Friday, October 30, 2009

Sun Araw

As just a small beginning to our ongoing project of expanding We Shot JR's coverage past our geographic borders and into new places, we decided to do something that we normally don't do around here-- interview a band or artist who is NOT coming to North Texas any time soon (you'll see a lot more of this in the near future).

For the past year and a half or so, I've been spending a significant amount of down time enjoying the music of Cameron Stallones, the lead guitarist of Not Not Fun group Magic Lantern and the sole force behind one man project Sun Araw. Sun Araw's hazy, psychedelic collages touch on such a wide variety of sounds and influences that attempting to list them in any comprehensive way would be nearly pointless, but Stallones' loop based compositions are certainly a hypnotic journey well worth taking for oneself, blending classic psychedelic rock with afrobeat, funk, krautrock, early electronic, ambient, and a heavy dose of Stallones' own unique vision that renders any of the aforementioned influences fleeting and often transformed into something entirely new all together. This approach results in some of the most compelling, provocative and enjoyable psychedelic pieces you'll hear coming out of just about anywhere these days, radiating with a warmth and attention to detail that's difficult to find in the vast sea of contemporary tape label psyche rock.

After reading an interview with Stallones in the most recent edition of Wire, I decided to contact the man behind Sun Araw and ask him a few questions via email. Here is what we discussed:

Although I suppose I could be wrong, I'm guessing that you didn't start off as a teenager listening to many things that sound anything remotely close to the kind of music you make today. Could you tell us a bit about your musical background-- some of the music that really inspired you early in your life and any bands/musical projects that you participated in early on?

Once I got into music in a serious way, I did the typical record store geek-out, just following the energy through anything and everything. It was pretty idyllic, chasing these tones that I never knew existed through so many genres and esoteric pockets. Got really into 60’s soul music and pre-rock for a long time, the whole paisley underground scene, hip-hop, krautrock, etc. Didn’t have any successful bands really, though William and I tried to form a band that was conceptually the Beat Happening as a Nuggets-band, only doing inept, primal soul covers with two guitars and drums. I’m still into the idea of that, but let’s just say it wasn’t executed well. Someone should do that.

And what were some of the influences that brought you closer to the more abstract, psychedelic kinds of things that interest you musically today?

I discovered Can, Ash Ra Tempel, kraut and kosmiche vibes fairly early in my record store geek-outs, but it wasn’t quite harvest time, that all had to gestate for a few years. 80’s psych like Spacemen 3 (who we all worship) and Loop went a long way towards the formation of Magic Lantern, and later Sun Araw, but I think the real catalyst was hearing Parson Sound. It’s just a mind-flaying slab that manages to condense psychedelic rock to its most primal elements while also (even preternaturally) synthesizing all its disparate experiments into one pure and molten whole. The monolithic first-fruits of crossbreeding Terry Riley's "In C" with the Velvet Underground's most spaced moments.

Could you tell us about a few of your favorite guitar players and how they might influence the way you play?

Daniel Fichelscher completely freaks me out, doesn't sound like anyone else, but his licks resonate deep inside memory zones. Melodic simplicity that is so completely on point, it's traditional music of some unknown hybrid country. Oghene Kologbo, of course. Also, Jason Martin. He fronted/fronts a long-running 90's brit-pop/shoegaze band called Starflyer 59. Their early records blew my tender mind. Neil Young's electric jams are just too too ridiculous: shambling, saturated rays. Manuel Gottsching’s cosmic waves too. I could go on for a while. Totally mesmerized by all that stuff, and imitate each in some malformed way.

On a very basic level, what is it you hope to accomplish whenever you record or play live as Sun Araw?

For myself I hope to establish some moment of spiritual connection, to exist and manipulate objects on a different plane for some minutes or more. That sounds grandiose, but that's really what interests me in other people's music and it’s the sort of kicks I want to extract from my own.

Can you describe your live set up for us? Is it difficult for you to create the same audible atmosphere found on your records in a live setting?

It can be a challenge, certainly. I’m content to let the live thing be a different thing, of a different order: the order of moving to a groove. But it’s necessarily stripped down. Usually it's me on guitar and vocals and tape loops, my Lantern-mate William on organ and occasional guitar. Recently though, in preparation for some upcoming tours, I've been practicing performing completely solo. Got some more robust gear that’s helping out with that, though I always prefer to have a brother/sister to voyage with if I can.

In previous interviews I've read with you, I've enjoyed the way you discuss direct influences on particular albums or songs you've made, such as how Beach Head was a "tribute" to or loosely influenced by Neil Young's Zuma. It seems like a lot of artists tend to shy away from such influence spotting for a variety of reasons. Do you think you can do this more freely because none of your music really sounds much like what influenced or inspired it? Could musicians in general be a little more honest as far as what they borrow and what inspires certain things they do musically?

For me influences are the physical pieces laid over the non-physical structure. I don't mind copping to 'em, because I feel my music is never an attempt to recreate the structure of their music, just maybe some tones here and there. Most musicians seem pretty chill with discussing influences, though when they aren’t it’s probably because everyone knows what’s really going on, in the worst way.

It seems like there is a much larger audience for the kind of music you make these days than there has ever been before, and of course, the most obvious cause one could cite would be the internet and the incredible accessibility to music that it provides. However, is something else at work here? Is there something else about American and European audiences, at this time and place in history, that seems to promote an openness towards the kind of repetitive, loosely structured music you produce?

Well, it’s hard to say. I would consider my music, and most contemporary psychedelia as being spiritual in nature, in that it isn’t engaging your mind or emotions the way traditional songwriting does, but through some attempt at transcendence through repetition, improvisation, texture, etc. I think most tuned-in people are sensing some intense forces, technological mostly, that are emerging and fundamentally re-ordering our existence. It tends to brutalize your soul, but I think those that are staying alert, making sure to crest the wave, are already stoked about the ways they have found to re-order those energies for their benefit and the furthering of psychedelic and tuned-in living. Even for those who aren’t aware of the intense manipulation of their consciousness, there is an unconscious move towards esoteric and spiritual thinking, definitely a renewed interest in higher consciousness and spirituality, and probably in general paranoia. That’s the dark side of it. On the whole, I try to see it as a really positive and necessary move. Dreams are important because they give us practice in inhabiting a world of pure concept, divorced from physical perception, which is definitely the direction the world is being pushed (for better or worse). So I guess we should suit up, figure out how to live healthy in those circumstances so we don’t go all Schwarzenegger at the beginning of Total Recall, eyes buggin’ out. I find that making and listening to this sort of music definitely helps.

Can you tell us a little bit about the community surrounding Not Not Fun and what it's been like to work with those people?

Deep family. Britt and Manda keep us all inspired with non-stop shenanigans, and endless band starting. I respect them more than I think they know: they conceive a reality they want to exist in, and they simply create it. It’s a skill we all need to hone. They come correct, it’s rare but obvious that there isn’t even a trace of nonsense in their label operations, it’s pure love start to finish. And the extended crew here in LA just gets doper and more surreal, I’ve never felt so surrounded by talented buds.

Do you enjoy listening to the harsher noise and drone and black metal and the like? To me, a lot of that stuff has psychedelic elements that are similar in a very basic way to some of the stuff you do with your various projects, but much of it obviously comes from quite a different place and provokes and responds to different things. Where does this kind of music fit in relation to what you do?

I do. I mean, I’m definitely more interested in noise that can be classified in some way as psychedelic, and a lot of it is. There is a side of the scene that’s almost entirely based around modes of masculine aggression and that doesn’t really appeal to me when it’s the end-all, though it can be a sick element in something that’s aiming higher. But even some of the harshest jams can be truly mind-expanding. With metal, I’m just a tourist, woefully ignorant. I love early Sabbath, and obviously heavily psychedelic stuff like Sleep, Om, or experimental stuff like Orthrelm. I haven’t dug too deep into the stuff in the middle. It usually just gets my attention when it’s coming from a certain vantage point that I can relate to.

Can you walk us through the process of how you create a Sun Araw track? From the inception of the idea to the final version coming together, I'm curious about the process you undergo to bring these sounds about.

I try to really drop-in/drop-out for a good chunk of time, wade through whatever tones are hanging around in the air. After listening back, usually something asserts itself and that gets edited out, becomes the skeleton of a new jam. Then I attempt to build that single point into a resonant field. Sometimes it happens very quickly, other times it can be more of a struggle, but for me it has to start from a point of allowing yourself to be flooded in a self-less zone, then basking in the glow for a while. Next comes speaking the word, and then you offer the fruit in thanksgiving. This is what Heavy Deeds was all about for me. Once I enter a zone that I feel has particularly fruitful energy, I try to map it for myself so I can find my way back easily. I’m giving very personal signifiers, creating an iconography that has an internal logic that I can follow. So after I had finished all the music on Heavy Deeds I had been dwelling in those jams for enough time to begin to visualize the peaks and valleys of that dimension, and assign meaningful visual cues to them. The Wonder/Diddley/Cherry triad represented on the album map the particular aspects of that universe that relate to those three stages of creative activity.

Obviously, much of what you're trying to convey and communicate with Sun Araw isn't all that direct or straight forward in message, i.e. Minor Threat's Straight Edge or something like that. Do you feel like you would have anything worth saying or communicating via a more structured, traditional pop music format?

Well, I just don't find that traditional pop music really offers to me what it is I want to get out of writing and performing, no glowing doorways in there. I love traditionally structured music and listen to tons of it, it’s by no means a value judgment. The psychedelic zone that I put myself and Magic Lantern in, it's just a different sort of music with different goals and tools, structured around Eastern or Minimalist ideas, more about texture than narrative. It’s also functional in nature, trying to push your mind into particular spaces. I want the music to be hard workin’.

How has Long Beach and Los Angeles helped shape your music, and how different do you think Sun Araw might be if you were based in say, Brooklyn, rather than the west coast?

Los Angeles is a deeply psychedelic city. It’s a post-everything environment. A huge number of people here take part, in one way or another, in the creation of non-physical spaces, maybe through art or the film industry or just by movement through and habitation of the zany architectures that have been constructed in that quest. I think the early film industry here unlocked some wild energy, and because the landscape and culture here was so malleable (unlike France or other places in Europe where early film erupted) the imaginary spaces that were created and the exaltation of image had a profound effect on the physical spaces of LA. I moved here for college from Austin, Texas, which is a much more directly benevolent environment, and I really hated LA for the first few years, because it lacks that overtly benevolent energy. Also because I just really didn’t understand it. But since then it’s revealed itself to me and I’ve come to love it, it’s a city that you have to have a complicated relationship with. There is so much vibrant, positive energy that’s mixed with truly hostile and negative energy, but the longer you stay, the better you get at tuning out the problem frequencies and amplifying the constructive ones. The amount of personally and communally constructed vibes and dimensions here are overwhelming once you start to see them, there’s a deep tradition and encouragement of the physical realization of mind. The music I make is an attempt on my part to continue that tradition (probably with different goals in mind): to move a camera in deep focus through other spaces and other levels of energy.

What are some of the other projects you are working on and what are your immediate plans for Sun Araw as far as touring and recording new material?

Well we just finished up the new Magic Lantern LP, which should be out soon. I also just finished the new Sun Araw full-length, a double LP called On Patrol. Actually I just finalized the last mixes an hour or so ago. That will be out early next year. I’ll be touring up the West Coast with James Ferraro and Infinity Window and Wingdings in January, so stoked about that, true alien lanes. There’s also plans on the books for a Pocahaunted/Sun Araw US tour in March and a Sun Araw tour of Australia and New Zealand in September 2010. Trying to come correct, you know.


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