Sunna, a five-piece band directly from the depths of the UK, have simply stepped into the center of the American music scene with an intrepid sense of strength. Sunna carries a beautifully written tablature riddled with passion, astonishingly powerful rhythms, and skillfully perfected vocals.
Sunna have made no attempt to walk within the formulated footsteps made by musicians of and before their time. Their sound emanates in the form of mellow rock. This translates into the strengths and weaknesses of the band, as each individual encompassed by the name Sunna forms sound with mind-blowing lyrics and rhythmic addictions in their first disc One Minute Science (Astralwerks).
Jon Harris, vocalist and guitarist, formed Sunna after his first band was dropped from their record label for being too "rock 'n roll." Harris' vocals are smooth and exquisite, finding a woven path into listening ears, which simply creates a sound that burns into soul. Harris' heart goes into each song, with a helpful hand of emotional memories and mind boggling lyrical sensations.
Lead guitarist Ian MacLaren, a member of Jon Harris' first band, joined Harris for the creation of Sunna. His steady and beautiful guitar riffs formulate the fundamentals of Sunna for a vivid but somewhat dark album and live show. MacLaren's precision, steady hands and strengthening back-up vocals, warms the soul and wither what can be called fear.
Mark 'Flatline' Cahill, the band's DJ, has been perfecting his skills for over 10 years in London. Cahill creates the strange, marvelous sounds and expressions that have a hand in making Sunna profoundly intriguing. He adds a certain unique quality to each and every live show, bursting with new and innovative sounds, which he has sampled from everyday life.
Richie Mills, the band's drummer, was previously a four-year member of a band in the UK called Cable. After touring with Cable, Mills made the ultimate decision to leave the band and join Sunna last year. Helping to add a certain amount of intensity, Mills' manipulation of Sunna's beat blazes into the minds and thoughts of any audience, facilitating a rhythm beyond belief.
Beat-maker Shane Goodwin, Sunna's most recent addition, has roots extending from Australia. Finding Goodwin in compliance with the open-minded nature of the band, he immediately clicked, creating a new addition to the amazing and exotic Sunna. Goodwin's attitude, live, is 'laid-back.' On-stage he transforms into the ultimate expert and master of the beat.
Sunna, finding themselves in the United States for a tour with VAST, moved throughout the country admiring each venue and every state. American Dystopia found Sunna finishing this tour in Tempe, Arizona, at the Green Room, which is nestled behind Sun Devil Stadium.
Having the true privilege of being granted an interview with Sunna, American Dystopia joined Ian MacLaren (lead guitarist) and Mark Cahill (turntablist/DJ) for an interview outside the venue on the sun drenched patio. The open sky allowed for a wonderful setting to conduct an in-depth and fun interview. Imagine both members having voices laden with a heavy English/British accents and sense of humors that could lighten any day.
When I first saw Sunna with A Perfect Circle, I hadn't heard very much about the band until that tour. I bought the disc and listened to it before the show and found that I was really intrigued with it. Has that tour with A Perfect Circle affected the direction that Sunna has gone? Or possibly opened doors for you? If so how?
MacLaren: Yeah, definitely yeah! Well, when we first started playing with A Perfect Circle, they influenced us on the live show quite a lot. It was quite a bit of a slap right in the face in Boston and New York. We thought we were really good… We thought, 'God, we've got a lot of work to do.' We are writing the new album at the moment on the back of the bus. I think most definitely there's been some influence; well, there's got to be. We spent 5 weeks with them; it definitely rubs off. You know, when you go on tour with bands sometimes there is, like, a bit of a rivalry and bitchiness. There was absolutely none of that. It was great - absolutely amazing. They bought us dinner, actually a couple times. It was really, really good. It was a real mutual kind of respect.
Cahill: Also, I think that they opened us up to a lot of fans over here [in the U.S.]. They were busy; every place we played they were sold out. They were really forthcoming to us. Weren't they? [looks toward Ian. They both nod in agreement.] It was good, really good. We came over a lot of American fans - A Perfect Circle fans were up for us, which was great.
MacLaren: We see a lot of people with A Perfect Circle shirts actually coming to VAST [shows].
Cahill: It's a bit of a shame, really, because we just jumped on [the VAST tour] at the last minute, so it really wasn't promoted. So, actually, unless a lot of people are logging on to the website, they don't know where we're playing really. It's a little bit of a shame, though.
So, how did that happen? You guys getting onto this tour so late?
MacLaren: It was just basically Virgin Record Company and this Hollow Man - the single in the Hollow Man film. It was released in America then Europe and then the UK. 'Cause we're like a debut act, so they kind of put all our eggs into one basket. We need to be cloned like three times over and be in all three places at once.
Cahill: There is, like, a pull between the record companies. It's like, 'Do we get to go to the UK?'
MacLaren: 'Do we keep them in the UK, or do we send them to Europe? Do we send them to Tokyo or do we bring them back to America?' Astralwerks really wanted us to come back, while other people wanted us to be elsewhere.
Cahill: Astralwerks put in a lot of work into bringing us back here [to the US].
MacLaren: It just so happens that we had just sacked our agent in the UK. He really wasn't doing a good job and then, right at the last moment, ArtistDirect came up with this tour here in the US. So we said, 'Okay, yeah, we'll do it.'
Cahill: It's a shame really because we won a lot of people over with A Perfect Circle and they probably don't even know we're playing.
What kind of response have you received with One Minute Science? Where have you found that more people are buying your album and listening to Sunna?
Cahill: Well, I know that we shipped out 110,000 copies presale, but I don't know any real figures, or where they have gone. The way that the tour has gone is that the further towards the south we go the kids have been sort of more frantic. It's been great. There are cities where they have just packed out. Detroit was great.
MacLaren: Especially if it's not the northeast [laughter]. It's not New York and it's not Boston.
Did you have bad experiences there?
Cahill: No! Not at all. But you go off a little bit more in the South.
MacLaren: The Northeast is a bit more like England - everyone's a bit too cool; it's kinda like they're just standing in the back [nods his head with arms folded].
Cahill: Where was it that we played last night?
MacLaren: Ah, yes, it was brilliant. Albuquerque.
Cahill: Kids everywhere - it was packed. And when, like, you start "Power Struggle," for example, which most people know now, when they start rocking in front of you, it's really great. Whereas in New York, they just kind of go [Cahill straightens in his seat and starts acting 'cool'] 'okay.'
MacLaren: And they come up to you afterwards and say how great they thought the show was and down there they were just kind of like 'hmm.'
So you would say that Detroit and Albuquerque were some of the places that stuck out in your head?
MacLaren: On this tour, I think, yeah, definitely.
Cahill: I think last night's probably the best gig we did. It's nice to see America, as well. We ended up in Florida, which we'd never been to - I have never been to. Of course, after the Smashing Pumpkins tour in Europe…
MacLaren: Which was really amazing! That was like 19,000 people. So, we did the A Perfect Circle tour and the Smashing Pumpkins tour and then we did what we call the "Toilet Tour" of the UK, which is, like, not playing to very many people. [sighs] We've been on tour since August 15.
Is it tiring?
MacLaren: Oh, yes. We're absolutely exhausted.
Do you guys start fighting with each other, like, 'get out of my face?'
MacLaren: We hate each other [sarcastic laughter]. No, not really.
Cahill: Also, just getting on stage makes it all worthwhile. It's the waiting around [before a show] that makes it tiring.
MacLaren: There's, like, ten of us on that bus [laughter].
Cahill: You go to the venue and sit on the bus, if you sit on the bus it makes you lethargic; it saps energy, unless you're working on the album.
MacLaren: The first few places that we came to we were really excited about it. Everyone's waiting for each other to go into the city to do the tourist thing. We did that every day, and after, like, two weeks of it we just go do our own things now.
Cahill: No one waits for anyone anymore.
MacLaren: I usually get lost somewhere with him [points to Cahill].
Cahill: [laughing] Where did we get lost? Oh, Tallahassee. It was great. We went into the suburbs and got lost. Someone gave us a lift back.
MacLaren: Richie [Mills, drums] spends all day setting up his drum kit [laughter] and Shane [Goodwin, bassist], well, Shane - he spends all day looking to see if there are any UFOs coming [laughter].
So, have Sunna been receiving a lot of radio play in the States?
Cahill: We actually got the number one most added for "Power Struggle" in the States.
MacLaren: The new single is out in January and that's been tested everywhere. Everyone is really excited about that.
Cahill: I noticed that on the flyers, right now - they made flyers for this tour - and on them it says featuring "Power Struggle," which is out, and "I'm not Trading" which is the next single.
Actually, I was going to ask about that because I really like "I'm not Trading."
MacLaren: It's the single that people in America think is going to go next.
When you create your music, does it just flow for you? Because I do understand that you are creating some stuff while you are on the bus here.
MacLaren: It's all different really. Jon [Harris, lead singer] has kind of been the instigator. He writes the songs acoustically and then it just goes from there. Although, "Power Struggle" wasn't done like that at all.
Cahill: We just throw ideas at Jon and say, "Have a listen to this." And, if he likes it, he might use it or write 'round it and then, with a bit of technical support, he just works away in the back of the bus.
MacLaren: There's basically two ways: there's the way where we come up with beats and ideas and kind of get something quite minimalistic flowing and Jon will write the lyrics and melody around that; or he'll write it on the guitar and I'll change some of the chords or he'll write it on the guitar and I won't change anything [laughter].
MacLaren: He's just so stubborn and all. No, no [getting serious]. It's all different really. The majority of it comes from the acoustic guitar and then he'll get the rest of the band to develop the sound.
You did say that "Power Struggle" was created differently. How so?
MacLaren: There's bees at the start of that song and we know two guys that do wildlife documentaries; they write the music for that. We went out to their studio and sampled these bees and you could hear a guitar link in the bees. So, the bees wrote the song.
Cahill: I actually like that. [I joined] in at pretty much the end of the album. I didn't see much of the writing process and I like the way that Sunna works. Like, Jon and Ian - they'll come up with an idea and they won't force the next stage till they hear it. So, like, hearing a guitar riff in the bees - some people may take the bees and then try and do something straight with it. But Sunna, they just kind of wait until they hear something in it. It really does work. That is kind of the philosophy of Sunna.
MacLaren: In production it got lost, but the bees actually did really, really play the guitar riffs. [imitates bee sound] ZzzzZzzz.
Cahill: They kept beat and time.
MacLaren: So many people got into producing it that they weren't in the song itself on the final mix, just at the beginning. Andy Wallace got the final mix of it. The actual loop of the bees got lost.
Originally you were going to put the bees into the whole song?
MacLaren: Well, on the album it is.
Cahill: Oh, that's right. It's not on the radio edit - you don't here it on that - but the live show and the album had it on there.
I can hear them in the beginning. Do they continue doing it while you play your guitar?
MacLaren: They cut out and then they fade it back in. Initially they stayed all the way through 'cause they were in sync with the guitars. Someone, the producer, didn't realize what it was. It's a shame, really.
It's very unique; it doesn't fit in with the way a lot of bands create their music. And that's the way Sunna is, I've noticed. You've taken and made your own sound rather than sampling from other bands.
MacLaren: I think the difference is we're not really influenced by music. In fact, we're influenced by sound. That's why I think it is quite unique. We didn't sit in a room and go, 'Wouldn't it be great to get Nirvana-like guitars and hip-hop beats and fat bass drops.' Let's experiment. It was like, 'How about this, or how about that.'
Cahill: The great thing is everybody is so open-minded, as well. Like, here, if you walk to the back of the bus, when I was doing some burning earlier with a CD, and the window was open and there was this great noise coming from a car, I guess, that was going past. If I had my mini-disc and my mic I would have took it, played it and someone could have said, 'Hey, now there's an idea,' or, 'It's a load of rubbish.'
MacLaren: There was a big storm in Nashville and we had the mini-disc hanging out the window [of the bus].
Cahill: What was it, Shane got electrocuted? The bass player.
MacLaren: We got our guitars out and he got struck by lightening.
Cahill: He has totally jet-black hair, and now he has a few bits of white in it because he got struck by lightening.
Are you serious? He really did?
MacLaren: Yes, but he's all right now. But you can see he's got a parting right down the middle of his head now from it.
Cahill: But, you see, he was born in the bush and he's ours now. If it weren't for those massive feet, and horrible kind of verucas, and dead skin, I think he'd be dead now, because he did get grounded [laughter].
You guys are nuts. So, with "7%" I've found a lot of different personal meaning in it for myself, moreover than some of the other songs. And, I was curious, was it kind of, like, the concluding song for Sunna?
MacLaren: Yes! It was the last [song] that was written of One Minute Science. And it's recorded in the toilet and it just happened that it's the ladies toilet as well [laughter]. It's the toilet in the studio and there was some really nice acoustics in there. We just do things of that sort.
So, how do you feel about that song?
MacLaren: Well, basically, it's about how we only use seven percent of our brain. I thought that's what it was.
Did you help with the lyrical writing on that song?
MacLaren: Oh, yeah, absolutely - not [laughs]. No, I can't write lyrics. Dog, log, fog, smog, bog [laughter]. I'm terrible at writing lyrics. So, then, of course, you enjoy playing your music a lot more?
Cahill: Well, he rhymes on stage. He doesn't do anything else [laughter].
MacLaren: My job is to spook things up and make them a bit darker than it is, more evil. No, I just write music; I can't write lyrics. I can't write melodies either.
I doubt that.
MacLaren: No, honestly, seriously, I can write instrumental pieces of music, but that's about it. But singing lyrics and melodies is not a trait I have. Well, I don't need to. I'm not in a position where I have to try. I've been working with Jon for about eight years now and he's a lot better at it than me. We're all very relevant in what we do.
Cahill: Not me. I'm just a fashion accessory [laughs].
How did you get involved with the band exactly?
MacLaren: He became so fucking annoying we had to give him a job [laughter].
MacLaren: Oh, yes, really [laughter].
Cahill: I met Neil [Davidge], which produced Mezzanine [Massive Attack] before I met Jonny because I had just started doing work experience with Neil. I got along well with him. We started doing periodic meets every so often, and I was in college at the time, and I met Jonny because he was working with Neil. He said, 'Well, what do you do?' and I said, 'Well, I'm in college, but really I am a turntablist DJ and I'm trying to do my own stuff.' He said, 'I'd love to hear some of it' and when he did, he was really open-minded and he said, 'That's really great. I really like it.' The next thing I knew I was getting a phone call from him to join Sunna, which was after the album was finished, which I sort of skipped in and out of. I met Ian while it was being recorded because I helped in a few sessions. I didn't have anything else really to do with [the recording of the album], and then joined at the end of it.
MacLaren: You played on "Grape." "Grape" wasn't supposed to go on the album. It did, in the end. There is a story behind that.
Do you want to tell the story?
MacLaren: Yeah, I'll tell it very quickly. We were signed to another record company as a three piece, Jon, me, and the drummer. We were writing songs like "Grape" and heading into that kind of rock area, and we got dropped because of it. So, when we got signed again, we just never really thought of doing it again. And then, when we got into the rehearsal situation, we actually started playing it for bit of a laugh because the drummer at the time was the same as the old drummer and 3-D of Massive Attack was there, the head of Virgin [Records] was there and we started playing "Grape" and they were like, 'This is amazing. What is this song?' and we were like, 'Well, it's the reason that we got dropped.' We went back into the studio and recorded it.
Cahill: I popped in and out and met Jon and Ian, got on really well with them, and then I joined the band. I have been in the band for about over a year now. Then Richie came along because of rehearsals, or auditions [looks to Ian and us] - you call them auditions - shows how much I know about bands [laughs]. Anyway, he's been with us about nine months and Shane is our newest addition, about six months. We've all just sort of come together in a really easy manner, nothing's been forced. It's really strange. How did "Power Struggle" get on the Hollow Man soundtrack?
MacLaren: It was a complete fluke. The head of Astralwerks was playing it and a girl who was sent there from Columbia Pictures on a business trip for a completely different reason, and it just happened to be playing in the background and she said she wanted to use it. Another lucky coincidence, very, very lucky. Although, after hearing Kevin Bacon sing it, I'm not so sure [laughter]. It's been very good to us, very, very good.
Cahill: It certainly seems that a lot of people pay attention to music that is in films over here. When we came with A Perfect Circle, a lot of people had known that we had "Power Struggle" in the Hollow Man. It went over number one here, you know - the film did.
MacLaren: We are about this close [closes fingers into an inch sign] from getting another major Hollywood blockbuster next year, but I can't tell you what it's called. We're about that far away - which is really amazing.
Cahill: We missed two others as well, didn't we? We were in a cab when Jonny was told that we got three and Hollow Man was one of them and the other two disappeared.
What is the difference between the attitude toward music in the UK and Europe as opposed to the States? Because in America we kind of revere 'rock stars.'
MacLaren: I'll tell you what it is, it's everything's geared around radio here in the States and it's not in Europe. It's more geared around television.
Cahill: It's the roots as well, and the word of mouth. If you live in a town and you get a following in town by going to small underground-type clubs and then you create a movement and it will disperse. It works from the roots up, it seems to me.
MacLaren: People in Europe don't listen to the radio; there's only one channel of radio - radio one, basically. They just don't listen to radio like they do here. There's no radio charts, or number one singles.
Cahill: There's some pirate radio in London, but it's kind of very specialist. As far as radio goes, it just seems more around TV. Well, it's not a good following, but, again, it's not huge, but it's a big following. I would go as far as to say 85 to 90 percent of the people there have seen us on TV. That's where they've heard of us.
MacLaren: We're actually shooting the new video on the eleventh of January.
Do you guys have input into the idea [of the video]?
Cahill: It's going to be cameras shooting towards us and actually going into our bodies, through our hearts and stuff and firing out our backs.
Well, thank you very much for your time.
MacLaren: Sure. Enjoy the show tonight.