The Haunted, “High Desert Psych” of Sun Blood Stories

Sun Blood Stories
Sun Blood Stories, photo by Jackie Hutchens

Sun Blood Stories makes its latest appearance in Denver tonight, 9/15/17, at Lion’s Lair with Big Dopes and Serpentfoot. The former quintet now trio from Boise, Idaho, has been creating its experimental psychedelic music since 2011. Though the band emerged around the time when the most recent wave of psychedelic rock was headed toward its peak, Sun Blood Stories seemed to come from a different place. Its shows feel a bit like you’re seeing what a traveling, shamanistic musical ceremony might be like. Its songs, some rock, some weirdo folk but all informed by an attempt to create a mood and an experience as much as, or more so, than melody.

The 2017 album It Runs Around the Room With Us has a title that suggests the supernatural and the songs themselves are often melancholic compositions haunted by memories, dreams and experiments in crafting atmospheres that stir the imagination and don’t seen leave the mind. We recently caught up with the band via email to discuss some of its history, inspirations and perspectives in creating its riveting body of work. Where a specific band member responds the name will precede that response otherwise assume it’s a collective answer. But you can figure that out because you’re smart.

Queen City: What brought you together to form Sun Blood Stories?

Ben Kirby: I played as a solo act for awhile and really just wanted a band because that’s a shit ton of work and pressure for just one person. Delegation is key.

Jon Fust: He actually just wanted a bunch of mindless fools to do exactly what he told them.

Amber Pollard: Which totally backfired because what he ended up getting was a bossy chick and a drummer who can literally never make a decision about anything.

Ben: Anyway, through a couple line up changes and stylistic progressions, we arrived at this band.

The name of the band suggests that maybe you have a narrative element to your songwriting. Would you say that’s true? What kinds of stories tend to make their way into your songs?

There’s definitely a few continuous themes that tend to push their way into our music: time and death, dreams and wonder, pain and dealing with it. Oh and politics.

Amber: I write a lot about my own personal experience and how that relates to the current political climate. This comes pretty naturally as I am a loud activist in our community. On this newest album we touch on themes like the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change, the confederate flag, the lack of adequate healthcare for the underinsured, police brutality, human trafficking, LGBTQIA rights, etc.

Sun Blood Stories
Sun Blood Stories, photo by Everett Smith

Were you in bands before SBS? What kinds of bands?

Jon and Ben were in a band called Talk Math to Me which was loud and garage rock-y which was active from 2010-2011. When Talk Math to Me dissolved Ben started playing solo as Sun Blood Stories.

When you started out were there really any bands locally that seemed like-minded? What kinds of places did you play early on and did any of them play an important role in your development as a band?

Jon: I feel like Boise has a really good community and the bands are all friends but there aren’t too many overlapping genres here.

Ben: We played really everywhere we possibly could.

Amber: Treefort Music Fest has really given SBS a yearly goal to just play better. The first year of the festival [2012] was Ben’s first year of performing as Sun Blood and every year since we’ve worked really hard to ensure that we are growing and trying to keep up with Treefort’s cool.

What bands or other artists that had a particular impact or influence on what you’ve done with SBS?

Jon: My natural instinct is to say The Velvet Underground because they make me wanna make weird noise.

Ben: I’ve learned a lot from Deerhoof both from seeing them play and reading interviews about how they actually run the band.

Amber: Can I just pick a genre? Cause I listen to A lot of 90s R&B and Hip Hop. It’s taken a lot of strategy and smooth talking to convince the band to let that influence our music.

Having traveled around on tour, what have you come to appreciate about Boise and being based there?

Amber: 1, I can go out and not see anyone I know or I can go out and be surrounded by friends. It’s small enough and big enough for both. 2, I can ride my bike any where in the city. 3, cost of living is pretty low in comparison to other Metro areas which makes supporting this band a lot easier on us a family.

Jon: I like Boise because the music scene is in a cool stage of growth right now and I feel like we’re right in the middle of it.

Ben: Um, I’ve loved many of the towns and cities we’ve gone to but I always just want to come back home.

It’s always awkward trying to describe someone else’s music much less your own, but why do you shorthand describe your music on your Facebook page as “High Desert Experimental Psych-Fuzz”? Certainly that kind of description could be used to describe Spindrift, some aspects of Black Mountain or a trippier, harder edged Ennio Morricone. 

Amber: At Treefort 2015 Wolvserpent posted a picture of us performing on Instagram. Their caption described our sound as “High Desert Psych,” and I just embraced that. I added in the experimental descriptor because sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing but it always sounds good. After a bit I needed to add in the Fuzz part because who doesn’t love fuzz?

Ben: Also it was the coolest 5 words we could think of at the time.

Jon: We have a Facebook page?

Sun Blood Stories
Sun Blood Stories, photo by Sun Blood Stories

Your music has always had experimental underpinnings. You could have followed the psychedelic rock trend of the last 7 years and done okay for yourselves. But you seem to have really embraced what some might consider the weirder side of your songwriting as part of the whole. Why is that such an important aspect of your music and what do you think got you interested in exploring that richly as you have?

Jon: It just felt natural.

Ben: I’ve always loved deeply weird music. The fact that we’re considered a psych band is really interesting to me because it’s almost just a coincidence that the psych thing was happening as we were beginning.

Amber: The Residents and captain Beefheart have really held a place in Jon’s heart since he was very young. Fitting into a genre is just not our jam. I’m much more interested in carving out our own space and I think we do a pretty good job of that. Like when we release a new single and people hear it on the radio, people who have listened to our album or seen our show can tell right away that that’s Sun Blood playing through their speakers. I don’t want that to change.

It Runs Around the Room With Us is very different from Twilight Midnight Morning. Neither would be considered a straight ahead rock record, for sure. But It Runs Around the Room With Us not only suggests the presence of spirits in the music with the title, it’s more overtly ambient/deeply atmospheric. What inspired that approach to the songs for the album? What sorts of feelings and ideas spawned that set of songs?

Ben: Much of the difference between the two albums is the lineup change that occurred between the recording of each. We went from being a quintet to a trio and there was considerably more space within the sound. We tried to reign in some of barreling cacophony and focus more on the development of the pieces themselves.

Jon: Yeah I feel like the line up change had the most significant impact, at least for me and what I’m playing. Having two less members opened up a lot of space in the music, which forced us to get more creative with how we filled that space, and allowed me to start playing keyboards along with the drums.

Amber: I kind of feel like the tracks on It Runs were all loosely based on “Misery is Nebulous,” the final track of Twilight. The elements of that song that really stood out for us were the build, the spaciousness, the beauty and the pain. We took those elements, expanded on them, and used them as the foundation for this album. Creating this album was a healing experience and playing it live is like a therapy session.

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Author: simianthinker

Editor, primary content provider for this blog. Former contributor to Westword and The Onion.