Sunday, October 9, 2016

Introducing: Sunwyrm

Photos courtesy of the band
Sunwyrm is a trio of psychedelic basement thrashers from the outskirts of the St. Louis metro. If you like raw volume, paisley punks, or grim introspection (along with beer and pizza), you should check out their full length I released on What's For Breakfast? Records or any of their other recordings on their own bandcamp page. They keep a pretty busy show calendar, so you can catch them frequently in the St. Louis area.

Backstory first; what is the lineup and when and how did you form? When was that? Did you play together before that?

Forrest John - It’s me playing the guitar, yelping, sometimes diddling on a keyboard, sometimes trading off with bassist Zack, who also does some yelping and sometimes plays additional drums, or trades with Zac Strickland (Minus K), our beat boy. Minus also plays some mean harmonica.

Zack Hamlet Broeker - We all went to high school together. Strickland and Forrest used to play in a different band, and I joined to be their bassist around summer 2015. Before that I hadn't really played the bass more than a few times.

FJ - Me and Minus had a couple of (shitty, to remain unnamed) projects going on at the time. I met Zack in a creative writing class. It was different back then, me and Minus both played guitars and had a rotating rhythm section, but once Zack started playing with us, he stuck. We released our first recordings in August 2014, under a different name, with Minus on guitar and this guy we don’t even talk to anymore playing the drums. Once we ditched the drummer and Minus decided he’d re-join the band and step in, we had our lineup.

Tell me a bit about your aesthetic.

FJ – Do we have one definitive aesthetic? Haha. I think we try to mesh the vibes of psychedelia and rock music troupes from the past and present. We all smoke a lot of herb so that sort of shows in a lot of ways, but we try not to make anything too droopy, we try to keep the energy up as well… Some of my favorite Sunwyrm songs are what I like to call speedball music, sort of spaced out weird shit but with something fast and driving behind it.

A big part of Sunwyrm is escapism. Fantasy themes, drugs, it’s meant to take you to places that aren’t real, maybe they’re reflections of the real world but our music is meant to cause mental transportation.

I guess we might come off as a bit sleazy, scummy, and overt about our drug use at times, all in alignment with the traditions of rock n roll. But when it comes down to it, we’re just three goofy-ass stoner nerds who like playing loud, weird music as often as we possibly can.

ZHB - Sunwyrm draws influences mostly from things we think are cool; our favorite movies, books, shows, and games. We have songs about Planet of the Apes, Twin Peaks, Hamlet, Cabin Fever. Some of them are more conceptual, like Death of the Sun God, which is about the pagan Halloween. Psychedelic drugs, insanity, Satanic influences, sex, dark magic, and witch craft are all recurring themes that tie a lot of our music together.

You seem to move pretty easily between gigs at houses and dive bars. What's your perfect gig?

FJ - Usually, ideally, we love a house gig, especially if everyone is getting wasted… Due to the nature of our music we obviously play best to the boozed and the drugged. We got really warm receptions at Metal Gear and Rat’s Nest in Illinois, and playing Bolozone was a highlight. Those have been a couple of our most fun gigs. But we also have great friends at Way Out Club and Kismet who are super cool and supportive and let us book shows just about any time we want. We curate a couple shows at Way Out every month.

ZHB - I agree, we definitely prefer the house shows. Some of our first, most important gigs were in basements. Venues are great, too, but house shows are just more comfortable for us—it's an atmosphere more conducive to what we're doing. 

It seems like you're incredibly prolific and record constantly. How many releases do you have and/or say something about your productivity.

FJ - We’ve actually been trying to rein that in a bit more recently so that people don’t just stop paying attention. We have an entire album we’re just sitting on that we think we’re probably going to completely re-record in a studio, since it was another DIY job. But not including that one we have, I’d say, four and a half? The half (The Brown Cycle) is just a thing I made where I used a couple of songs from The First Cycle and those sessions to create a weird lysergic little sonic hellscape.

As for why we’re so productive? It really comes down to if something’s good during practice or a jam session or a sonic experiment, why not record it? If not just for self-reference? Why waste it? But then I really enjoy the quality that some of these recordings have and we wind up using them and making these releases. I guess we’re going to be getting away from doing that so much now, but up until this point it was just compulsively recording anything that might be good and using what actually did turn out well.

ZHB - Right around the beginning of the year we picked up this little handheld recorder—Forrest bought it, actually, bless him—and once we had that it was easy to make decent, lo fi recordings of ourselves, on our own time, in our practice space. We have LOTS of songs, upwards of thirty, and we're still writing more. It kinda seems like a lot of material in a short amount of time, but we've got more coming up and we don't plan on stopping any time soon.

What are some musical influences on Sunwyrm?

FJ - I’m heavily into psychedelic rock, 70’s glam, noise rock, 90’s alternative, and experimental/outsider music. Zack and I are heavily into punk. We’re all heavily into stoner metal, rock n roll, doom, surf, and blues. The rhythm boys have some proggy tendencies as well, and me and Minus like to get a bit jazzy and funky sometimes. We also like to experiment, incorporate styles that are more outside of the sphere of what I just mentioned… The idea being we can do just about anything we want to be.

ZHB - Electric Wizard, we all love them. Forrest is huge into Ween, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and thousands of other things I'm sure he'd love to tell you about all day. Strickland's favorite bands are Mastodon, Meshugga, Between the Buried and Me, and Kyuss. He's big into a lot of technically amazing/difficult music. I love Queens of the Stone Age, FIDLAR, Dead Kennedys, Municipal Waste, '68, just a broad spectrum of anything that rocks.

Seems like you guys may be slightly gear heads—say anything about how much you love your loud toys right here.

FJ - Not the best of gear heads… I’ve broken a lot of guitars lately, all on accident, haha… But my Fender Twin is the love of my life, and I’m happy with the sounds I get out of my pedal board. I use the CryBaby, the OCD, the Big Muff, MXR chorus, delay, & phaser, the Boosta Grande, a Joyo flanger, Boss DS-1, and a Way Huge Swollen Pickle. Zack is a Peavy man, and the pedals he uses are a Bass Muff and a Boss bass overdrive pedal, along with a little booster.

ZHB - We've actually heard from a lot of people about how loud we are, it's kinda funny. We're just using combo amplifiers; like, we're not toting huge six-foot cabs around (editor's note: combos rule). A big piece of our sound is our pedals, particularly Forrest's board, which changes a bit from show to show. We both play Big Muffs, and the Crybaby and Carbon Copy are critical must-haves. He's also got a bunch of nifty distortion pedals that switch out.

What are you looking forward to doing with Sunwyrm in late 2016 and early 2017?

FJ - Late 2016 is probably just going to be more gigging and trying to save some money, because the next steps are getting some studio time and getting some t-shirts made. We’re going to write some new material soon. Minus said to me the other night, “we don’t have enough heavy right now,” we’ve been getting more into weird stuff, extended jams, garage rockers, and some prettier stuff lately, so for our new material we might just shift the overall focus a bit in the heavier direction.

ZHB - We are right now in the process of getting into the studio to get quality recordings for our next release, which will probably be a full length or maybe an EP followed by a full length. Once it's done we'll probably be ready to organize a Midwest tour.

Some dude in a mask
Some of you are playing in other projects. Tell me about that.

FJ - I’m in two other bands: Chalked Up (a powerviolence/sludge/grind band I play bass for) and Aluminum Sasquatch Trio (an experimental jam band I have with my friend Coby on drums and a rotating third member). I write, release, and perform music mostly on my own as H. Smokeskull, and some of those songs wind up turning into Sunwyrm songs. “Go To Sleep” from The First Cycle is an example. I also do some vocals for exitbag, sometimes, if they’re feeling saucy.

There are a couple side things going on basically within Sunwyrm… Zack and Minus K have their own project, Hagfinger, where Zack plays guitar and does all of the vocals and they both really get their prog wiggles out. They haven’t played any shows or released any music yet but they sound fucking great when they practice in my basement. Then me and Zack are Fuzz Police, which is basically just us getting really stoned and jamming with Zack on drums.

ZHB - Chalked Up is great and it's one of the only powerviolence groups in St Louis. I recently joined a doom metal band called Voidgazer, which is set to release its first EP in late October. Forrest also has a whole fistful of side projects. Zac and I are working on something extra, but it's under wrap right now...

FJ - Voidgazer is a great stoner metal band.

Outside of music, what is something you're looking forward to in the next couple months?

FJ - Seeing Shin Godzilla. Eggnog with whisky (editor's note: hell yeah). Maybe making some more art.

Say anything else you wanna say.

FJ - Watch the skies.

Zack, Forrest, Zac