interview

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.

An Interview with sailbear (Patrick Quigley); Holding Space Soundtrack's 1-Year Anniversary!

Patrick Quigley is perhaps one of the most prolific creative people I know. Not only do you know him as one of our resident Chroma bloggers, but he books and runs shows at The Well in South Bend, IN and is in at least half as many bands as Caleb Allan. Today, we have Patrick here for an interview to celebrate the (belated) 1-year anniversary of the Holding Space Soundtrack release. Holding Space is a multimedia project made in collaboration with Fischer Dance, Hannah Fischer, Corlanthum / Alyssa Neece, and Patrick’s solo project sailbear. The project features evocative, emotional choreography, cinematography, and music that need to be experienced to be truly appreciated alongside the creative insights we’ve received from Patrick here.

And hey, you’re in luck! You can watch Holding Space here and listen to the soundtrack by sailbear here.

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Fallon: The Holding Space Soundtrack is a fantastic experimental work that features equal parts experimental electronic and post-rock inspired ambient. It’s also the only collaboration you’ve done with Fischer Dance where the music was not performed live with the choreography, but rather it was produced as a series of short films. How did the collaboration of dance and electronic and (often arrhythmic) ambient music come together?

Patrick: Hannah and I have been working together for many years; she valued working with live musicians as a rare opportunity and I valued working with dancers as a rare opportunity. She introduced me to a neighboring world also within the realm of abstract art but whose medium was dance. Many of the same motivations, challenges, and techniques map in rough parallel between abstract dance and abstract music. The ambiance of it has just been a developed artistic decision by both of us to focus on creating an atmosphere or a space for the dance to exist in.

F: That leads perfectly into my next question: What kind of unique benefits or challenges do you find in writing music in conjunction with dance? Or perhaps more simply, how is it different from writing music for its own sake?

P: The overarching idea through our growth in collaboration with each other has been figuring out how to support and amplify the dance through music without getting in the way or being distracting. It's about creating atmosphere for the audience to experience the dance in, but also to build a platform on which the dancers, choreographer, and director can build from. Writing music alone takes on a more selfish angle; the goal is to be the thing that is paid attention to, the most interesting thing in the room. When writing music to support dance, the goal is to focus attention on the dance and to create a framework in which people can engage with the dance. What's so great about working in collaboration with dancers has been that there is a vast supply of motivation and concept to draw from and work to translate or convey. I love the process of learning and exploring another artist's vision and figuring out what that sounds like.

F: This is surely a model for collaboration people ought to take notes on. To my understanding, the collaborative shows with Fischer Dance, such as the ones for the debut sailbear soundtrack Take Me With You, are performed exclusively in South Bend, IN; could you describe what a typical live performance is like for those of us who haven't experienced one yet?

P: Fischer Dance has gone on the road a few times to perform in other places, but primary locations were always in South Bend. The previous director, Hannah Fischer, has moved out west to attend graduate school and I'm now working with the company in its re-branded form of New Industry under the direction of Chloe Ilene. Our performances are still largely exclusive to South Bend though we've talked about fostering a regional community of similar dance companies that can host performances for each other and start sharing the work geographically. To paint the picture, imagine an unused warehouse, old brick factory buildings that have sat boarded up since the past economic decline of our city. This is where most of our shows have taken place. The address is iffy, parking situation is bad, but the small crowd of people sipping La Croix and wine tells you that you're in the right place. Rows of folding chairs are set up to flank a stage that is just a scrubbed portion of the dirty cement floor. The lighting is simple but intentional, a combination of traditional theater lighting and home-made fixtures. The music comes from all corners of the room and the dancers are close enough that you can hear their heavy breathing, you can see the muscles in their feet tense and relax as they balance. Often these shows don't have a distinct narrative or storyline that you can follow, though it's easy to find identity in characters and relationships. Both dance and music flow freely from being traditionally recognizable to being abstract enough to ask “how is THIS music/dance?”. Shows run about an hour long and the audience is welcomed to stick around after the show for a talk-back where we can dialogue as a group about content of the show, reactions, concepts, and creative process.

F: That description is… stunning, to say the least. I no longer merely hope but eagerly desire to catch one of these performances someday.

It's pretty commonplace for soundtracks to release independently of film and video games, but many argue that it can be hard to understand a soundtrack without the work it was produced for. Do you feel the soundtrack does something different for the listener when it's released independently of its original context?

P: I always have reservations about releasing soundtracks separate from the shows they were developed with and for. The goal in the creative process is never for them to stand-alone, though I've found it's important for people who have come to see the shows to be able to listen later and use it as a tool to remember or recreate the experience in their minds. I think listening to the soundtrack completely separate from any experience of the show is a more abstract experience, it's like hearing half the story. Because the Holding Space project was specifically created in the studio, I'm very proud of the quality of the final pieces. I think if any of the soundtracks I've produced stand well on their own, it's Holding Space.

F: With that in mind, please, tell us about some of your creative inspirations for sailbear and the Holding Space Soundtrack in particular.

P: Finding and exploring inspiration with the dance company has been a large and important part of our process. Sometimes it looks like capturing a feeling and talking through associated thoughts, experiences, sounds, and movements. Sometimes the process is less idea-oriented and more location or physical experience driven. We've spent time considering what it's like to have lost something and not been able to find it despite all effort, like the word on the tip of your tongue that never is revealed. We've examined our bodies as machines. Physical and emotional ideas of support. We've been to the beach. We've searched for the spirit and life and new purpose of old abandoned buildings. Each piece in Holding Space stands on it's own and within the collection, the common theme throughout was consideration of our physical location and the space that we occupy.

F: The sounds you craft that reflect these themes have a such varied selection of textures, from lush pads and shimmering delay-drenched guitars to triumphant trumpets and otherworldly synthesizers; what's your process for crafting a sound library for any given piece?

P: On the outset of Holding Space I had this grand plan of working in collaboration with other musicians for each piece. I realized quickly how much work that was going to be and scaled back the collaborative effort a bit. It takes a lot of time and energy for a musician to get into the rhythm of collaborating with an artists outside the music world. I ended up collaborating with 4 other musicians on 4 pieces. The sound palette for those pieces are highly influenced by the instruments brought by those other artists. I'm sure you won't have a difficult time identifying guitar, vibraphone, and trumpet. As for the library that I worked to build for Holding Space, I try to work almost essentially with hardware instruments as opposed to computer-based software sound sources. This means that budget becomes a player as I'm constantly searching for instruments that help express what I'm trying to get out and are inspiring to play, but within a reasonable hobby budget. I spend a lot of time rotating active instruments in and out of my current setup, re-learning old friends and digging into older instruments deeper than I did the last time. Just before I started recording Holding Space I had purchased a Waldorf Blofeld synth which becomes one of the two primary voices in the collection. The other primary voice is my Korg SV-1 which is the most inspiriting instrument that I own. It just begs to be played. Moving forward into new projects, I'm playing around with the idea found instruments, objects not meant to be instruments but have some interesting voice to be coaxed out and amplified like kitchen sinks and panes of glass.

F: Budget instruments and working within constraints reminds me a lot of my days dabbling in chiptune. Guess its never too late to jump back in * runs off to the nearest garage sale. *

Ahem, uh— to round things off, I want to check with you about any projects in the works we should know about, sailbear or otherwise.

P: The newest sailbear project that's right in front of me is another evening length live show called Sensimotor. We're exploring instinctual or learned physical responses to different actions or impulses. We're spending time exploring silly questions about randomness and chaos. It's difficult for a computer to create something truly random. Similarly is there anything that a person can create that is truly random? It seems every reaction is a choice that follows some specific reason. That's the project where a lot of the found sound research is going to show up as well. I'll also be scoring a silent film this summer for a series that's popped up in South Bend and there's rumors that I'll be working with South Bend Civic Theater to score a production of theirs this coming fall/winter. Outside of sailbear, Lune is working on a new record. It's a slow burn gritty rock and roll project that I'm really excited to be working on. Dad Jokes is playing a bunch of fests this summer and hopefully writing new music as well.

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In case you haven’t yet, you can experience the Holding Space films right now for free on the Fischer Dance website. You listen to the Holding Space Soundtrack and explore Patrick’s other sailbear works on Bandcamp.