Interviews

Published on August 7th, 2017 | by The Beige Baron

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Interview: SUNDR

This photo and top (featured) image: Zo Damage (www.zodamage.com)

As you’re reading this, Melbourne’s SUNDR is bubble-wrapping guitars and praying for their gentle treatment by baggage handlers as the band sets sail for Japan and their first overseas tour.

Fresh from Melbourne’s multi-venue Brewtality Festival, headlined by Blood Duster, the band will join the cream of the Japanese underground for a seven-date tour with bands including NoLA, Khola Cosmica, Stubborn Father, Wombscape, and SeeK.

SUNDR will play in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka, and will have copies of its full-length debut The Canvas Sea on sale—an album that’s attracted universal praise from reviewers and listeners since its release last month for a rare musicality it brings to a doomy, post-metal sound.

SUNDR has great songs, great energy, and evidently, their shit is together

In fact, it’s pretty hard to categorize this music all—my suggestion of Heart Ache/Dethroned-era Jesu meeting …And The Bees Make Honey-era Earth might be a bit wide of the mark, but it can only be a good thing if listeners are reminded of different things in the music.

The band seems comfortable being tagged as “gloom”—a mixture of doom and, I guess, other depressive or atmospheric post-metal forms, but that seems to limit the actual scope of SUNDR’s sound.

Photo: Josh Merriel.

Though these songs tread the measured pace of doom, with each riff detonating with a sustained force, SUNDR have learned John Cage’s lessons well, and are aware that power often comes from notes that aren’t played in pure heaviness of the silent interlude. Further, the music crackles with the electricity of Scott Curtis’s screamed vocals, each song tracking a mercurial narrative that maintains tension that similar bands often lack.

SUNDR is unafraid to strip their compositions back to skeletal forms, trusting the listener to follow through atmospheric interludes and slow, layered buildups into the cataclysmic finale. When wound up, they can loose an incredibly heavy punch.

“We are still a relatively new band and I guess we have a somewhat niche following, but people seem to be connecting with the emotional side of the music…”

With just a few years under their belts as a working band, SUNDR has great songs, great energy, and evidently, their shit is together. We caught up with Scott to ask how the Japan tour came to being, and what the reception has been to their debut record.

BNU: So do you feel like the new record captures the live experience pretty well, or have your fans commented at all about how different elements of songs are brought out on the recordings?

Scott: The response has been great, we are very humbled. We put a lot of thought into how we would release the record; it’s our first full-length and a much better representation of our direction as a band since our first EP Loss.

Being an independent release put some extra pressure on us at times, but it definitely made the whole process a lot more personal. I’m so proud of what we achieved, and the connections we made in the process. Everyone we worked with seemed to connect with the music and understand the emotional aspect of the music, and really helped bring the record to life with their own artistic input.

From the production side of things with Mike and Paul, the visual art from Camille, the video for I Still See Plagues from Wilson… the list goes on…

I feel like fans of our music are on the same page, we are still a relatively new band and I guess we have a somewhat niche following, but people seem to be connecting with the emotional side of the music and letting us know about it, which is super rewarding.

I think the recording is very true to the live experience, I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. All the comments we’ve got seem to agree with that. We experimented with guitar and vocal layering and some subtle percussion overdubs to add some more depth to the songs, but everything is built around the drum and bass tracks which were captured live without a click track. The songs are very hypnotic for us to play live and it was really the only way to capture that feeling in the recordings.

I heard that the band was under time constraints when recording. Did the pressure of that change what came out on the day?

Three out of four members had trips planned around that time of year, so we had the option of going into the studio while some of the songs were still quite green, or waiting until early 2017 when everyone was back, and having to get re-acquainted with the songs again.

Everything was coming together very naturally and the songs still had a lot of excitement about them, seeing we didn’t have the time to overplay or overthink them. The two months leading up to recording, we were rehearsing three nights a week and I was getting vocal coaching another night, so while it was a bit of a rush to the finish, we really learned how to play together as a unit.

Photo: Josh Merriel.

The pressure totally changed what came out on the day, in a really positive way. Everyone knew the basic song structures back to front, but Troy, Dan, and Adam were able to throw quite a lot of improvisation into the songs and it really made the whole process exciting. I think we had only played through the title track The Canvas Sea in its entirety once or twice before recording it, I hadn’t phrased my lyrics until right before recording them. The nature of the music is visceral and stressful at times, so it made sense to record that way.

“I think we had only played through the title track The Canvas Sea in its entirety once or twice before recording it…”

It’s interesting to note that in the digital age, it seems people are really beginning to value the live experience more, the unrepeatability of the performance. Is connection with the audience important? And given that your songs are as much about what is not played – the buildup and decay and silent interludes being as important as climax – does it affect you if you see the crowd’s attention wandering?

It’s been interesting! We are lucky to have a great community of post-metal, post-hardcore, sludge, doom, and those kinds of bands in Melbourne, so a lot of the time the crowds are genuinely interested and engaged, but there’s times when it doesn’t work.

We don’t exactly rely on crowd interaction as part of our live set, once the music starts we are in our own world. If people connect it’s great and rewarding, but I guess indifference can make us work a bit harder to engage the crowd, which is only a positive thing! I’m very intrigued, excited and nervous to see the difference with crowds in Japan. Judging by the bands I’ve been listening to and people I’ve been speaking to, there’s a whole other level of passion for the music and the scene over there!

Photo: Josh Merriel.

So in terms of audience, have you had any difficulty with being billed as metal or hardcore or whatever when your music is clearly influenced a lot by other genres of music? I guess the tendency is to stack bills with bands of the same genre, so is it tough to win over a crowd that’s there to see thrash or grindcore, or conversely, do you scare off the dreamy shoegaze crowd? Is working outside a common genre a blessing or a curse for you guys?

It’s hard to categorize it like that. I’d say rather than winning over a particular type of crowd, we make an impact on the percentage of the crowd who can find a connection to our music. Out of a crowd, a few people might appreciate the emotional side of the music, or the aggressive side, or the doom influence… Usually after playing any type of bill, a few people will give us feedback about what particular aspect of the set spoke to them.

I guess it’s a blessing and a curse, it probably means slower development for our band, but we are making genuine connections with people along the way.

Photo: Josh Merriel.

There seems to be a strong narrative element in your music, perhaps because the ebbs and flows give it a cinematic quality. I’m wondering how closely your lyrics tie in with the musical composition aspect, if the band might shape a song in a certain way to complement the story, or if you use the music as inspiration?

All of the above! I’m always writing down ideas, observations, and random things. In the early stages of songwriting, Troy will send basic riff ideas and skeletal structures to the band, and I’ll send a few lines of lyrics that I feel fit the part. So there’s a connection between the music and the lyrics from the start. From there I’ll expand on those first few lines until it becomes a song.

“I pour a lot of my personal emotions, experiences and observations into the lyrics…”

I found when we were writing the new album, I could only write my lyrics while I was in the rehearsal room with the band. The darkness and asperity in the songs would always take me to this mental space where the writing just happened naturally, and I’d be physically buzzing.

I always wanted The Canvas Sea to have a strong narrative element and this process really helped piece it all together. I pour a lot of my personal emotions, experiences and observations into the lyrics, while trying to create an immersive storyline to intertwine with the music.

Photo: Josh Merriel.

You’ve mentioned a cathartic aspect to your music, and that the pace of modern life tends to build up a certain pressure that finds a release in your music. What other aspects of your life or life in general find expression in the music?

I’ve only really recognized recently that I’ve always been searching for a creative and emotional outlet since I was a child. It started as drawing and painting, moved to creative writing, and finally music. I’ve always had this place where anything I need to get off my chest or come to terms with can be channeled.

“Everyone close to me dealing with mental health issues to some extent; this strong correlation between creative and open-minded people having this burden following them…”

I find the older I get, the more grateful I am to have somewhere to release all this negative emotion. We don’t really bring political agendas or anything like that into our music, it’s more of a primitive way of releasing stress… literally screaming about it. The album as a whole follows a narrative of feeling discomfort, isolation, anxiety within one’s surroundings. There’s some personal stuff in each song which all relate to the story in a different way.

For example, the song Corinthians is about observing myself and literally everyone close to me dealing with mental health issues to some extent; this strong correlation between creative and open-minded people having this burden following them, and the devastating effects it can have on individuals. I tried to personify this “thing” and recognize that without it, maybe we wouldn’t have the interesting and creative people we have in this community. “Jilted lover, defiler of all, don’t ever leave my side, without you I die.”

Photo: Josh Merriel.

Musically I feel parallels with Jesu in terms of the deliberateness and precision with which the heavier passages are delivered. In the composition, I am reminded of Earth’s The Bees Made Honey In the Lion’s Skull in how the songs seem to breathe organically. Are these artists who have had any influence on the band? What music did you have in common that drew you guys together in the first place?

Funnily enough, I don’t think we’ve ever mentioned either of those bands, haha, but those are great compliments! I met Troy and Adam years ago through playing in more hardcore-influenced bands. We were always into the darker, more left-of-center hardcore bands and I think that’s where we developed our playing style that we brought to SUNDR.

Those guys always spoke about doing a stoner/doom band one day, and they taught me a lot about that music. When SUNDR finally came to be, and we met our drummer Dan, he shared basically the same influences, so everything came together and happened pretty naturally.

I think everyone brings their personal style to the band, and it works. Personally, I still have a lot of hardcore influence in my vocals. But honestly, we don’t spend much time talking about influences during the writing process at all. We know the feeling we want the songs to have, and that comes from a combination of everyone’s personal quirks as musicians and people. A lot of the influences we admire make it into the music, but maybe not in an obvious or direct way.

Your music has a strong sense of contrast between light and shade, and I enjoy the inversion of some aspects that make things compelling – like burying screams really low in the mix where they seem more chilling than if they were delivered at full volume. The sense is there is a struggle between opposing forces in the new album gives it tension. The songs seem like a collection of miniatures or cut-scenes in a movie that draw together to make a larger whole. Is this aspect something you work on consciously as a band? Or do you compose in a linear way?

Creating a “big picture” is definitely something we work on consciously. The music, lyrics, artwork, and live set are all strongly connected. Assembling the songs is a pretty slow process, we spend a lot of time jamming sections to try to let them progress naturally without forcing anything.

Photo: Josh Merriel.

Most of the time, it’s about stripping the music back rather than adding more complexity to it, I suppose that’s where the contrast comes from, you can capture a lot of stress with an eerie clean guitar and vocals. Through slow development of the songs, it leaves a lot of room for our individual personalities to come to the forefront too. In some parts, the guitar and bass will take a step back and the drums basically become the lead instrument, or the drums and bass will lock into a groove while Troy can layer soundscapes over the top, or we might leave a gap to be filled with vocals alone.

“The more metal-style low vocals definitely put me out of my comfort zone…”

Structurally our writing is quite simple, but I think letting it take these twists and turns keeps it exciting.

How much experimentation takes place in terms of playing with tones and textures within the band, and do you push yourself pretty hard to do things with your voice that drive you out of your comfort zone?

Troy basically has a new effects pedal every time we arrive at rehearsal, haha. He is constantly refining and experimenting with what he can do to push the overall sound of the band. Being a four-piece, there’s a lot of effort put into how the guitar and bass work together to fill out all the space in the music, both in the sense of tone and effects and the songwriting.

As far as my vocals go, it’s also a challenge for me to fill out so much space, with slow tempos and 12-minute songs, especially with the style of vocals I do. The more metal-style low vocals on The Canvas Sea was a new thing for me, and a way to add another dimension to my parts. That definitely put me out of my comfort zone, learning a whole new technique in a pretty short time.

I noticed in any other recording I had done in the past, I would always have at least some sort of vague reference in my head for certain parts, like, “I want this part to sound like this band.” For this record, all of that went out the window, and my only aim was to have that feeling of complete emotional release.

It was pretty daunting listening back to the songs for the first time, as the way the songs were written and captured left us all so exposed, but it was definitely rewarding.

You guys are on the Brewtality bill with pretty much the cream of the Melbourne heavy music crop, and then you’re off to Japan for your first tour. Have you found that word of your band is spreading organically, or do you really have to work hard at it?

Photo: ZO DAMAGE.

A bit of both. We have put a great deal of work into getting this album out there and making the most of the release. But, like I mentioned before, we are lucky enough to have the support of the awesome community here in Australia. We have a lot of amazing people to thank for helping to share our music around, and we will get to play shows with most of them on the Australian legs of our tour, which is very exciting.

Can you tell us how you came to make connections with some real heavy hitters in the Japanese scene, and how the tour came about? What are you most looking forward to about the tour?

This is our first time abroad. Our good friend Luke Frizon had toured there a few times and got us in contact with the guys in NoLA. Everything lined up with the release of the album, we were keen to tour, and it all came together from there.

Luke has been a huge help to our band, and I guess he saw potential for us in Japan, so we jumped at the opportunity. He will be coming with us on the tour too! The whole experience of booking the tour has been amazing, everyone I’ve spoken to from the Japanese scene is so genuinely excited, proactive, and helpful. I think we can all learn a lot from how they approach their music scene.

So, I’m most looking forward to sharing our music with a whole new country, experiencing their shows, watching their ridiculously amazing bands, and not having to worry about the stresses of work and Melbourne life for two weeks, just focusing on putting 100% into our performance every night.

Having lived with the songs on the album for a while now, what direction are they pointing you in now as a band? Is there anything you felt you’ve mastered, and you’re interested in exploring something else in the future?

I think we will continue to let the writing happen as naturally as possible, so it’s hard to say exactly where it will end up, but I wouldn’t say we’ve “mastered” anything. I’d like to push ourselves to delve deeper into what we’ve started with this record, the light and shade and storytelling nature of the songs; the visceral and hypnotic feeling we get from playing them.

Personally, I’d like to include a lot more personal references in my lyrics for the next release, I’ve started putting ideas together and the guys have been jamming a few new riffs in between getting ready for the tour. We are very eager to get back in the studio, hopefully by the end of the year…

SUNDR’s seven-show Japan tour kicks off August 12 (details here), and the Australian tour from August 26 (details here). The Canvas Sea is out now on LP, Compact Disc, and digital download via Bandcamp.


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