Sunset Sons: ‘We don’t want to be viewed as a surfers band, that’s a bit lazy’

They’re 1/4 Australian and 3/4 British. They also have a bit of French blood since they’ve met and formed in Hossegor, in the French Basque Country. They didn’t know each other directly but decided to jam and make money covering songs in the evening, while surfing, surfboarding (and working a little) the rest of the day. They got tired of playing other people’s music, and figured out they could modestly make their own pop music. They worked hard, and released 4 EP. And after a bunch of gigs, they signed their first record deal with Polydor Records. Halfway between Very Rarely Say Die, their debut album, and their opening gigs for Imagine Dragons, they were selected by the BBC as one of the 2015 Music Sound among Soak, James Bay, Years & Years… Not bad at all. I was able to interview the honest and funny Rory (lead singer + keys), Jed (drums) and Pete (bass) a few days before their concert at La Flèche d’Or in Paris. Quite a moment!

Rory, Jed et Pete (c) Emma Shindo
Rory, Jed et Pete (c) Emma Shindo

I’ve read everywhere that surfing brought you together. But you’ve met in a bar in Hossegor, so would it be correct to say that chilling, eating and having a drink really brought you together as a band?
Jed: Surfing and drinking ? Yeah! (laughs) And music a little bit.

You’ve said that music and surfing are two different things for you. Is music actually your smart plan to travel the world, and surf anywhere you want?
Pete: It used to be!
Jed: Initially what happened is: we met in a bar which was beside the beach and we were all there for surfing and different capacities. I was teaching, these two were traveling. It’s not that we don’t want to be known as a surfing band, I just think that’s a bit lazy when people just go “they’re just a bunch of surfers who play music”. And it’s not really how we want to be viewed I guess? It’s not to track anything away from how we met, or stuff we like to do, anything like that. The thing about us is that we take music really seriously but we don’t really take ourselves very seriously, because we’re just a bunch of friends having fun. Actually when we started playing it was just because we wanted to stay living the life that we’re living, all our other friends were there and they all had kind of bar jobs, seasonal jobs that none of us wanted to do, or could do. So we just “made a band” so that we could stay there and go surfing and hang out with all our friends. This is what happened. And later we decided we wanted to be more creative and start playing music more seriously.

Do you agree if I tell you that every good band or artist had to go once in their career to Nashville? Like a kind of music pilgrimage… [Sunset Sons recorded their debut album in Blackbird Studio in Nashville]
Pete: Everything there is very musical… when you see some of the guys that played there! It was an awesome experience. I don’t know if everyone has to go there, but we had a really good time.
(small side talk about The Beatles)
Rory: My point is, we don’t class ourselves as very good musicians, but going to Nashville made us feel like even worse musicians! (laughs)
Jed: There is music everyhwere. We recorded in the BlackBird Studio and people just dropped in and out all the time, friends of our producer or friends of the engineers. They come and say hi, we didn’t know who these guys were, and then they leave. And they were like: “do you know he has played on every top ten country albums the last ten years?”. We were like : “really?”. Just everywhere in that town there are amazing musicians, sessions players, writers, and people who don’t really want to be bothered by the fame but just be involved in music in their own separated way.

So how was it to work with your producer Jacquire King? [who has worked with Tom Waits, James Bay, City and Colour, Kings of Leon, Of Monsters and Men, Editors…]
Pete: Absolutely amazing. He had his way of being able to organise everything and curate the whole situation to where we get some of the best performances out of us, by taking you to a point where you’re so tired, so over it and then you’re gonna do something for 20 minutes, come back an you’re in an absolute perfect place.

How did you chose Jacquire King?
Jed: He chose us! (smiles)

Like The Lord of the Rings?
Jed: Little bit like that!
Pete:I think our name was put forward to him…
Jed: I think someone just played him our music and he said he’d really like to work with that band and then he called us…
Pete: He does that all the time, he’s quite honnest about bands he doesn’t want to work with.
Rory: Do you know what I just realised? And not to change the conversation but we were on a tour with Jacquire, but that same year we turned down with Rubin (Jack). He’s like the pinacle, he’s iconic! We had a couple of songs, and it got put to us that he’d like to work with us, but we weren’t ready.

How was it to work with Jacquire?
Jed: It’s quite complicated, so I’ll make it simple (smiles). We were in Nashville for a total of two months. When we arrived, pretty much all the songs we recorded for the record were finished. Everything was written. We would sit down and decide which song we would work on on a specific day, get some good sounds, play it, listen to it back, maybe make a few arrangements, cut a few bits out, add a few bits in… We recorded live, it has a lot more energy. He helped us a lot getting a really good sound, getting the vibe right… that’s the magic ingredient a really good producer has.

 I couldn’t find how you actually write your songs, your process of writing… Could you tell me more about it?
Jed: We jam around! It’s a group work.
Pete: We start in circle, someone might have an idea, Rory might have an idea of a vocal line, Jed an idea of a drum beat, and we start from there. Sometimes you start with one part of the song that will lead to something else that will lead to something else… trying every single option… If three of us like it and one person doesn’t like it they just have to keep going. If it goes to two and two then we put the idea aside. The three and one seems to work pretty well.
Jed: It’s a democracy! When we first started writing tunes we got to this little studio we rent once a week. We go for four hours and always the plan was to finish an idea during the week and start another one…

It seems so simple!
Pete: That was simple!

I really like “I Can’t Wait” which is quite different from the other songs on your album. It’s slower, softer… Could you tell me more about it?
Jed: We recorded this one twice?
Rory: A couple times…
Jed: First of all there was a version on Youtube that Rory did on his own on the piano and it was really cool. And I don’t know why we did that?! But we always played it with the full band, we actually played it in a few different ways. We recorded with a tempo change in Nashville. When we were listening to the album as a whole we really wanted this song on it. It just made sense.
Pete: We all really liked the original version with just Rory and the keys.

You recorded a great number of songs. So I was wondering how did you make your choice for the tracklist of Very Rarely Say Die?
Rory: That’s hard you know!
Pete: There are loads that made sense but we just wanted to make sense from the start to the finish as a whole album, felt as a whole, had a lot of different elements, ups and downs, and we chose the best songs that we feel fitted into that.
Jed: And now we’ve got so many left, we’ve got pretty much another record!
Rory: It’s a difficult thing when you’re in a position when you don’t feel you’ve wrote very good songs and you’re like “you know what? these are the best 10 we’ve got!”. But we were in a position like: “20 tunes ok…” and that’s when the talks started happening. I think when you’re recording songs and when you choose for an album, you overthink it and it can be too much. It’s about putting out a moment, capture that moment that fits really well. There’s been songs that I would have been happy to put on there, but at the time I remember being like “we’re never gonna get that sorted”.
Pete: It’s hard to look at something objectively as a whole when you’ve been scrutinising every single track.
Jed: The album that we’ve put out is a really good representation of what we are right now and where we come from, and if you listen to it you see where we could go. I guess if we wrote little dates and times of all the tunes you would know when we wrote each one. A lot of the stuff we wrote in the meantime didn’t make sense to go on there yet, on our first outing in the world.
Rory: It’s crazy, we got to start a new record soon!
Jed: We don’t have to! (smiles)
Rory: We don’t have to do anything but we want to. When it was finished, a lot of work went into that, a lot of thoughts, lot of emotions, so to finish it and to be out like a week ago or so, and to do well, for all of us it was massive! I had a message today saying that – because we’re with an independent label – we got #8 in all the independent labels charts, and that’s massive you know.

I read tough critics about your album on the internet, saying that it was a mainstream product, mainly made to make money. Do you think your album is too simple, too effective and not sophisticated enough to be recognised as an honnest work?
Rory: I won’t say what I really think because… I’ve read some of those quotes…
Jed: I like that because the best thing ever being in a band is if people don’t really have an opinion: either people seem to really like us or they say stuff like that which means I’m pissing someone off. I’d much rather piss them off.
Pete: Making all these people jealous in a way. Anyone can sit at a computer and have a negative opinion about something. You can write a negative opinion about anything but justify why it’s good or not, I think it’s a lot harder and people are scared of doing that.
Jed: It’s like on Tripadvisor. No one ever writes anything nice, it’s always shit stuff that we don’t care about and it doesn’t make any sense! (smiles)
Rory: And when you go to these restaurants and they’re amazing!
Jed: I read something the other day and if the biggest fault someone is gonna pull with us is that “a lot of people are gonna like it” then what the fuck is that all about?
Rory: All I say to those critics is: we had a four stars review – not to brag, but we’re very proud of it – in Q Magazine (smiles). Pete is from Australia so he did not know where it stood.
Jed: Q Magazine is iconic at home.
Rory: All I say to those people who write those reviews: “come and say it to my face” and then I’m like fair play if you wanna have this review, but don’t stay behind a computer and come to see us, come and talk to us.
Jed: One was saying: “it’s gonna be too successful”… So I’m gonna be cool and say no”.
Rory: One of the reviews we had was like: “I’ve been singing the songs all day which really annoys me”, “these songs are gonna be successful, which I hate”… It was actually a good review.
Pete: What we really try hard to do is being good at playing live and being good at the things we can be in control of which is what our songs sound like, what the album sounds like, and how we play live. If we’re doing that, then it’s more than enough. It’s all we need to do, I don’t think we need to worry about some dude behind his laptop. We just played to hundreds and thousands of people in London, Manchester…
Rory: The more successful you get, the more people are gonna say “did you hear about this review” and you have to put that aside and think about the fans that actually want to see you.
Jed: The only people who really matter are in the journey with us. We want to be surrounded by like-minded and positive people about what everyone’s doing.
Pete: Didn’t someone once say that you’re not successful until people write bad things about you? So thanks to those guys!

I’ve also read, and that made me laugh a lot, that you had to play in front of “arsy French crowds”…
Jed: Who said that? (smiles)
Rory: Who did?

I think Pete did! [here’s the source] (Jed laughs)
Pete: I said they were hard to impress! I would never call them arsy.

I swear, it’s a quote.
Rory: Pete you’re on your own! (laughs)

I thought it was funny and true! It’s not easy to win the French people’s heart. So I’m curious: how did you manage to do that?
Pete: The way I knew we were doing good is when we first started we had little gigs played for Quicksilver, in their headquarters in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Every thursday they put bands on, everyone gets two free beers, some tapas, some jambon and fromage. And everyone came, had their free beers and left. We were playing and everyone stuck around at the end of the show saying “thank you that was very cool”. Everyone stayed and bought a third, fourth or fifth beer and that never happened.
Rory: When we first started the French crowds were difficult but for a band, any crowd would have been difficult because you’re playing to people who don’t know your music and they don’t really care because there are so many new bands! We were playing in a little surfers town, and unless Kelly Slater walks into a building no one really cares. When we got the attention of the French crowds,we were like: “waoh, this is cool”. But without comment, the French crowds have been amazing to us.

It’s ok you know if you don’t like French crowds 🙂
Pete: No! I said that if you can win over a French crowd, you have won everything.
Rory: You know what? I think the French crowd has a high style of music that they like and the fact that they put us in that is an honor.

Hein Cooper is opening for you in Switzerland and Germany; he is an artist that we really support. You’ve talked very nicely about Imagine Dragons for who you opened. So is this something important for you, something you care about, to help smaller bands, smaller artists at the beginning of their career?
Jed: Yes totally, that’s the whole point! You pass it down.
Pete: We try to find people with a similar kind of vibe to us, that we think our crowds would suit well with.
Jed: It’s the hardest thing in music to get to that sort of level, everyone needs a leg up, so if we can help, of course it’s what we gonna do.
Rory: There’s too much in the industry I feel that because you want it so bad, you’re getting caught up on yourself, you don’t really want to help anyone else. There’s a lot of people who do help, but there’s a lot of people that don’t want to know, “get out of my way”. When we all met it was just about jamming and having fun and we basically tried to follow that on. Collaboration is what music’s about.

I’ve got some “stupid” questions to finish.
Rory: Oh oh…

You don’t have to answer if you don’t like it ok?
Rory: Pterodactyl is my favourite animal. (smiles)
Jed: Mine is the liger.

If the Sunset Sons had actual real parents, who would it be?
Jed: If we were actually four brothers?… I’d just have my dad (smiles).
Pete: I say Jed’s parents because they’re absolutely lovely.
Jed: My parents have actually looked up for the four of us. A lot. My dad was in a band in the 70’s. You want me to say Batman and Superman?

I’d take that!
Jed: We would definitively be the adopted children of Superman and Batman.
Rory: Or, Liam and Noel Gallagher.
Jed: Like if they were a couple? It gets incestuous! (laughs)
Rory: Incestuous now isn’t it? My bad (laughs).

Specific habits before jumping on stage?
Jed: Pete likes to drink half a bottle of rhum.
Pete: And Jed drinks the other half of the bottle.
Jed: So yeah (laughs), we share a bottle of rhum.
Rory: I have to do my warm-ups before a gig, if I don’t do my warm-ups I freak out. I have to put my watch on the left hand side of the drums… I don’t know why but I have to give Jed a little tap on the bum when we go to the stairs, like a football game “go on”.
Jed: It’s very pleasant (laughs).

Since you seem to be great travelers, what is the favourite beer you’ve tasted so far?
Pete: Cooper Pale Ale from Australia.
Jed: Blond Grimbergen, is quite nice.
Rory: There’s a beer that I only found last year, it’s called Manchester Tart, it’s organic and made in Liverpool, which I love! The flavour was grapefruit.

And have you got any comfort food during the tour?
Rory: Cocaine! I’m joking… (laughs)
Jed: You know what I have noted? It’s very difficult to be a vegetarian on the road these days.

You’re all vegetarians?
All: no.
Pete: I’ve just started being vegetarian in preparation for the tour, keep myself healthy.
Jed: Last night we pulled over at a service on our way here and all I could find to eat was those bugles crisps…
Rory: Cookies! I like a good cookie, or cake.
Pete: A pack of Oreos.

Last question: one thing that you always wanted to say during an interview but you had no opportunity to say it. Kind of a free expression space.
Pete: It’s always the hardest! (smiles)
Jed: Do you think we don’t say what we think?
Rory: Oh, we definitively say what we think! (laughs) Keep rockin’ the free world?
(little chat about the physical release of their album in France, Paris, phô, and disastrous dates)
Pete: That’s our final quote, tell your dates if you have vertigo and you’re going up the Eiffel Tower. Jed’s word of wisdom.
Jed: And if you have vertigo, don’t go up on the Eiffel Tower.

Very Rarely Say Die is out (Polydor Records).

Interview by Emma Shindo (11th April, 2016 in Paris)