Debut Album Mantra Out This Autumn.
What is a sun jacket? I had no idea. Then I did a bit of Googling and apparently they are actually a thing. They’re jackets made for Alpine conditions. So they keep you warm and yet have a hood that protects you from the sun. Sensible. Sunjacket is also the name of a pretty awesome quartet from Chicago. They seamlessly mix organic instruments with electronic effects to create a sound that is precise and somewhat robotic but never loses its humanity also. Kind of like Data from Star Trek.
We recently had a sit down with the group and they talked us through their upcoming debut album Mantra, balancing the electronic with the organic, and what success means to them.
Overblown: So, you’ve just released your second single ‘Creepy’. Tell us a bit about that track. What’s it about? How was it written?
Bryan Kveton: I was exploring sounds on my synth and discovered this detune effect, which inspired the initial chords for the song. The quality of the synth sounded like it was constantly on the verge of getting out of control, so I started playing chords that built upon themselves and felt like they kept climbing and intensifying. At the time, the chords didn’t have a lot of structure.
Then in a completely unrelated event, Garret started playing this driving and repetitive drum beat. It kinda hit me like, maybe this beat and my chords could pair well. So I recorded a loop of Garret’s part and spent some time structuring the chords I’d written over the top. The result eventually became the final section of the song. Everything else in the song was more or less informed by that notion of things feeling a little out of control and anxiety-ridden.
O: Your debut album Mantra is out this autumn and was recorded by Fraser McCulloch of Milagres. What was your process for writing and recording the album? How was it to work with Fraser?
Garret Bodette: Prior to June 2015, we had been writing for about three years, but the bulk of the album was written within the year before we recorded. We were originally a five-piece, but after a couple lineup changes, we took some time off from playing shows to focus on creating a more cohesive collection of songs.
About 60 percent of the songs were written from scratch as a group, typically with a drum beat, guitar/piano riff, or synth sound as the jumping off point. The other 40 percent of the songs started off as skeletal demos by Bryan. He’ll often work out a verse and chorus with vocals, synth and/or guitar, and a simple beat to generate ideas and then we’ll further explore, add to, arrange, and refine it into a full-band song. There were also several songs that didn’t come together fully until we were in the studio.
Carl Hauck: We recorded all the instrumentation in a 12-day session at Earth Analog, a hidden gem of a studio in a small town in central Illinois. After the initial setup, we worked on a different song every day, and then spent the final day combing through everything we had and making last-minute changes and additions.
A month or two later, we spent four or five days doing vocals at Fraser’s home studio in Brooklyn. He was really great to work with because he knew exactly when to be hands-off with us and when to step in to either make a suggestion or challenge us to go in a different direction. He’s a calm, patient person and he has a good sense of humor, all of which helped keep things moving on the days when things weren’t coming together as smoothly as planned. Perhaps most importantly, he was a big proponent of hanging out on the studio roof.
O: The band is based in Chicago. How does the city influence your music? If it does at all that is!
Bryan: Chicago definitely influences and inspires the writing. So much so that I’ve often wondered how different our music would sound if we lived somewhere else. The climate and changing seasons drive everything. The weather can be both spitefully miserable and blissfully gorgeous, sometimes within the same week, which can really take your mood for a ride. As much as I claim to dislike the harsh winters in Chicago, they do have a way of focusing my thoughts. I feel like I’m in a tunnel for four months, and I’ve got no other choice but to make songs and find new ways to stay inspired in order to combat the bleakness that’s right out the window.
O: You have an interesting sound with lots of electronic elements but also a very live and human sound. Is balancing those two elements something that you were attempting to achieve or something that happened naturally?
Garret: I think we’re all excited by music that balances both elements. Our influences vary widely and so it was important to us to capture a variety of sounds that felt representative of where we were as a band at the time. We’ve always used synths since we first started playing together, but once we took time off from shows to focus on writing, we became increasingly interested in electronic sounds.
Also, with only three of us — Jeff joined after the album was written and recorded — it was just easier to write and record in pieces, then arrange in Ableton, rather than always trying to work things out live as a band. That process had some influence on the amount of electronic elements we ended up using, but it was also really important to us to capture honest, human performances. There’s a vulnerable isolation to a lot of the songs as well as a raw energy when we play live that we wanted to come through in the recording.
O: With the American elections on the horizon, what do you make of the rise of Donald Trump?
Jeff Rukes: It’s strange, embarrassing, and scary in a lot of ways.
O: What is your goal for Sunjacket? What would be success to you?
Carl: To me, one of the most important kinds of musical success beyond finding enjoyment and meaning in what you’re creating is having other people, especially people you’ve never met, connect with and enjoy what you’ve created. I think we’d also all like for Sunjacket to be more self-sustaining at some point, rather than it being something we do outside of work. It’d be great to be able to devote more time and energy exclusively to making music.
O: Both your singles are now available for free download via Bandcamp. Why did you decide to make them available gratis?
Jeff: We’re a young band. Not many people know us yet, so we wanted our music to reach as many ears as possible. We figured free downloads were probably the best way to accomplish that, at least for the first couple of songs.
O: What are you upcoming touring plans?
Jeff: We’re in the process of figuring that out. We intend to do something before the end of the year, whether that’s heading east to NYC or doing a circuit in some Midwestern states around Illinois.
O: What is your favourite record of 2016 and why?
Garret: There’s been a lot of great records so far this year, so I’m torn, but I think I’d have to say Pool by Porches. It’s the record I’ve listened to more than anything so far this year, and it’s the kind of record I can put on anytime and listen start to finish. It’s not the most innovative in terms of instrumentation or style, but the approach to melody and rhythm are really magnetic. I would get the songs stuck in my head constantly when it first came out. I still do, actually. The Life of Pablo is a close second.
Jeff: A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead. It has a rough-hewn quality that’s atypical and really interesting. It can be an ugly listen on headphones — weird mixing and a lot of small, compressed sounds — but the string arrangements make for a lush contrast. Plus, “Daydreaming” and the new “True Love Waits” hit me deep.
Carl: I’m bad at picking favorites. Aside from what Garret and Jeff already mentioned, the Mitski record is something that I’ve given quite a few spins. I did just listen to Andrew Bird’s Are You Serious for the first time in a couple months, though, and it reminded me how much I enjoy that record. It’s certainly more of a comfortable and comforting record than a challenging or mind-blowing one, but that just feels right sometimes. “Chemical Switches” is such a gorgeous song.
Bryan: There have been so many great records out this year, particularly in the past month or two. Jeff Parker’s (of Tortoise) The New Breed is a record I’m predicting I’ll have loved the most by the end of this year, even though it’s only a little over a month old. It’s a jazz record; it’s a soul record; it’s an electronic record. It’s laced with nuanced samples and loops, minimal funk grooves, and beautifully pensive melodies. Listening to it, you can tell it’s a careful, but organic combination of many musical loves. And to me, satisfying every musical craving is a really fun aspect of making records.
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