Sleepy Sun: Through Time and Space

by Lindsay Hilton

California psych rock band Sleepy Sun has come a long way from their early days. Originally formed as a college house party band in 2005 while attending UC Santa Cruz, these days members are entertaining on a much larger level, from having their music  on the season three soundtrack of the hit Showtime series, Californication, to making SPIN Magazine’s “10 Best Albums You Might Have Missed in 2009.”
The band was originally named Mania, reflecting its garage rock focus, with members Bret Constantino, Matt Holliman, Evan Reiss, Brice Tice, and Hubert Guy. Following graduation, the group decided to get serious and give it a real shot. They changed their name to Sleepy Sun, after a song from their first album, Embrace, released in 2009. “It was a conscientious shift in direction in terms of musical style and vision of where we wanted to see the band go,” lead singer Constantino said. “We started making larger goals and taking it more seriously.”
After the name change, Rachel Fannen joined as a co-lead vocalist. Embrace was originally released in 2008 by Sol Diamond, the band’s own record label. Soon after, bass player Guy was replaced by Jack Allen, and Embrace was re-released in 2009 by ATP Recordings. Fannen left the group in 2010. Their third recording, Spine Hits, was put out in 2012.
Currently, Sleepy Sun has no plans to work with other artists out of Sol Diamond, but it is definitely a dream of Constantino’s in the future to provide opportunities for other artists.
The band’s fourth and latest album, Maui Tears, from ATP Recordings, is a symphonious amalgamation of sounds. There is the undeniable 60s psychedelic rock and the 90s vibe of alternative rock bands like Blind Melon. There is the fuzz bass worthy of Wolfmother (“Galaxy Punk”). The opening riffs of “Words” harken back to the group’s garage rock days. Many of the album’s songs start off with a whisper and slowly build with suspense, leading to an epic finale channeling 80s hair ballads. The variation and agility with which Sleepy Sun navigates through genre, tempo and melody are impressive.
Often, the easiest way to describe a band’s music is by comparing it to other artists. For Sleepy Sun, that means frequent mentions of 2010 tourmates Artic Monkeys and Black Angels. But for Constantino, the comparisons are just that and nothing more.
“You never run too far from your roots. We try and write progressive songs—original ones. We are very conscious of not writing music that other people have already made, or making records that sound like something else,” he said.
In terms of writing the band’s music, it is very much a collaborative process. “We are all capable of writing songs on our own but that’s what makes the band special, it’s the culmination of different song writers and how we each have our respective influences and are inspired by many different things individually,” Constantino said. “So when we work together on a record or song, it really takes a unique form that way. It becomes much less one-sided.”
Constantino wrote all the lyrics for Maui Tears. “Part of my role is interpreting the music and writing lyrics that represent the group. There’s a certain ambiguity that’s deliberate so I can cover the general feeling of the band.”
Writing lyrics to reflect the feelings of all band members certainly isn’t easy. “A lot of the times I won’t know what I am writing about until much later,” he added.
This seems to be part of the creative process for many musicians and can often be difficult, but Constantino prefers it that way. Not knowing where it is going but letting the process work itself out. “Lyrics should be open to interpretation,” he said. “The more ways they can be interpreted the better.”
Sleepy Sun is known for its lively, passionate performances. “Our shows are definitely high energy,” Constantino noted. And the Bellingham show on March 23 at The Shakedown should be no different. The group will be wrapping up its six-week tour, having just finished dates in Canada, and will be glad to be back on home soil.
The energy of the band’s performance draws from the crowd as well. “We definitely feed off the live audience. After playing 40 shows on tour, your one shining moment of the day is on stage for one hour. It’s really one of the only releases we have throughout the day. It has a lot to do with what the audience is willing to give back.”
For more information about Sleepy Sun, check out www.sleepysun.net or follow their Facebook page.