[Interview] Bad Suns Heat Up a Cold Day in Atlanta
For those of you who are somehow unaware, it was fucking COLD on Thursday when Bad Suns and From Indian Lakes played at The Loft in Atlanta. Despite this, there were fans lined up for hours around the block in weather that definitely did not depict the spring date of March 15.
When we finally made our way into The Loft, everyone was ecstatic to be somewhere with central heating. My friend and I each downed a shot to warm our bones, ordered a drink to sip on, and made our way further into a venue that was filling faster than the lower hulls of the Titanic.
From Indian Lakes was the first band to take the stage, and they absolutely killed it. A set full of energy and amazing tunes that had us all warmed up and moving. From Indian Lakes appeared in our “13 Underground Artists That You Need to Start Listening To” article, and showed exactly why they were the first artist on the list.
Bad Suns came out and set the stage on fire. Running through a high-energy setlist that included hits from both Language and Perspective and Disappear Here, including about a minute of “20 Years” from their debut Transpose EP, the LA-based quartet performed an impromptu stress-test of the venues floors as every single person in the sold out crowd was jumping and dancing for the entire set.
The set “ended” with “Cardiac Arrest” before the band returned for an encore of “Rearview,” “Heartbreaker,” and “Salt.” Security had to force us all out into the streets as no one was able to come to terms with this incredible show ending.
Bad Suns come from the LA/San Fernando Valley area of California and are comprised of front man Christo Bowman, guitarist Ray Libby, bassist Gavin Bennet, and drummer Miles Morris. We sat down with the band and talked extensively about touring, the musical process, their fans, and more.
How’s the tour been? Where’d it start? Where’s it ending?
Christo: It started in Salt Lake City, UT and it’s ending in Tucson, AZ, and it’s been great. On this tour we’re playing some of the cities we don’t typically get to come to on a regular tour, and so it’s been nice to have all those cities bunched into one. Actually, this has been one of the most successful tours we’ve ever done. People have been spending some time with the album, and that’s been really refreshing to have people singing along to the new songs.
Speaking of seeing new cities, which ones have been the most exciting to play?
Christo: Jacksonville was pretty crazy last night. We’ve only played there once before, and it was just a really rowdy crowd. But it’s hard to single one out.
Ray: Yea, our very first show on this tour was in Salt Lake City which isn’t necessarily the most notorious for being a big, fun party city, but that first show was really fun. It was sold out and it was one of the biggest shows on the whole tour. That was a good way to kick it off.
How much of your nightly setlist and show in general changes night-to-night?
Christo: We play the same setlist night-to-night, and there are a couple variables that might get thrown in during it. But it is pretty much contingent to the crowd and the mood everyone else is in.
Reddit user Whospitonmypancakes from the /r/BadSuns community asked about what style you guys are channeling during your shows. Is there a “who” or “what” that sticks out in particular?
Gavin: I don’t think any of us are channeling some “inner guy.” I have countless influences. All the different people that you saw growing up and imagined yourself one day emulating. It’s a collage of every cool rock ‘n roll documentary you’ve ever seen I guess.
I’ve read that you guys were surprised that "Cardiac Arrest" got as big as it got. With that in mind, if you didn’t expect "Cardiac Arrest" to be your most popular song, what did you expect it to be?
Christo: I don’t think there was one more than "Cardiac Arrest." That was the one I probably would’ve picked. I think we were just surprised that any of our music would get any kind of attention. We were used to putting up a song and ten of our friends heard it, and to go from that to 30 million is a bit different. It’s crazy.
Miles, who are some of your drum influences? Because you don’t play much like anyone else I’ve ever heard; especially within this genre of music.
Miles: Well thank you, I guess I like that. There’s a lot of great drummers in a lot of bands, and it’s just like, anytime anyone asks me who my favorite drummer is I’m always stuck. There are dudes like Kevin Parker who just do everything, and that’s really inspiring to me. Then there are drummer's like Ilan Rubin who plays with Nine Inch Nails who’s just a drummers drummer. Really there’s this spectrum of dudes who play drums and who write full songs, and it’s all inspiring to me.
What’s y’all’s songwriting process typically like?
(Everyone immediately looks at Christo) Christo: Usually I’ll bring in a song and we’ll all write the music, or someone will come in with a short piece of music and we’ll build and write around that. But yea, we’re all very involved in the process and we have our own different roles. It’s cool, it’s like the more that we do it, and especially the more that we do it together; it gets easier, you get better at it.
Ray: Just like with our respective instruments, we’ve all gotten better at them, but I feel like we’ve gotten better at using all four of us as an instrument.
Christo: Totally, it’s like a language that’s limited to the four of us to an extent. After working together for so long everyone is in the groove of their role in the band. So like, you can always count on a great drum beat to come from Miles, you can always count on a great bass line from Gavin, and you can count on these different things that are going to happen inevitably. It’s kinda cool to watch that happen.
Even when the band just started, like, when I listen to those songs off the first record; that still sounds like a band that’s in tune with one another. And that’s the beginning of us kind of figuring all of these things out like “what do we want to sound like?” and taking it step by step. And Language & Perspective was kind of us finding out what that is. And Disappear Here kind of felt a little more natural. It came flowing out as opposed to us chasing it.
Knowing that, would you say that you focused more on creating a musical theme with Disappear Here more so than with Language & Perspective? Was it a conscious decision to have it sound more cohesive?
Ray: I don’t think we had the intention of making it a super cohesive album. You know how there are some albums you have to listen to from start to finish? I don’t think that was the intention at the start of it, but I think once we started writing songs, it was kind of obvious what songs were kind of grouped together or would stand out together in weird ways. I remember being in our rehearsal space and being like, “Oh, I really like this song cause it’s really straightforward and to the point, and I like this song with it cause it’s weirder," and it kind of revealed itself to us, I guess.
How has the actual, physical recording process changed as you guys have had more success?
Ray: Yeah, in the sense that when you first start playing guitar you start off with a $100 guitar, then get a little bit better and buy a $500 guitar, and then eventually you spend like $1000, and you know. We recorded both albums in the same studio….
Gavin: Some gear. I didn’t have a bass amp until half way through our first record cycle, and then that piece of gear becomes a piece of our whole thing. So everything that we’ve all collected as far as gear and all, that, I think, has influenced the sound of the record more. Not doing any crazy different recording things.
Christo: Yea, and I feel like having the opportunity to tour the first record and go out and really physically try it out with people is probably where we learned the most that we could apply to recording. Cause the recording process is pretty, you know what I mean, like on the first record we recorded a lot of the stuff live, with all four of us playing together, and on the second we took more time to record separately. The first album was fun to make, and the second was really fun to write and maddening to record and finish.
We don’t feel any kind of outside pressure that we have to appeal to anybody else or appease anybody else but I think there is a max amount of pressure we put on ourselves, but it’s a good kind of pressure. The kind of pressure anyone puts on themselves when they care about what they do.
So I think that was definitely felt more on the second album than the first where we were having the time of our lives like, “Wow, we’re in a recording studio! This is what we’ve always wanted to do; we’re here!” And the second one was like, “We’re still in this recording studio!” Day in, day out, all the days start to turn into one. It was really like Groundhog Day and at the end of it, we were like, “Well here’s the album. I think we did a good job,” so it was worth it.
How did you guys come together as a band?
Christo: We were all musically inclined and interested in music at a young age, and so just growing up in similar areas in the San Fernando Valley in California we all ended up meeting each other through school or music or whatever over the years.
And by the time we had gotten into a rehearsal room, me and Gavin and Miles had been playing together for a few years and then once we had all met up with Ray… Like I think it was as simple as Ray sent me a Facebook message cause he had seen our band play and he said, “Hey, I like some of your songs. Let’s jam.” We were looking for a guitar play at the time cause we were just a trio, and then we jammed and it was like, “Oh, this is it. Great!”
I was actually thinking about this the other day, from that period, five months later we recorded “Cardiac Arrest,” “We Move Like the Ocean,” “Matthew James,” like it all happened so fast.
How did you decide on your logo?
It’s the Zia sign. Actually, I remember the day it happened. We were taking pictures or something like that. I remember the Zia sign came across my peripheral vision, and it was something I had noticed in the past and, obviously, thought it was really cool to look at.
I looked into it and everything was just hitting me in the face. We had just named the band, we were Bad Suns. And everything about the sign, it talks about the four stages of life, the four seasons of the year, and all these different things. And I remember reading into the Zia people and how they worship the sun and all that stuff. I thought, “This is really cool. This really applies to the way that our band is so importantly linked to that number four.
And we just thought it felt right and looked good and we like what it stands for. And we’ve been happy to adopt it.
What is each of your favorite pieces of equipment you’ve picked up over the years?
Christo: My secret weapon is my Way Huge Aqua Puss delay pedal. I’ve used that on like every recording ever, so it’s just my tone right now.
Ray: I have this black Strat that Chris’s friend, who makes guitars around where we live, and he makes them really, really well. So my black Strat that I play was made by him, and it just feels like a big boy guitar.
Gavin: I have a Yamaha DX7 I got when we were making the second album, and I think that is a fascinating instrument. You can do so much with it.
Miles: I am much less interesting. I just bought this cheap little timbale for like 40 bucks, and it’s my recent thing. I just added it to the side of my drum kit. I’ll find myself using it at unnecessary times cause it sounds so cool.
So what’s up with your cymbal set up? I’ve noticed that you use three ride cymbals and no crashes, which is really cool. Is that still the case?
Miles: I do – I did. I still play two rides. I have one new cymbal called a Trash Smash; it’s a Zildjian effects cymbal. It’s really cool; it’s a 19-inch one.
Are any of you guys sponsored by anyone?
Christo, Gavin, Ray in unison: Ernie Ball.
Oh shit, so you’re on the back of the pack of strings?
Ray: It was the box that the strings come in and we’re on there.
Christo: I think the first time I saw that I was in a Guitar Center, and I was like, “Oh, I wonder…”
That sounds so surreal to be on the box of strings that you’ve been using your whole career.
Ray: In all reality, I’ve probably been 14-years-old and thought, “One day…” I probably haven’t had that thought since then, but I can guarantee you I did.
Do any of you guys have any “I made it” moments? Or even just surreal moments where you realized that this is your life now?
Christo: Real success in doing this isn’t one finite destination. There’s just a lot of checkpoints on the road you’re building. So yea, those checkpoints. There are times where I have to step back and say, “Oh, wow, this is real, this is happening.” But those don’t happen all the time. I would say that most of the time you don’t feel like that. You feel exactly the opposite, so when it does happen it feels like a crazy moment.
Ray: Yea, I remember in Toronto a couple of days ago we were playing on The Morning Show. We were there and setting up to play, and we were on a little sound stage and we were like, “This is cool.” Obviously, none of us had ever watched "The Morning Show" so we didn’t know if it was a local broadcast or a national broadcast or what. So we were hanging out, and Dax Shepard and Michael Peña walk in cause they’re promoting that new CHiPs movie, and we watched them have a full-on, legitimate television interview. Turns out it is a national broadcast and that was kind of like…cause even when we were there it was like, it was cool, but when they walked in it was like, “Oh wait, yea, we’re totally gonna be on TV.”
Christo: Honestly every night, when you have people singing along with these songs to you, I’ll often find myself kind of like, looking at all these people, and you can see it. Like, that person’s been in the car with their friend and they’ve been listening to the songs, maybe that person went through a breakup and they listened to that song, and you start to see all these different realities happen because you think of the way that music has influenced your life. And the way that you’ve had relationships with music and records, and for a moment imagining all these people having those experiences with what you created.
Ray: That’s kind of the ultimate “wow.” It kind of hits you really hard when you think about it. You think about your night at a concert, and we’ve been to a bunch of shows ourselves. We like to go out with our girlfriends and get dinner and, you know, it’s a whole night’s plan. And every show it’s kind of trippy to think about. So many people are spending their time and money to come see our band. That’s one of the craziest things probably. It makes us very thankful that we’re able to do this. I think if anything it makes us wanna be the best band we can because if anyone cares enough to devote their time or their hard-earned money on what we do, it’s up to us to provide the best that we can provide. It’s a good reminder.
We’ll wrap it up here with a kind of basic question for all four of you. What’s your favorite song to play on the current tour?
Christo: I think right now our whole encore section is boom, boom, boom. We play “Rearview” and I go out in the crowd, then we come back and play “Heartbreaker” and I love playing that, and after that, we play “Salt” and that’s a perfect way to end the show.
Ray: Yea, it’s like a nice little treat. I love seeing where Chris ends up in “Rearview” too. I’ll see him enter the crowd and then I’ll be playing or I’ll look at Miles and then I’ll look back and Chris is like in a bar or somewhere in the venue. I like “Outskirts of Paradise,” too, cause me and Gavin have this cool keyboard intro that we get to do.
Gavin: I like that part. I think I’ve been liking “Daft Pretty Boys” a lot. It’s kind of playing downstrokes the whole time, which is fun when you’re not doing it all the time.
Miles: Yea, that one is good. “Sleep Paralysis” is always a fun song. An exciting live song. That might be where it’s at.
Photos by Sidney Spear for Bullet Music