From Flaming Lips style live theatrics to radio play in Greece and crowd surfing at Elsewhere, it’s been a rapidly eclectic ascension for Gold Coast psychedelic rock band TSUN. Anthony Gebhardt caught up with the guys recently to chat on all things past, present and future in the land of the rising TSUN.
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For the past two years Gold Coast psychedelic chameleons TSUN have been blazing a trail of kaleidoscopic wonderment across the local musical landscape. Their organic and soulful take on the whole psych-rock phenomenon has been leaving audiences in slack jawed awe, including this here writer who witnessed them swirl and soar as part of the killer line up of bands that played at the Coolie Hotel in March when Californian beach-goth band The Growlers were in town.
First up let’s get clarity on the band’s name. Officially it’s pronounced as ‘sun’, despite the presence of the arty ‘T’ out the front lending itself to differing interpretations – t-sun and Tsuun being a few of the more common gaffes. But as with fabulous San Franciscan psych-infused wanderers Wooden Shjips, the presence of an alien letter simply adds to the mystique of the band’s swirling template. And at the end of the day it’s all fine and dandy with the guys anyway, the interpretive openness aligning with their psychedelically free-form ethos, as guitar player and organist Joel (aka Juniper Choir) states; ”Whatever people want to call us, it’s up to them. If anything that adds to it for us. You can interpret a song your own way, so why not interpret the name your own way too. But it is just ‘sun’ for the record!”
The band have very recently signed a management deal with Brisbane’s Smack Face Records, which has resulted in the release of two new tracks, Short Sighted Times and MoonShrine, which will shortly be available on that delightfully collectable sonic medium of 7 inch vinyl.Although only having just come out, the new songs have had a somewhat longer gestation period, as drummer Joel Sparkes explains.
”You can hear the evolution between the Marmalade single (the bands previous release) and the new songs. We actually recorded these new tracks nearly 12 months ago, but for us ourselves it is like a brand new release, as we’ve had them sitting dormant for about three or four months trying to rework them,” he said.
“Live they sound different to the recordings already. When we recorded MoonShrine it was nearly a nine and a half minute song and we kind of had to re-evaluate…We didn’t go in there to re-edit for radio, we did it to re-edit for vinyl. We wanted it to be as high quality as possible for a 7 inch release. But we will provide a download of the original length track with the vinyl.”
With the presence of renowned local singer-songwriter Karl S Williams, one could be mistaken for assuming that the band revolves very much around his creative axis. TSUN however are very much a four headed, collaborative beast, with each of the band members contributing to the music making process, bringing ideas, riffs and song skeletons to the table in order for the band entity to work their collective mojo, which then morph into finished songs over a creative development period that may stretch across months. Collaboration and equality in action, as Juniper Choir elaborates.
”It’s very much a collage of four minds. One person may have a whole song written, but it’s not going to sound the same when it’s brought to the table and the four of us play it together. When we play it each of us plays it our own way.’’ Drummer Joel completes the rumination; “We love that, it’s open to interpretation, that’s why we have our sound, because we all have our own individual flair on each instrument.”
In addition to the otherworldly aspect of the band’s sound, there’s also something very organic and soulful in the way that TSUN approach their song craft. The band are more than adept at both locking into a head nodding psych-groove as well as stripping things back and letting the music breathe. A place where soaring crescendos, tempo changes, abstract time signatures and pastoral interludes co-exist in dreamy harmony – sometimes within the confines of the one song!
That all important musical telepathy and band chemistry is clearly evident when the guys make music together, and the band tapped into their instinctively aligned musical mojo very early in the piece, as bassist Jared Franzen explains.
“We pretty much locked into it the first night the four of us jammed together,” he said. “That in itself is something that still blows me away! I listen back to old demos where we came up with one little chord progression, where all of a sudden there is a new change and things just evolved and everyone just changed at the same time in the same key and it sounds like it’s been played 1000 times before, and it’s like …how did we know? That was the first night Joel ever played drums, he was originally the bass player! The original drummer didn’t turn up for the jam and I’d just flown in from LA, so I jumped on bass and Joel jumped on drums and it’s been the same ever since!”
Seeing TSUN perform live can often be a visual and celebratory experience. From the uniquely tailored dapperness that each of the band brings to the table, a predilection for psychedelically aligned stage props through to beach balls and confetti randomly fired into the crowd (a la Wayne Coyne and his merry band of Flaming Lips), these are all things that one may potentially experience at a TSUN show. And as is the nature of the psychedelic music genre, the band allow themselves to jam out the tracks in a live setting when the mood arises.
“We’ve got a lot of free form sections which we can make as long or as short as we want, depending on crowd involvement and the feeling on a particular night, how everyone’s vibing you know?” Jared said. “It’s really funny sometimes when Joel gets in a trance with the drums and I’m trying to signal him into the next part and his eyes are just glazed over….”
Amidst much mirth and laughter from the band Juniper Choir interjects. “Karl’s the best at it, he doesn’t even have to communicate, we’ll all change and he just changes straight away.”
On the touring front, as well as raising their local profile substantially over the past year on the back of their live shows, the band have already ventured south to test the waters in the bigger musical ponds of Sydney, and more recently some shows down in Melbourne.
“The first little tour we did was down to Sydney, which was quite well received, we got a pretty good turn out with a lot of positive feedback,” said drummer Joel.
Not to mention dreams of overseas sojourns, with US shows and the holy grail of getting onto the bill of the legendary annual Austin Psych Fest in Texas something the band aspire to in the future. Which is not as far-fetched as it may seem, with Brisbane ‘heavy psych’ jammers Dreamtime managing to get themselves onto the line-up in 2013.
Keyboard conjurer and vocalist Karl S Williams elaborates. “We talked to Dreamtime about that, because I was so impressed, and I think it was a case of them basically asking! They’ve obviously got great music, which is highly important of course. But that’s really heartening for us, to know that they were able to do that. I guess for us, The USA and the Austin Psych Fest is something we aspire to. Especially now with the Smack Face (Records) management deal, they’ve got a lot of connections back to The States.”
But if all else fails there’s always Greece, as Juniper Choir jokes. “It’s either Austin or Greece, we’ve been featured on Greece’s version of Triple J, we got show offers and distribution offers and people over there are buying our music, which is a buzz!”
And there’s talk of maybe more 7 inch releases in the pipeline, presenting the band with the freedom to deliver a two song snapshot of their current oeuvre and musical headspace rather than simply compiling a heap of random tracks together just for the sake of putting out a full album.
”We’re still playing with our sound, experimenting with song writing styles and we wanna have that time to grow. We’d love to sample a few different studios as well, to find one that really suits us,” Jared said.
I asked the band to name a particularly memorable local show here on the Gold Coast that readily spring to mind, and Karl pipes up with the following gem…”I recall maybe our first show at Elsewhere (in Surfers Paradise), because I crowd surfed at that show and I hadn’t done that anywhere before.” Who would have thought!
The band are also very excited and positive about the current state of the underground Gold Coast music scene, with like-minded musical comrades aligning to support each other, from attending each other’s shows to endorsing each other’s work in interviews.
“The quality of the music coming out of the Gold Coast and Brisbane at the moment, especially some of the psych stuff, is really really fantastic. It sounds crazy, but some of the new up and coming local bands (in the genre) are making some of the best music around at the moment for sure, it would hold its own anywhere!! It’s good to be a part of,” Juniper Choir enthused.
There you have it. There’s a world class scene bubbling away under the surface right here on our door step, with TSUN very much at the forefront! So be sure to catch the band in all their home-spun, technicolour glory the next time they’re in your neck of the woods. You will be impressed… promise!
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The current TSUN AA single (that would be a double A side!), Short Sighted Times and MoonShrine, is currently available for download and can be heard via SoundCloud.
Vinyl copies of the single will be available at upcoming shows and online very soon!
Photography: Jake Wilton