“Behind the Wall of Sleepy Sun”
If you’re going to San Francisco … you’re probably not a member of Sleepy Sun. Since the release of their mammoth album “Fever” early in 2010, the road has been home for these Golden State psychedelic warriors, with word of their increasingly intense live performances being planted like seeds after every show. With that word regularly hovering somewhere between sweaty disbelief and electric epiphany, it then came as no big surprise – though no small delight – to see the band included on the initial line-up announcement for Austin Psych Fest 4.
Immediately following APF-4, the band will join their festival hosts The Black Angels for a West Coast tour, after which we have to imagine Sleepy Sun will have the chance to sleep, son, in their own bed, at least for an evening. Until then, guitarist Matt Holliman was kind enough to shed some light on their wild machine.
The touring you have done since the release of “Fever” has been nothing short of relentless. What does being on the road so consistently do to your mental state? What are the advantages that you wouldn’t have expected? And what are the disadvantages that have taken you by surprise?
Non-stop touring inevitably dulls your mental faculties. One way we’ve found to counteract this is by reading scientific journals (usually anything relating to DNA) and Russian literature from the 1800’s. Consequently, most of us can articulate the finer points of the human genome. That’s an advantage. Disadvantages include theft, food poisoning and fast-food …the latter two being synonymous.
Do you feel that Sleepy Sun has become a stronger band musically as a result of your epic touring? Have you become a stronger band spiritually? Why or why not?
We played over 200 shows in a given 365 day period, so we were bound to sharpen ourselves on the musical front, at least a tad. It’s hard to tell – it’s probably more of a subconscious thing, really. Tours usually start out a little rough no matter how much prep time you put into it. In terms of spirituality, you’ve gotta do whatever it takes to get through the day. It’s an outlet that helps some of us. Sometimes that means yoga at gas stations. And Flaming Hot Cheetos.
One of the things that is pretty immediately appealing about the music of Sleepy Sun – and by immediately, we recall the opening track, “New Age,” from your debut album – is the undeniable appeal of the twin-guitar attack, offering shades of Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest without ever sounding much like either. Who are the guitarists whose music has most directly impacted the sound of Sleepy Sun? Push comes to shove, what is your favorite riff of all time (at least for today)?
Well, there’s certainly a lot of influences guitar-wise, so it’s a bit difficult to distill it down to one or two bands/artists. Thin Lizzy is great, and we’re all fans of The Allman Brothers. The guitar play between bands like Crazy Horse and The Rolling Stones is also an inspiration. We never push ourselves into lead and rhythm roles. Oftentimes we write parts for each other. Steal from each other. Whatever works.
You want a riff? Black Sabbath – “Children of the Grave.”
There’s a sense of dynamics (for lack of a better term) in the music of Sleepy Sun that seems a fair step beyond what one might ordinarily think of as the “loud-quiet-loud” approach. Rather, the music seems to yearn for emotions both high and low, and that yearning can sometimes sound fairly ambitious in scope. Would you agree? Was it ever your forethought to be “ambitious” when it comes to the music you make, or is it more of a concern to let the songs come naturally, regardless of size or scope?
I don’t think it was ever an ambition. We just write what we feel and go from there. Part of the high-and-low, push/pull feeling stems from our collective interests. All five of us are writers with different tastes in music and it takes a bit of patience to sit back and see where the songs go with everyone hustling the dynamic in opposite directions. Everything is natural. We’ve run into problems when we try to force an idea or concept into a song. It doesn’t come off as well.
What was the first music that captured your attention, either as a child or in your adolescence? How has your appreciation for that music evolved over the years, either strengthening or weakening?
One of the first records I can remember buying was Nirvana’s “Nevermind” from some mail order catalog. It’s one of the few artists that I was into as a kid that I can still listen to today with a straight face. Or at least without feeling like a total dirtbag.
What music have you been listening to lately?
Bob Seger System, Fuck Buttons, Grinderman, Black Box Revelation, The War on Drugs.
How did you first hear of Austin Psych Fest? Are there any bands in particular that you are excited about seeing during the fest?
I don’t recall how we first heard about the Austin Psych Fest- we were definitely bummed out we couldn’t play last year, though. I’m interested to see Spectrum play. Last time I caught the very tail end of their set when they opened for My Bloody Valentine at the Concourse Center in SF a couple years ago. Everyone should also check out fellow SF bands The Fresh and Onlys and the Lumerians. Quest for Fire will also be top notch, grade-A awesome. [Note of the Apes: Sadly, Quest for Fire have had to cancel their appearance at APF4, but we felt it was still important to relay Matt’s message that they are, in fact, top-notch and grade-A awesome, because we agree.]
Ram Dass said the following in his meditation guide, “Journey of Awakening”:
“Your ego is a set of thoughts that define your universe. It’s like a familiar room built of thoughts; you see the universe through its windows. You are secure in it, but to the extent that you are afraid to venture outside, it has become a prison. Your ego has you conned. You believe you need its specific thoughts to survive. The ego controls you through your fear of loss of identity. To give up these thoughts, it seems, would annihilate you, and so you cling to them. There is an alternative. You needn’t destroy the ego to escape its tyranny. You can keep this familiar room to use as you wish, and you can be free to come and go. First, you need to know that you are infinitely more than the ego room by which you define yourself. Once you know this, you have the power to change the ego from prison to home base.”
Your thoughts? How has music helped to expand your view of yourself and your potential as a human? Your view of humanity as a whole?
One thing I’ve learned from all of this is to never be too full of yourself. I’m rather humbled by our successes. Apart from working non-stop on this project for years, we’re very lucky to have come as far as we have. It’s important to be grateful for what you’ve accomplished while still remaining ambitious.
Sun Ra was once quoted as saying the following: “You might say jazz came from the sun priests of Egypt.” Do you ponder the idea of from where your creative impulses stem?
Sleepy Sun was birthed from the dregs of Vitamin B12, peanut butter crackers, and a crappy AM/FM transmitter.
What’s next for Sleepy Sun?
A new record is in the works as well as a West Coast US tour with the Black Angels this coming April/May. What up Europe? Yeah, we see you looking good over there.
Original photos by Brandon Moore.