too self-indulgent.

Jules: The next one will be self-indulgent.

It will be an album of 12 instrumentals.

Everyone joining in (laughing): Yeah…

I noticed you toured previously with Buffalo Tom.

Chrisy: It was only for like a week.

How did that relationship come about with Buffalo Tom?

Jules: It was this promoter from Crosstown Concerts (Conal). But it came from Nick McCabe from The Verve I think. Nick mastered our last album and he passed it on to Conal. We played one show for him in London and we had a good show. He liked it and he got back and asked “do you want to do this tour with Buffalo Tom” and we said, “yeah, too right”.

Did you know of the band beforehand? Would they be an inspiration and are you familiar with a lot of their stuff?

Chrisy: Not familiar with a lot of stuff. I heard a few tunes, but not really followed them or anything. But I bought them all afterwards because they are amazing - great band.

There was a song called “Taillights Fade’.

Jules: I think that was one of the stand-outs from the show.

Chrisy: The crowds were going mental for that.

These guys were from Boston, weren’t they? Talking about the States, of course, it's the morning after what we thought was gonna be a pivotal presidential election. It didn't quite turn out that way. Would any of your political views come through in your music or do you keep that side of things out of your music?

Chrisy: We usually keep them out, but then it came through a bit more on this (album).’Glass Boat’ was the first we put out as a single. It's not explicit really, but it's all in there. Reasoning with the Government, you know, they are a fucking joke, aren't they? And it's a disgrace.

There's a couple of nautical references in the album with ‘Glass Boat’ and the ‘Ocean’ track as well. Was it purely a political song ‘Glass Boat’ or was there other elements to it as well?

Chrisy: There was a picture of a dead kid on a beach, trying to get up to this country, seeing that and it just wrote itself. We weren't even thinking about it and then you look and it's like, yeah. It's hard to explain, but if you read the words of the song, it's there. These problems, you become immune to it and then you don't know what to do and wish it to go away and you can't do anything. It's these lunatics that are in charge as well. Fucking sort that shit out! I shouldn't have to look at the telly and newspaper and see shit like that every fucking day. It boggles my mind.

Feels totally helpless a lot of the time.

Chrisy: Yeah. It's a theme for the helpless.

You mentioned The Verve. Simon Jones produced the latest album, yeah?

Chrisy: He recorded it, engineered it. Paul Den Heyer, who we’d done our albums with, we produced it with him. I set everything up, set the room up, got the vibe right, pressed record, he said “try that a bit slower” kind of vibes, and he recorded it.

Did you find that a lot of The Verve sound influenced the album in any way? Did Simon’s experience and musical background come through the music?

Chrisy: (chuckling) I think it made these two (Jules & Richy) step up their game a bit (chuckling).

Jules: I used one of his amps that he’s used for some of the amazing gigs he’s played, so I was like yeah I want to use that amp then. Got the settings just right, got that ‘low end’, he definitely helped me with that bit.

Chrisy: I think it's just like by osmosis, The Verve thing is inescapable now. It's not like I sit around and listen to them all the time, but they were so big to us when we were young and they were the shit! They were fucking great, and that doesn't go away. We can try and write like a belting harmonica solo or something, but someone will always go “sounds a bit like The Verve.” So if that’s the case, we’ll make it sound as best as it can sound.

There’s nothing wrong with sounding like The Verve. Did this relationship blossom over the years? How did it start with the guys being involved on the record?

Chrisy: With Nick (McCabe), it was Lorcan that got speaking to him. I think it was via social media, we had the last album just finished and he asked him about where's the best place to get this mastered, and he said: “I’m currently doing some sound engineering course. I'll do it for you”. So we were like “yeah, alright!”. I think he was doing a Masters in Engineering, but then he wrote his dissertation about mastering that record; which I’d like to read. Then we just found out that he had a studio dead close, and we were like “whoa, are you kidding”.  So, then we called him up and we asked “Can you record our next album?” and he said “I’ll come and watch you play,  so we went down to the studio.

No pressure.

Chrisy: Yeah, that was the worst nerves I’ve had. He came down with a couple of his mates and James (Coe) who works there because I think James is the one who usually does the recording, but he was like “I want you to do it”. But it was good. He put a mic in the room just so he could have a listen I think. But the sense we got, it sounded that good just off the one mic so he thought, yeah I’ll do this no problem. So we’ve got a nice relationship going now. We were supposed to be in there the other week, but literally, the day after, we got the lockdown here. We were already looking forward to it, but it’ll happen when it happens.

You were talking about the process of recording in the studio. Could you talk us through that a little bit, what the process was, how long it took, what the dynamics were, how the band got the sound down on record?

Richy: The idea from the start was to do it live, or as live as we could. Certainly the second session, we were all basically in the same room, all looking at each other, all the amps and everything was in there and we just basically played the songs. Going back to what you said before about recording with Si, for me personally, when you’ve got someone like that nodding along to your playing it just gives you some extra confidence to be able to actually get your parts right, to be honest.

You see him in the window nodding his head and think, “Yeah!”. And because we were all together, being able to look at each other and because a lot of it was off the cuff, we knew the songs and we knew the structure of the songs, but there were certain endings that we never really played and we kind of went with. If you look up and everyone was smiling, full-on, not giving you the 'eyes', gives you an extra bit of confidence to keep playing.

Was that the first album that's been done that way; everybody playing live at the same time?

Chrisy: It’s the first time where we kept everyone, literally it was just like a good gig. At the least, it had been my rhythm guitar and the drums at the same time or my rhythm guitar, drums and bass. There are a couple of tracks on the last one, where there’d be five of us in the room, but we might replace stuff and this time Si would say “No, just play it like a live gig”. I think because it's the first time we could do a good live show, because before that, on the last album, is only when Dave and Jules had just joined, I think they literally joined that week and I was like, “There’s a tape with these ten songs on”, we recorded them in like three days, so he had to re-do stuff. But, it was just a completely different thing this time around.

Jules: But because we had so many gigs as well, we got to the point where it was just nailed down now, so why not do it that way? It was a bit easier by then.

It really works. It's a real wall of sound that you can hear from the album. It's really quite powerful.

Chrisy: Yeah, I think we got it down. But it's also, literally nearly everyone that you hear on the radio could be the same band, couldn't it? Well, the songs are good enough, let's just play that as we are. That's what it is and if you don't like it you don't like it, and if you do - great! Please, buy it! (laughing).

How long from starting the writing process of the songs and then actually getting into the studio and recording it - how long did that process take altogether?

Chrisy: I think everything on the record, it's like maybe two days of studio time. Literally, we did six (tracks) one day, six the other day, and then we had another day where we were in separate rooms within the studio all playing at the same time. It's weird because it's not really that long ago, but it feels like it all kind of fell out of the air, this one. Talking about Buffalo Tom, after the first gig we did with them, because we were so buzzing after we came off stage on the first night with them, we were like “whoa, this is fucking great”.

A couple of us went straight upstairs to the dressing room and started on this idea and then on the following night we booked a rehearsal studio for the next morning. We were really wired. Three of the songs were put together then. So, if you condensed it all, it's only about a week’s worth of time. It’s quite strange really. It takes so long just to get it from there to there when you could have an idea, record it and then go and bang it on the internet and it disappears. It's this whole process, it's so odd. We want it to be heard. But it was a short period of time really, but there’s lots more to come.

I look forward to hearing it. I can hear elements of Stone Roses, Mother Love Bone from Seattle, a bit of Teenage Fan Club, The Byrds from the 60s - would you consider any of those bands as influences? Where there any other influences that you would consider to have shaped the music that you write?

Chrisy: Yeah, all the bands you just mentioned - Stone Roses, The Byrds, all that, really good stuff. Funkadelic, The Beatles. I suppose when it comes down to that, it's all kind of the same shit everyone says, isn't it? But if you’re hearing that, that's good.

Yes, I don't hear it in a contrived way, but just in a very fluid and natural way. Reminds me of some individual Stone Roses songs, like ‘Waterfall’ or something like that.

Chrisy: That's the first music we loved I think. That's the stuff that kind of seeps to the surface. We are not trying to sound like anyone, but I just think it's gonna sound a bit like that I suppose because those bands are a kind of oxygen. That's what we started with, so they are kind of just in you, aren't they?

I can't wait to see you live, hopefully, it will happen sooner rather than later next year. Have you any dates or venues confirmed for next year, assuming we are able to travel?

Richy: We had some booked. But I think this week it has been changed again (sighs).

Jules: Reschedule and reschedule…. (All laughing) It's gone from May-June and then to November and now we are looking at May (next year). Manchester, London, all the usual ones. Hopefully many others and that we can get them rebooked.

Are these Festivals in Europe or individual gigs?

Chrisy: I think Holland is gonna be a Festival and some gigs, Paris is a gig. I can't imagine when it's all gonna open properly now.

It's probably gonna be springtime before they get that (vaccine) rolled out, but it could well go into the summer again next year. I don't know. I’m just trying to stay optimistic. It's your livelihood at the end of the day, it's a crucial thing, I feel for the bands at the minute I really do. As a fan as well, I miss live music and I want to get out and start seeing some good young live bands again. Hopefully, that will happen soon. Before we all go crazy.

Chrisy: Yeah! Me too.

‘Golden Repair’ - is there an overall theme to the album, a mood that brings all the songs together? What were the general thoughts behind that?

Jules: Golden repair is a Japanese art where the vase breaks. Then, you put it back together with gold seams to repair, and it ends up better than ever because it's repaired with gold. So it's kind of like making the most of what you’ve got, making the best of what you’ve got I guess, in that respect.

Chrisy: In the flaws.

Jules: There you go,

Lee: Good stuff.

Chrisy: How pretentious is that eh? (laughing).

I appreciate you taking the time and it was really nice to meet you guys.

Chrisy: Will do. And you, man.

Good luck over the next few months ahead.

Chrisy: Cheers, Lee. Thanks, mate.

Sunstack Jones - 'Golden Repair' is out now!

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