By Jacob Sprecher
Dabbling in a mixture of hard rock and psychadelia is a tenuous tightrope. The peaks are incredibly high, while the lows are flat-out embarrassing. Both genres have overwhelming qualities of ambiguity, and it’s the few and the proud that are able to avoid tired clichés and pull off genuine sensibility. Sleepy Sun is one such group. Based out of San Francisco—though nomads by admission—Sleepy Sun takes the very finest of ‘70s-inspired hard rock and allows it to coalesce with contemporary puff-of-smoke indie and psych. And musical splendor aside, it’s worth making special note of frontman Bret Constantino, who harnesses a vocal presence that falls somewhere between Hamilton Leithhauser of The Walkmen and Perry Ferrell of Jane’s Addiction. But with three full-lengths released on All Tomorrow’s Parties to their name, Sleepy Sun has made a near-constant commitment to touring, even in the face of internal adversity (the band parted ways with former frontwoman Rachel Fannan in 2010 after the release of Fever). Running around with the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and the Black Angels has landed the group a renowned live reputation. And guess what? They’ve got a brand-spanking-new LP in hand (Spine Hits, produced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Dave Catching). Synthesis caught up with Constantino as Sleepy Sun was rounding out their latest trek through Europe.
Here’s a question I’m sure you’re tired of but it seems like it’s still of note: Your first full-length without Rachel. How does your audience respond to the new material as well as the old without your former band mate?
There are always going to be those who miss Rachel’s voice, and even those who may never be able to appreciate the band without it. And that’s fine. Those who listened to our band solely because of Rachel’s voice can now only be encouraged to listen to her solo records. But of course there are some who believe we are a much better band now that it’s down to the core group, if I may call us gentlemen. But really the writing process hasn’t changed much at all, in terms of who shows up to rehearsal or who writes the lyrics and melodies.
You’re currently in Europe. I hear some folks say they find European crowds to be more reserved. How do you compare them, and the scenes in general, to America?
Europe is not nearly as flooded with touring bands, especially ones from California, so the crowds tend to be more receptive to foreign acts. Touring is an entirely different experience out here. But also the audiences in Europe seem to have a keen sense and a great appreciation for genuine and passionate performers. I would say that the audiences are more sensitive out here, in terms of their reception.
Given the city’s cultural history, do you feel there’s still something musically distinctive about being San Franciscan?
San Francisco’s distinction in the music industry will always be its diversity. Unfortunately, I don’t really consider us a part of SF’s music scene, as we don’t play there anymore than we do in say Denver or London. We say we are from SF because it’s the place where we convene to play and write songs, but honestly I feel detached from the scene there. I know of many bands doing their thing, respectively, but few who really cooperate and define the city’s culture as a part of a unified movement. But again, I’ll be the first to admit I know nothing about such movements within the city. Although now Thee Oh Sees come to mind.
You toured alongside Arctic Monkeys a couple years back…was it anything of a tease to be playing those types of upper echelon venues? Do you still have that good ol’ dive bar spirit at the core?
I wouldn’t call it a tease necessarily. It was more of a glimpse of the top. To play consistently in front of 5,000 kids at premier venues and then to go back to the dives is quite humbling and can only make our band more seasoned. The difference between playing the halls and the dive bars, for me, is how you deal with the crowd, how you make the connection with the audience. Now obviously it’s easier to do in the small room, but a lot more dirty.
Sleepy Sun is aptly labeled as psych, but there’s a lot of straight-up pop in there, too, as portions of a song like “V.O.G.” suggests. Is it fair to say that there are strong pop influences throughout the band?
Sure it’s fair, as long as you keep it in context. Also depends on what you consider pop music. We are fans of hooks and popular messages, and just like most people we appreciate how the Beatles defined pop music. But that will forever be changing.
Who are you hot on these days? What records have been getting regular time in the van?
Been digging Sun Araw, the new Spiritualized, The Men, the new Lower Dens, Father John Misty [and] ‘80s punk in the vein of The Gun Club and The Cramps; The Replacements.
Two full years separate Fever and Spine Hits, and there’s obviously been change within that time frame. Internally, musically, what are the main differences you see between the Sleepy Sun of 2010 and 2012?
All aspects of the band have been refined, though we still have much to grow.