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Recently Sacramento’s own Sunmonks put on an outstanding release show at LowBrau where I picked up my own copy of their four track EP “In A Desert of Plenty.” This record is an absolute pleasure to listen to. With brilliant brass tones peppering the acoustic indie pop of the title track off this album, a warm and fresh sound is created. Starting off upbeat and bright, it keeps up the energy and plays out with the haunting vocals of Geoffrey CK on “A Million Suns”.
I met up with local musicians Geoffrey, Alexandra, and Dave to talk about their new EP over coffee, and to find out why they chose to do a vinyl release, along with the story behind their album art.
Matt: Why did you opt for a vinyl format on this EP?
Geoffrey: “I feel like vinyl is (in) a different kind of family. Emotionally I want it to be. Because it’s something that takes up more space, you have to be more reverent with it.”
Dave: “(Vinyl) isn’t just a thing you have on in the background while you’re cleaning or whatever. You have to take this moment where you actually get it out and set up this process.”
Geoffrey: “You can’t check it when you’re standing in line at the bank.”
Dave: “There’s something that holds you. With vinyl, you can’t go anywhere. It’s an active thing.”
That’s really the key to what makes this format stand out and why it has an enduring allure. Vinyl as a format is an active event, requiring a certain amount of ritual.
A conscious decision to listen to music and to experience an album, as an album has to be made. Simply choosing one song here and there, or skipping over songs as one might do with digital music outlets or internet radio is much more difficult.
This active element is can be fully appreciated with “In A Desert of Plenty.” This is a record that’s meant to be heard live, or on a record player for its full impact.
Matt: Would you say that a record is closer to experiencing a live performance than say a CD or digital music?
Geoffrey: “Oh yeah, definitely. And its harder to remove yourself from that situation, than if you’re listening to, say, Spotify.”
Dave: “The fact that you can see something happening, to me that’s like a weird campfire effect. Like the campfire is there for a function, to keep you warm, and that’s pleasant. But it’s also like you’re watching it and you can do that for a long time. Similarly, with records like, ‘oh there’s this thing happening’, cassettes, CD’s and digital formats have increasing levels of obfuscation.”
Geoffrey: “(It creates) a gravitational center for what you’re experiencing. And it’s also slightly more of a performance. It’s about the equipment you’re using, from the needle down to the speaker. If the belt is slightly off or inconsistent, or if there is (variance) in the amplifier, you’re going to have a different experience. Just like if you’re seeing a band in a different venue, you’re going to have a different experience. I think some of that stuff is sort of romantic, but some of it I think is a real difference between (vinyl) and more modern digital music.”
IN THE BLACK ROCK DESERT
The cover of the Sunmonks EP features a photograph by Vince Wilcox of Alexandra and Geoffrey standing in front of a fire at dawn. The colors of the rising sun create the backdrop, painting a fairly convincing illusion of the fire itself as the sun. Taken in the Black Rock Desert, this picture fascinated me and I was curious about how it came to be the album’s cover art.
Matt: So the photo on your album art is really beautiful. What’s the story behind that picture?
Dave: “Vince took one picture, one actual picture at 4:00 in the morning. We stayed out until 2:00 a.m. and it was windy. We almost canceled our shoot. We all got in this tent and slept for an hour.”
Alexandra: “Basically didn’t sleep.”
Dave: “Woke up an hour and a half later, 3:30 or 4:00. It’s super cold. It was that nature thing, where you’re incredibly uncomfortable, but it’s incredibly beautiful. We kind of unzipped the tent and there was this amazing scene where the dawn was starting to rise, and it was what you see on the cover.”
In the midst of the cold morning, Alexandra and Geoffrey had walked out a little way from the tent to start a fire.
Dave: “That picture was just Vince, waking up and opening the tent flap.”
The story of how this moment was captured is as much a part of the creation of this album as the music and the format itself. More technical planning went into the art to get it at the proper resolution, where it would appear as a quality photo on a larger album sleeve. This strikes a contrast with the way music is often viewed, especially in the digital format, as a seemingly neatly processed, on demand, click for instant results kind of commodity. This element of meticulous attention to quality, combined with spontaneity, plays into the visual art, as well as the music of the band and their plans for future releases.
Geoffrey: “Instead of just constantly putting stuff out, we’re seeing how it sounds a month or so down the road, so we know what it might sound like in 20 years. That is how we know it’s something we’re going to be proud of at that point in our lives. Otherwise, it’s not worth putting out.”
Matt: You want it to be something with some substance?
Geoffrey: “Hopefully. That’s the goal.”
This EP certainly accomplishes that goal in spectacular fashion.
Curious listeners can check out Sunmonks music here.
And hard copies of the “In A Desert of Plenty” EP are available for purchase directly from the band here. ($12.00, digital download code included)
Photos | Liz Simpson
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