Q&A: Sunjacket

For a band who thrives on the dark and heavy synth sounds found on their 2016 debut album Mantra, the four men behind Sunjacket are surprisingly upbeat and goofy. Their banter flows like a well-rehearsed comedy act, no one missing a beat as they play off each other’s comments to poke fun at one another. Even when discussing shared passions, such as their music or love of foosball, Garret Bodette, Carl Hauck, Bryan Kveton and newest member Jeff Rukes can’t help but turn lighthearted conversations into subtle roasting sessions. Even through the malicious giggles, the 4-piece successfully shared their journey of the last year along with their plans for new music and shows.

Listen Live and Local: It’s been nearly a year since the release of Sunjacket’s debut album Mantra. What has the band been up to since then?

Garret Bodette: We put out the record, had some nice press, then did our first tour in December of last year. [The tour was] nine or ten days out east through Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, Chicago and Champaign. We’re pretty early in the touring game so a lot of the shows were lightly attended, as I think most bands experience early on. I think we played a couple local shows after [the tour]. Then in March, we went down to South By Southwest. That was another first time experience for us. We heard a lot of mixed things about it from bands that have been. It’s kind of become commercialized so we weren’t totally sure what to expect. I think we still ended up having a pretty good time because it taught us to not be so uptight. We have a lot of gear and soundchecks are really important and it taught us to work through kinks a lot faster and to be more road ready. Building tour experience I’d say was probably the main focus of last year. There’s also a bunch of demos sitting in a Dropbox folder that are waiting to be worked on.

Bryan Kveton: We’re pushing forward. Even though album one is so recent, I think the goal is album two.

LLL: Are there songs from the first album that you’re most proud of?

Carl Hauck: I’m proud of the whole thing, which I think is pretty rare for a musical project. A lot of times, even just a year later you’re like, “Ugh, I don’t know about that.” We don’t sit and listen to our own record that much, but we do have to play and I think there aren’t many songs that we’re sick of playing.

Kveton: If there were songs we’re not so jazzed about playing, it’s only because they were album songs that don’t quite translate the way we’d hoped live. We’ve gone through a couple trial and error type things with a few of the songs and were like, “Ah, maybe we won’t play that one anymore.” Just being critical of ourselves, sometimes we feel like some don’t go over as well as others.

Jeff Rukes: I came in right after they finished recording so I’m not necessarily tired of playing them yet. Not only am I not sick of it, I think this is the first band I’ve played in and the first time musically I’ve done stuff that is very synth-based. A lot of the sounds on the record are synth-based and just kind of falling in with the band and getting to know the material and learning to play, I’ve gotten more into that type of music because it’s a shared vocabulary. There are a lot of artists now that I probably wouldn’t have been familiar with or even really checked out that I’ve gotten more interested in. We can have conversations about bands that have synths and gear and things like that.

LLL: What have you learned from writing and recording Mantra that you’re taking to upcoming projects?

Kveton: I think one thing we learned was the more we’re able to iterate over a certain song and come up with different versions of it and hear how those versions affect the way the song turns out, the more we’re able to definitely say, “Yeah this one is really working.” That takes a ton of time so I think this process is going to involve figuring out how to expedite that and getting the results we want faster. Since we established a lot of sounds and types of melodies we like and types of chords we like, I think we might have more of a template [when writing]. I know personally, I use to just sit around and wait for stuff to come to me whereas now I feel like I’m actively picking away at it every day. [It’s] a completely different process because there’s more of a devotion to it whereas the other time you’re just waiting and getting anxious about when the next time you’ll have an idea will be. It’s a very weird new way to be writing but I’m excited to keep going.

Bodette: When we recorded the first album, with it being just the three of us, we were covering a full band worth of people’s parts, so I think we had a lot of things we knew we wanted but there was also a ton up in the air going into the studio. I think this time around, things will feel a little bit more complete going to the studio. There’s also something nice about things being unfinished cause there’s something about working against the deadline that draws things out of you that wouldn’t come otherwise.

LLL: Who designed the album artwork for Mantra and what was that process like

Hauck: The design process is pretty easy. Jeff and I lock [Brian and Garret] in a room and then when they come out with something we’re like, “Back to the drawing board boys. This isn’t ready yet.”

Bodette: [Brian and I] both have a background in graphic design and an abusive relationship with Carl and Jeff.

Rukes: Productive relationships though. Have you seen our cover art?

Bodette: It’s a similar process to writing music. It’s a lot of throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. We had probably 40 or 50 things we were considering then whittled it down to five. We thought we had a direction in mind and then a week or two later I had a creative meltdown. I was like, “This isn’t it. This isn’t the thing.” [Brian] and I were working at my office one day, just experimenting and feeling pretty down. For whatever reason, we had a space blanket with us. We went out into the alley to get some fresh air and I threw it up and Brian took a photo of it. It was capturing this weird alienly form and had this totally surreal vibe like the surreal meets the natural, the synthetic meets the organic, which I definitely think is a thing in our music. Something about it felt right and the next day we went out and did the same thing in a bunch of different locations. Finally, we landed on what we thought would be the cover. It felt more right than anything we had tried up to that point.

Kveton: The funny thing is, we had talked about, almost a year prior, the fact that we probably wanted [our cover art] to be a photograph and we wanted something to do with water. Actually, I think the reason we had the space blanket around was because we liked the visual quality of a weird shiny object. It took us like 50 different tries and doing a bunch of other stuff to finally come back to that idea and do it the way we had originally intended to do it. It very much mirrors the writing process for us in a weird way. It’s very trial and error.

LLL: Describe the band’s dynamic.

Kveton: We’re never not laughing, except for when we’re writing. In previous interviews, I feel like there are far too many of those bracketed [ALL LAUGH] to explain to everyone that we’re just giggling throughout the whole thing.

Rukes: I would agree with that. Being the last one in, there’s always a weird question of trying to find the niche and figure out what the dynamics are and stuff. In a previous creative life, I did comedy improv. I haven’t done that for a while, but I was very surprised when I joined up with these three. It was very much like those old groups and relationships. There’s very little ego. We laugh as often as we love.

Hauck: Snapchat is the one place we unleash.

Rukes: I constantly say Snapchat is where we do our best work. It’s a new month so we’re going to have to flip the calendar.

Kveton: We do this thing every month where we flip the calendar.

Rukes: Doesn’t that sound hilarious?

Bodette: What is this calendar called? Unlikely Friends? It’s animal pairs you wouldn’t necessarily [think would be friends]. I mean, look at that.

Rukes: Would you ever guess in a million years that they would be buddies?

LLL: It’s a cat on a farm. You can find cats hanging out with all types of animals on farms.

Kveton: Do you have a lot of farm experience?

LLL: Yes.

Hauck: Garret has some farm experience as well.

Bodette: I didn’t grow up on a farm, but my grandpa was a farmer. There were cats all over that barn. In it, on it, on me.

LLL: Anyway, back to music. Since Sunjacket has experience playing around the country, how does Chicago’s music scene compare to other cities?

Rukes: It’s weird. I’m speaking completely for myself, but the Chicago music scene is so big. When we were going to South by Southwest, we were on the highway in Texas and there was another band that was alongside us from Illinois. We ended up rolling down our windows and shouting at each other, “Who are you!?” It [was] this band Bassels and the Supernaturals. They had many thousands of Facebook likes, which is a shitty barometer but they’re an established band in the Chicago scene, which we had never heard. A lot of the cities we go to, they have very small communities where all the musicians know each other and I don’t get the sense of that in Chicago, at least not for what we do.

Kveton: I think there’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the garage rock scene or the pop scene, and I think those communities are pretty tight-knit. I think this has been validated by what we’ve talked about with other bands we feel are similar to us. They also feel like they’re on an island. Electronic indie rock stuff is maybe a little more segmented in Chicago. Only dropping in and out of cities for one night, you don’t really get a keen sense of what it’s like, but to Jeff’s point, it does seem like some of the smaller cities have pretty tightly knit scenes that encompass all of the music instead of just specific genres.

LLL: What would be some advice for newer bands looking to become more professional musicians?

Bodette: Biggest advice, stay organized. Or don’t. Maybe that’s why we don’t have more fans.

Hauck: We are pretty organized. This is a shout out to the tools we use like Slack and Google Drive. We use to use email and it was just too many emails back and forth. Slack is a workplace communication tool first and foremost. You know, we should email them and see if they’ll sponsor us and also pay for everything. We could get them see it as a creative communication tool. It’s not just a bunch of squares who use Slack.

Rukes: We do have a reputation for being painfully punctual. It’s not necessarily a negative manifestation of our organization but, we heard you got to be a slacker to be a rock and roll musician. Venues, when we show up, are like, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Kveton: Be true to yourself. If you’re a person who is organized, be organized,. If you’re not, then don’t.

Sunjacket’s next show will be on Friday, October 27 at Schubas. The night will also include a performance by Pickwick.

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