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Getting To Know: On The Sun, Collaborative Brooklyn Soul

The story of On the Sun, a working New York City-based soul band founded in 2013, is a story of artistic collaboration and persistence on every level of the musical process. For the band’s debut self-titled album released a few months ago, the production budget was acquired from a Kickstarter campaign. On the Sun is self-produced, self-managed and self-promoted. This particular self however is a self of many selves, seven to be exact – they compose together, jam together, perform together and record live together. The origins of the band are a combination of childhood friendships and musical acquaintances born in NYC’s vibrant open mic scene.

The album in question, On The Sun, is a ten-track work that is as varied as it is compositionally impressive. There’s a decidedly metropolitan, New York-y sound and feel here that is true to On the Sun’s roots. While listening to some of the tracks, one may be prone to see flashes of blurred traffic lights, streets and sidewalks, like a sped up film of NYC turning from day to night.

The flow of the album is an expert flow. The opening track “My Door,” features an exquisitely emotional guitar solo that invites the listener in so well, it’s captivating – and then the rest of the song’s elements build up around in elegance. “Without You” is a perfect thematically summative album closer. On the Sun’s members take turns singing lead on tracks, providing for a very diverse and collaborative sound. This keeps the listener sharp, because it makes for an excitingly unpredictable effect. Some of music history’s best bands have been those whose songs alternated between lead singers, between main instruments. The result is an end product that showcases a team of talented musicians fairly and equally.

L4LM writer Jude Warne sat down with a few members of the band to discuss their in-process ascent to success and the concurrently typical set-backs along the way, as well as their recent record release.

[Photo by Laney Barber]

L4LM: Did you have any sort of timeline for the album?

Dylan Charles (guitarist/vocalist): Absolutely, not only because studio time costs money, but we had done a kickstarter. We had promised people a certain delivery date for the album, so we were absolutely under the gun.

Matt Gilmartin (bassist): There was also a self-imposed urgency to get something done, because just emotionally, it was important for us to make a statement, to get something into the world that represented us in some way.

L4LM: Was there an outside producer, or did you guys produce the album?

Yan Falmagne (keyboard player): I’d say that it was self-produced by the whole band.

DC: The record is basically live. There are some vocal overdubs, a couple of small guitar overdubs, some acoustic guitar added, some doubling things, some synthesizer. We augmented the tracks at times, but for the most part it is front to back live.

L4LM: So would you consider yourselves a live band first? Because you do play a lot live.

DC: Yes. I think that’s something that we all enjoy a lot. We like produced music, and let’s face it – in 2015, most of the music that you’re hearing is made in a computer and put out into the world. A lot of the people you’re hearing on those records recorded their parts separately, were never in the same room together. And I think that’s something we’re not necessarily against, but that we’re not used to. We’re used to playing in live bands and making music with other people, human interaction.

MG: That’s the fun part right?

L4LM: How have you found it building a following?

MG: We have a pretty dedicated core group who makes up our following. We raised around $19,000 in our kickstarter in one month. The fan base we’ve generated up until this point began as a group of our friends, collaborators and has grown through word of mouth. We’re not necessarily social media experts and are just beginning to play that game in a meaningful way. It can be difficult to leverage that sort of thing in a way that gets your art attention but isn’t obnoxious and shallow. We’re all a couple of years older than an age when it would be cool for us to love being on social media all the time.

DC: We’re focused on the music. Up until fairly recently with this record release, we’ve been working on who we want to be as a group. Stephanie Layton (one half of the band’s back-up singing duo, along with sister Susanne) does all our graphic design, Janelle Reichman (the band’s saxophonist) does all our website coding. Matt and Yan are extremely skilled with recording and production.

L4LM: How do you stay motivated to keep performing?

DC: That’s easy. The hard part is to keep up with the promoting. Matt and I early on noticed bands that would be playing the same songs a year later that we saw them play before. We made a pact to not get caught in that spiral. It’s easy to keep playing what’s trusted and true, too easy. There’s also a whole other record of material. We have many other songs that may never get released, we have so much stuff.

Adam Bohanan (vocalist): I get this anxiety too, with age, where I realize I can’t suddenly just switch pursuits.

MG: Yeah well, it’s fucking too late to do anything else now, we’ve committed. We gotta make this work.

YF: We created our sound on stage, through live performance. If someone saw us last month perform, we have to give them a reason to want to come see us again the next month. So okay, the songs will be changing, the arrangements will be different.

DC: There are some of our fans that are disappointed about songs we no longer play. These are songs though, that we’re not as connected to anymore.

MG: If you don’t have an emotional connection to it, you can’t play it anymore. The connection can change over time, but there has to be one, you have to be able to grab onto the material in some way.

L4LM: Can you talk a bit about your influences? There’s kind of a funk sound going on, a Bobby Womack guitar sound. Were you listening to certain records while you were working on this album material?

MG: If we’re talking about influences today, I think to a large extent D’Angelo is an influence. He’s doing soul music, rock music, and funk music, in a way that is true to its roots but is modern. We’re not trying to directly emulate his sound, but he is inspirational to us. I think we aspire to articulate our vision that well.

DC: A lot of the ensemble elements that we’ve built this band around come from slightly older styles, like Parliament Funkadelic, Sly and the Family Stone, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Earth Wind and Fire. The Band, any group that had a lot of different vocals going on with different instruments, a groove element to it. You don’t see that as much anymore, so in terms of modern influences it’s about sound design. These large 70s groups, we love that sound. But as Matt said, we like modern sounds a lot and are interested in doing a new version of an old sound.

MG: It’s about relevancy and honesty. It’s a different world – what connects people to style and writing is different from what it used to be. Rawness and directness are appreciated. Articulated music in a relevant way that speaks to us.

DC: We want to be present and talking about now, playing music that represents that. The intention of this group is not to just to reproduce old sounds.

L4LM: Do you find yourselves influenced by jazz a lot? Like jazz-rock – I picked up on a Steely Dan thing going on, not lyrics-wise though. But there’s definitely a sophisticated sound here.

YF: I think we’re very influenced by the musicianship of jazz, and most of us have backgrounds as jazz musicians.

L4LM: A lot of the songs’ chord changes sound jazzy; they’re interesting and unpredictable, rather than typical rock-pop stuff.

DC: Yeah absolutely. The harmony that we use is very jazzy. But also I would say ultimately that we’re jazzy in the way Motown is jazzy, in the way that Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and R&B and funk and soul music are inherently jazzy. All of those Motown records, the Funk Brothers, they were jazz musicians that created all that stuff. And so there’s a lot of jazz in the music that we’re tied to as a band. And sure, Steely Dan is a band that we have listened to and I know that it seeps in.

MG: It does, it absolutely does. We can’t sell out on that, we definitely listen to a lot of Steely Dan. That’s real.

L4LM: Something I really like is that you alternate a lead singer, alternate who’s taking over the song. I love bands that do that, because it can get really boring with just one lead singer. I think it emphasizes your collaborative vibe as well. Adam, you’re a lead singer, correct?

AB: Yeah. Well, the way that we basically make it happen is we’ll bring a song to the band, normally it’s like something I or Dylan will have worked on either separately or together, and we’ll bring it to the band, and whatever voice sounds best with it, will be the one who sings it.

DC: That’s something I really love about this band and having Adam involved, he’s a much more accomplished singer than I am. He’s got a very different range than I do and a lot of times I’ve got songs in my mind that I want to be a certain way but can’t actually sing convincingly. Having Adam there really freed those constraints up.

YF: There’s so much vocal talent, it’s hard to actually use it all.

DC: In general I think that’s kind of true of us. I think we’ve done a good job with this record in terms of having elements of all this talent, and we’re still on this path of trying to find, how do we write stuff or this group where everybody’s best is always there, or at least where we have a number of pieces within the set where everyone gets to showcase their best thing. It’s really fun to write for.

L4LM: Are there designated writers in the band, or do all the members write material?

DC: Basically Adam and I are the more traditional songwriters, in the sense where we’ll sit down with a guitar, come up with some chords, verses and a chorus, and then go to the band with the song.

AB: Bringing the songs to the band completely changes them and makes them so much better. Especially with Yan and Matt.

DC: I think that Yan and Matt are huge contributors in that way. When it comes to songs that Adam and I have more or less completed, these guys are amazing at taking them and changing the grooves or the time signatures. They kind of assume producer roles at those times.

L4LM: That’s cool that you’re able to do that, to give your work over to someone else and allow him or her to reshape it.

YF: I think that goes back to what Matt was saying before, what we’ve striven for and arrived at is the pursuit of a collaborative process as much as possible, everyone puts their sensibilities in there. I definitely don’t consider myself a songwriter, I might help with rearranging, harmonizing, changing certain aspects of the music.

MG: It’s empowering for nontraditional writers in general.

L4LM: Was there a discussion amongst you guys as to what your artistic goals would be? You kind of touched on that before, but did you lay it out before you really got going?

YF: I think it happened over time as we narrowed our focus to one overarching sound.

MG: One thing I think we have built a consensus around is just structurally, the idea that we have built a process around trying to utilize everybody’s talents. What they’re best at. And that we would be committed to live performance and live interaction.

DC: I think the genre of soul gave us more of a narrower window through which to create. Rather than, “Hey, we can literally do anything!”

L4LM: Yeah, that can be dangerous. Do you know what your next project is going to be? Have you written any new material since the record release?

MG: We’re just getting started with the cycle of releasing a record, the aftermath of that, and then getting the next going. We want to stay committed to our process. I want to do a 45.

DC: We have this record out and we are absolutely working on new material. We’re already performing three or four songs that are not on the record right now. I think that’s part of our thing; we get bored with stuff pretty quick.

MG: We want to be as in control of the content and creation as we possibly can, and we want to keep generating content at a fast pace. We’re getting better all the time. We don’t want to be stagnant.

 

Check out On The Sun’s official website for more information!