A Conversation with the Late, Great Sungazing
Sungazing was a shoegaze band in the Washington, D.C. area that disbanded in June. They recently released their debut, and final, LP which is self-titled and fantastic. Consisting of Ben, Dan, John, and Ted, the band answered questions about the band’s formation, their gear, how they got involved in music and much more! Check out the interview and listen to their album at the bandcamp link below.
Hello all in Sungazing. Can you introduce yourselves and let us know what each of you do in the band?
I’m Dan, I play guitar.
I’m Ted, I play drums.
I’m John, I also play guitar.
Ben Graney Green, I play bass and sing in the band.
How and when did Sungazing form and how long have you been working on the self-titled album?
TED: If I recall correctly, Sungazing was formed at a party in November of 2015, by John, Ben, and me. Dan joined almost immediately afterwards. We’ve been working on the self-titled album for a long time. The recording process took nearly a full year, and we’d been working on writing the songs for at least another year before that.
John: Pretty much what Ted said. I had known Ted previously and one day he approached me with Ben asking if I wanted to form a band. I had seen Ben play an open mic before and was interested in working with him. I was also excited to start a band as I lived with musicians, had a practice space and wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity. Our first practices were accidentally scheduled at the same time as other bands in the house, so we ended up practicing with acoustic guitars outside. Because of that, for a while, we were thinking of being a folk punk band. Once we finally were able to play in the practice space a couple days later, coincidentally about when Dan joined us, the idea of being a folk punk band kind of died out as we started to play with teds large pedal collection.
How did each of you get started making music?
Dan – I started playing guitar in 6th grade. Took lessons for a year and never really got good.
TED: I started taking drum lessons when I was nine or ten. I bounced around between a lot of instruments but I kept coming back to the drums.
John: I played classical guitar starting in 6th grade for a couple years but only really became serious when I started playing with Sungazing
Ben: Well, I started with the flute in 5th grade, but I started playing bass in 7th grade – I joined a program called “school of rock” which taught kids to cover all kinds of music in makeshift bands of keys, drums, guitar, bass, vocals, etc. – I worked there part time to help pay for my bass lessons, while starting a pop-punk cover band. Needless to say, I listened to almost exclusively Green Day, thought Mike Dirnt (their bassist) was the shit, and sometimes ventured into “real punk” (in my pubescent mind, that was the band NOFX). In high school, I had a brief pop punk band with originals called “Damage Control”
What is the writing process like in Sungazing? Take us through the initial encounter with an idea to a completed track.
John: The writing process usually started with someone presenting a riff and then we would jam on it to flesh out multiple parts. Near the end a lot of our songs with inspired from parts from other songs we didn’t end up using but liked enough to work on. After touring in winter of 2017, we reconsidered our writing style and ended up writing most of tracks following that with our new found perspective. After writing most of the album we have today we starting recording clean in a studio that one of teds other bandmates was kind enough to supply us with. Having most the clean stems, we actually had to put finishing everything on hold as Dan was graduating and school was becoming a priority for most of us. Almost eight months after having the clean stems recorded we played a show with another local shoegaze band named Venn, and they told us that they were a fan of our sound and suggested a producer known for recording local shoegaze music, Pablo, to help finish the album.
What attracts you to the shoegaze genre?
Ben: Shoegaze is kind of a murky distinction, and at first to us was just “We use a lot of pedals and play really loud and covered a drop nineteens song,” but we inevitably made music that fell into the genre. We’ve argued as a band about what genre to write after or whether we should write first and figure out the genre and labels later (“I’m not a soup can, don’t label me!”). We ended up just writing, and trying to explain ourselves as eight-word-long-genre-descriptors that changed every time (see post-post-pop-punk-gaze-core). We always were but also were not shoegazing. Our band chat has been named “not shoegaze” and “finally fucking shoegaze already”. Our name actually (almost embarrassingly) is a reference to shoegaze in that the inverse of gazing at your shoes is gazing at the sun, or Sungazing. The name stuck. And the genre I suppose was natural.
I like to ask artists about a few specific songs on their latest album to get more specific about the writing process of those songs and in general. Could you talk about the writing and recording of “Artemesia (Catharsis)” and “Film”?
TED: Artemesia was originally the second half of a two-part track, but the first half was cut and reworked into the track ‘Radio Through Metal Crowns’. Artemesia originally had a much softer intro and started building in intensity a lot more gradually.
John: As ted said, Artemisia was originally named Mogwai pt.2, named after the band Mogwai that we had covered previously. We originally would play another song called Mogwai pt.1 into a Mogwai fear satan cover. We liked the idea of having a song in two parts and ended up writing what is Artemesia today as the second half of a song that would replace the cover in our setlist. As for Mogwai pt.1, we initially planned to have the two parts of the song and then an interlude which ted was going to write for the end of the first half of the album. After deciding that those three instrumental songs would be too much in a row and that teds interlude sounded better than Mogwai pt.1 we ended up removing Mogwai pt1. This allowed the section of the album to start of with the energy of Artemesia and end with the cool down of Ted’s interlude.
Ted: The writing process for Film was fairly disjointed, but quick, if I remember correctly. The song is comprised of multiple sections that were kind of developed separately, and then added together at the end. I do specifically remember us playing around with the reverse reverb on an Alesis Midiverb, and having that kind of sort of push us toward the heavier use of tremolo picking in the track. It’s funny, despite it being helpful for writing stuff, I don’t think we’ve ever actually recorded a Midiverb for any reason.
What is the scene like in Washington D.C. and how do you find the area affecting your approach to music? Is there anything about where you all live that influences your music?
Ben:The DC DIY scene is really great and supportive of a wide array of genres, which is really great. I think the best influence is the sub-local scene in our college town, College Park, MD at the University of Maryland. We’re all involved in the radio station, too, with live concerts every Sunday, so we get to hear all kinds of bands who come through there, and just to see and meet really cool, underground, and sometimes very experimental bands. Included in that, there’s a great house-show community, at least when we were coming up, so it was good to have places to play and people to play for, having opportunities to meet and play with touring bands, and to be networked enough to go on tour ourselves! The house John lived in (“the Void”),where we practiced, was a house of musicians and bands, and was one of the larger/better house venues in the area.
John: I really don’t know about the specific DC DIY scene, and I think that speaks volumes about how strong the scene is in college park. Of course, DC has the really important influence culturally with all the famous punk that came out of there, and it is hard not to feel that artistic importance of that. But, our college town was pretty impressively supportive of creatives. In addition to the void, which saw immense attendance numbers for a DIY spot(shows often reaching hundreds of people in size) there were also several other DIY spots that also had regular shows. In even more addition there was a bar venue and the campus radio station that also had opportunities for live music. It was never hard to find musicians or like minded creatives, and because of that we never really needed to depend on the DC DIY scene.
For the gear heads that read Somewherecold, what sort of gear do you all use and including pedals?
TED: The only two pieces of gear that I really depended on while recording was a 70’s Slingerland 14×6.5” brass snare with a kevlar marching snare drum head on it, and a Paiste 2000 Power Ride. I always have had a big problem with wearing through snare heads because I crank them so tight, but the marching snare head has been the first one to stand up to the abuse. The Paiste ride is actually my primary crash when playing shows, so I wanted to use it on the recordings as well. Other than that though, nothing too interesting–just a really beaten up, mismatched Ludwig Vistalite kit, and some very messed up cymbals. I think every piece of the drum kit I recorded the album on was older than me, haha.
Ben: My setup changes from time to time. On the album, it was just a bass through a Behringer bass amp simulator/driver into an acoustic amp (courtesy of the Analog Approach Studio – it was old but sounded fine). The distortion was a danelectro Daddy-O overdrive into a danelectro French Toast fuzz, a-la-ted.
I think my favorite rig was the one I toured with, which was a Mastotron octave fuzz (love that thing, but lost it) into a Boss chorus stereo splitter, one channel going to smaller bass/guitar amp with built-in reverb and the mids/trebles boosted, and the second channel through the bass amp simulator to my main Acoustic B200. I like the amp simulator so I can have a little extra control over the bass that gets through to the amp, especially when many fuzz and distortions will totally cut the low end from your signal.
There’s a few songs, especially earlier songs (some of which are not on the album) where I’d play the bass more like a guitar, with a lot of chords higher up on the neck, which would sound real nice through the chorus, especially Luminescence and Birdhead (from the Freezes-to-Death tapes).
John: I am not the most knowledgeable on gear but I use the hyperion and the shoegazer pedals for distortion. The rest of my pedals are nothing special but I love the hyperion’s almost smooth yet powerful distortion. I use it pretty much on every song. As for the shoegazer, I used both of its sides independently. The left was really good for the super heavy distortion on Luminescence, while the right was good for the cutting but almost clean distortion on Hymn.
I hear some Cure and Joy Division in your music. Are these some of your influences and are there any others?
TED: Oh yes, absolutely. I feel like everyone in the band has fairly separate influences, but I know that Mogwai and Brand New were both definitely huge influences on the direction of the band as a whole. I personally was very influenced by Sonic Youth, MBV, Lightning Bolt, a lot of stuff on the noisier side of things.
John: I feel like Ben’s singing style really brought out the Cure and Joy division feeling in our music. Other than that, it was actually fairly unintentional. We had talked about writing post punk music but never really got around to doing so. I feel it may have ended up that way though because of the mix of the two other tones in our album. It’s where the upbeat and dreamy meets the cold and haunting, and it’s cool that we hit a middle ground with that post punk feel that we really didn’t set out for.
As far as influences, like Ted said, Mogwai was a large one for me personally. Also around the time that we wrote a lot of the music I was really into doom metal like Sleep. But that was only coloring my heavy background in post rock, pop punk and garage rock.
What’s next for Sungazing?
Well, unfortunately, we’ve just recently played our last official show as Sungazing on June 22nd!
Sadly Sungazing is a dead band but we will each move on to still contribute to musical projects on our own, and will certainly share it on our facebook page whenever one of us does something new.
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