A mysterious coalescence of wit and wisdom, Bret Constantino is no stranger to walking the fine line between sardonic and sincere. The frontman for swoon-worthy psychedelic rockers, San Francisco’s Sleepy Sun, is quick to praise the crowds at Canadian shows, but equally quick to note that he’s not just blindly throwing compliments or blowing smoke up our collective asses.
“I’m not saying this because I’m aware this is Canadian press,” he says. “But, honestly, some of our best shows are in Canada.” Immediately, you get the sense that he really isn’t bullshitting you, because the man is not one to placate or butter up the press – frankly, he couldn’t care less, he’s far more concerned with the implications of the statement, than what effect it’s going to have.
“I have to ask your readers, what brings them to attend a musical performance? Is it solely to be entertained, or is there a more profound experience they are after? These are questions of which I believe Canadians are privy, while our American audiences seem aloof to the notion that one may truly be moved by music, especially in its live setting. The audience must be open, so the music may reach them. Otherwise, the show is diminished to something like masturbation.”
The guy is sharp. It’s this bizarre hybrid of sagely wisdom and wry wit that make Sleepy Sun such an enamouring and enjoyable act. There’s an air of seriousness and majesty to what they do, but there’s also a liberal amount of aloofness and self-awareness, too.
The group’s latest effort, and fourth overall, Maui Tears was recorded in a blisteringly fast, two-week period in Grass Valley, California with producer Tim Green. The album could be considered the group’s most cohesive to date: it’s a perfect marriage of psychedelic gloss and glitter with the hard-hitting, ascorbic snarl of neo-garage and an unwavering pop sensibility.
“We stayed on location, completely immersed in the recording experience just as we’ve done for all four albums,” says Constantino. “We recorded it to two-inch tape which does capture a live energy that can be lost in digital recordings. There are some limitations to the analog recording experience, but these are positive limitations as they encourage genuine performances and help capture the raw energy of live music.”
The restless, kinetic energy is palpable throughout and translates into a much more open, flourishing record than the group’s previous efforts. The songs twist and writhe, shape-shifting as ideas weave in and out of the sonic tapestry, glued together by Constantino’s mesmerizing croon and hauntingly serene swirling melodies.
“With [2011’s] Spine Hits, we experimented with more concise song moulds, pre-emptively shaping the pieces, perhaps an attempt to steer away from the ‘psychedelic’ record we were expected to make. With this record, we devoted less concentration to preconceived structural forms and, rather, allowed the songs to shape themselves through the collaborative process,” he says.
This is also the second record after former member Rachel Fannan’s split from the band in 2010, a milestone from which Constantino says he and the band have since moved on.
“No one can deny Rachel’s talent and her positive contributions to the band while she was with us. Initially, yes, it was difficult to compensate for her absence, but, at this point, we’ve made just as many records with Rachel as without her. It’s been almost three years since she left,” he says.
Taking the album out on the road, Constantino is excited to unleash the wild, rambling live incarnations of the songs, hoping they take on a new life on the stage.
“Before recording the album, we played very few of the songs, if any, during our live shows. Now, as it becomes time to tour in support of the record, the songs will begin an entirely new transformation. I think it’s important to allow the songs to change shape as we perform because it brings a fresh energy to the tour.”
Catch Sleepy Sun at Union Music Hall (Winnipeg) on March 13, at Wunderbar (Edmonton) on March 16 and at Broken City (Calgary) on March 18.
By Nick Laugher
Photo: Chloe Aftel