The Brooklyn psychedelic free jazz quartet return with II, a vertiginous, bulldozing voyage.
"In solidarity with the dispossessed, impoverished and embattled people of the world."
How does this phrase represent the theme of the record or the act as the mission statement for the band? What’s the origin of this concept?
Our mission statement we have included in every Sunwatchers release, pretty much, and encompasses a timeframe that predates the current overtly racist, anarcho-capitalist gangster money-grab of a regime. In terms of intent, it's pretty self-explanatory. We are musicians, not politicians or theorists or journalists, but we are activists who paradoxically and joyfully dedicate a great deal of our free time (that which is not owed to our families, jobs or satiating the time-hungry monster that is New York) to making music. Therefore, we feel it critical to dedicate explicitly and directly the results of those efforts to goals and organizations that resonate within our activist hearts and our social consciences. It goes beyond cover art -- tho this beautiful iteration was designed and created by our dear friend Catherine Wheeler as she travelled across Africa by bus, and was too amazing to leave off the front of our new album -- because we donate sales proceeds to sympathetic direct-action groups. This time in history demands an all-time-high money/mouth ratio.
Not to spiel on Realpolitik or Agitprop -- because this ain't a history lesson, those things end up being mostly boring as shit, and as a political scientist I make a great skronky guitar-nerd -- but we feel some things must be said: all art created within a system is inherently political; we are living in one of the most toxic, dishonest and dangerous decades within a century in which an exploitative and criminal enrichment scheme disguised as a political system has -- through the outright violence of colonialism and the insidious opiated vine-growth of propaganda and media misdirection -- established political and psychic hegemony over our world. Directness is critical right now. In a time of deleterious and premeditated manipulation-through-mass-misdirection, we will do our damndest to not contribute to the growing morass of meaningless and soul-deadening abstraction: semantically, image-wise, or sonically.
II incorporates elements from free jazz, Ethiopian and Thai music, and funk influences. Is there a certain style that you rely on most for inspiration? Is the band a cohesive creative unit or are the various components in the music a product of unique interests of each band member?
The only truthful answer to this is: YES TO EVERYTHING. We are all voracious listeners to lots of different music. As individuals, our tastes swing toward particular aesthetic poles within the dichotomy you've laid out above (but you gotta throw in Modern Minimalism; Underground/Punk/Noise/Drone Rock; and Cajun, Irish Folk and Country Music to complete our Collective Venn Diagram). We all bring ideas to the table -- melodically, rhythmically, structurally -- that betray our individual influences, but we don't think too much about making them "complex" or adding elements of different styles, per se. The tunes grow as we play on them, organically, and this is aided by the fact that we each play multiple instruments and have the great privilege of collaborating with an extended family of amazing musicians here, so we have a larger palette of texture and sound with which to consider arrangements.
Is the writing of the record generated from improvisation or a more traditional structured writing process? What’s the recording process like for the band?
Depends on the tune, mostly. Some of the tunes we write to have open improvisational sections and, naturally, they evolve or devolve over time. Let's say this: the ideas we generate are essentially and lovingly massaged by each member, through rehearsals and performances, until they assume an identity that we document via recording and, optimally, release on an amazing label like Trouble In Mind.
That said, it is imperative that we record live and are in close proximity to one another while we do it; we then add overdubs and textures and we get to hang out with our killer friends who play things like vibraphone and viola while we do it.
Does naming the record II imply that the band built off themes or ideas from the first record or does it symbolize a new chapter with a completely new identity?
Well, yeah, we are the same slightly-sophisticated primates who made the first record -- we have the same hands and ears and nubby little minds -- so there are structures, themes and ideas on the new album that harmonize with the first. The spiritual title of the record is our Mission Statement -- it guided our decisions musically and aesthetically -- but we realize it's a mouthful and wanted to make it easier for you people who like to write about these things. We also love Meat Puppets, Led Zeppelin, Queen and Boyz II Men, who all titled amazing albs II; it's a heavy move.
What made you utilize your jazz horn playing skills in a punk or rock environment versus going a more traditional free jazz route?
Well, this is Jim McHugh, the guitarist, but I'll try and answer. We have always and likely will always be involved in multiple projects simultaneously. Sunwatchers is one iteration of our musical identity, and it involves punk and rock and noise and drone and jazz; but we all play in different outfits on a daily/weekly basis. So what I mean is, we utilize our musicianship in a multitude of ways all the time; what you've heard most recently is the Sunwatchers Steeze. Stay tuned.
Also: is there a "more traditional free jazz route"? It's kinda oxymoronic, like "Classic Avant Garde" or "Venerable Punk" or "Burrito Sandwich."
How will the live performance be impacted with the new songs and new record?
Well, we're gonna play the Holy Living Fuck out of these songs live. We have just begun work on recording our third record, so we have a bunch of new material that we've been playing out. Imminent, as well, is a collaboration LPx2 we did with the great improviser and composer Eugene Chadbourne. Hanging and playing and recording with Eugene is a great pleasure and has definitely upped our improvisational ante. Hope you can catch us some time!