Sun Baron and "How to Be"; an Interview with Justin Rose

We have a lot of hard-working creators on board the Chroma train (#noflex). To be prolific in your craft is not only to do something well, but to do it repeatedly, earnestly, whether it’s effortless or exhausting. As a huge fan of Justin Rose’s band Families for around 4 years, How to Be caught me by surprise (I mean, I didn’t even know who Sun Baron was supposed to be as I saw the name crop up on the Broken Light production list.) I was surprised not only for the album being an impressive new sound for Justin, but in showing me that even after hearing dozens of songs that he had some central part in writing that I can still be enlightened and inspired by my friend. Today’s interview dives deeper into the wonderful substance of this wonderful album.

Fallon: Without the posterity of dicing up genres here, I want to say I'm really in love How to Be's melodic emo song structure being partnered with minimal folk arrangements, making nods to artists like Julien Baker or Now, Now Every Children (once the bells come in on songs like "Honest.") I'm curious to hear about your process for crafting the sound of this record: how much of a role did musical references and influences play to form this gentle-yet-emotive record?

Justin: Honestly, I didn’t have any musical references in mind when creating the album, but one of my biggest influences has always been Red House Painters. I think they are a perfect example of what I am trying to do. With this album, though, I was more interested in figuring out how my writing style would translate to a “full band” sound. The writing process was very similar to the folk songs that I write, but I just recorded them on electric [guitar] and added drums. I listen to mostly indie rock and emo, but I write folk songs. I haven’t really listened to folk in many years.

F: How to Be makes arguments for a slower, more appreciative approach to life in spite of busyness and the passing of our short lives. What moves me most is in the message's taking root in humble environmental observations alongside vulnerable and personal life stories. The delivery is confident and these devices are often intertwined. Do you feel there to be an importance in associating the narrative of your life with your environment? How deliberate was your inclusion of these inspirations?

J: The connection between nature and my personal narrative was very intentional. First off, we are all products of our environments. This is in both positive and negative ways. Acknowledging and accepting that can lead to greater understanding and personal growth. Secondly, I was thinking a lot about when Jesus told the people that birds have everything they need and yet they don’t sow or reap and that flowers do not work yet they are clothed in splendor. Nature can teach us a lot about God’s faithfulness and how he is the Sustainer. Third, I wanted to learn to be still like an oak tree, learning how to exist well where I am, sending down deep roots. 

F: Those who are familiar with Sun Baron but not with who you are (being Justin Rose) might see the tag "writes too many songs" and be slightly underwhelmed at the 7 song tracklist; those familiar with you know you have more than 3 full-length albums and 3 splits recorded with your band Families, as well as another album coming up with Junia. What motivated you to begin writing songs under the Sun Baron moniker, as opposed to with Families or Junia? How has your creative process differed when it comes to Sun Baron?

J: Families songs are more stripped down, have folky arrangements, and are usually based on Bible stories. Junia is a pop-emocore band that is vaguely political. I found myself writing some songs that did not really fit the feel or content of my other bands, and so I decided to record a “solo” album. The writing process is a little different because no one else was involved in the orchestration or lyrics or feel. The process was also very different because I started writing songs with personal stories in them. Even though I’ve been writing songs for about 18 years, this is one of the first times that I am telling autobiographical stories (or at least partially autobiographical). It’s much harder for me to write songs about my own feelings or thoughts or memories than it is to tell someone else’s story. Also, there were a lot of songs that I decided not to record and put on the album. I thought that these seven songs summed up what I was feeling and thinking at the time.

F: Now that How to Be has had over a year to ruminate as a released project (and even longer as a project in your head), have your feelings on what you've shared developed or changed through the finality of release, or perhaps through feedback from listeners?

J: Some of these songs have been around for 6 or so years. I almost view this as a compilation of songs about learning to slow down and be in the moment. I like the album a lot more now than I did when I put it out, and I think that it really captures well what I was feeling and thinking. I was really against having “A Meadow” as the opening track, but I took the advice of a friend of mine and, of course, they were right; I think that song was the right one to start the album. I have been really encouraged and blessed with all of the positive feedback. Many people have told me that they have been learning similar things and are trying to slow down in order to see the people, blessings, and world around them.

F: Though everyone reading this BETTER have listened to How to Be prior to its one year celebration, if you had to recommend one song off the album to a new listener, which song would it be and how does it represent the album as a whole?

J: I think the song that best sums up the album is “Yellow House.” It’s about this house that I used to see all the time when I lived in Detroit. The roof was almost completely gone and there was a humongous tree growing through the middle. The tree must have been at least 40 years old. This song blends my story, what I’ve been learning, and nature imagery to stress the point of learning how to just… BE.

F: And not to contradict savoring the present moment, but as our last question here: what Sun Baron goodness do we have to look forward to, as well as any other projects you want to share both within and outside of Chroma?

J: Families hopes to record a new album sometime soon. We have about 16 songs to sift through to create an album called Mother, which consists of stories from the Bible about women. Junia has an album coming out soon called Everything’s a Canyon and is about the importance of understanding each other and collaboration. As for Sun Baron, I have been writing an album called Tender Shoot which is a bunch of stories from my life that all deal with different wants to understand the metaphor of a garden. Right now there are no plans to record, but I have played a few of the songs live.

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You can listen to Sun Baron’s How to Be on Spotify and the usual streaming places. Download the album for pay-what-you-want over on Bandcamp. And if you want to catch Sun Baron live, catch upcoming dates over on Facebook.