sunhaze

It’s extremely difficult trying to stay focused during an interview when the Giants are a run away from heading to the World Series. Especially for a guy like me who, when I’m not working or writing about music or playing music, I'm probably watching a baseball game. So there are very few things in life that would sufficiently avert my attention from a potential pennant-clinching nail-biter of a ballgame. Beautiful music and beautiful women, however, are pretty acceptable substitutes for the machismo rush that is sports addiction. Luckily, Sunhaze contains an abundance of both.

On what would’ve normally been a quiet Thursday night in a normally quiet café in the Richmond district during non-playoff baseball season, I had a chance to speak to two of the said beautiful women who compose the said beautiful music of Sunhaze - lead singer/rhythm guitarist Danae Labraña and keyboardist/vocalist Priscilla del Rosario. And if you haven't heard that beautiful music yet, here's a quick rundown of just a few of its components: Elaborate layers of harmonic instrumental flourishes, unconventionally addictive rhythms, and vocal arrangements that could make the Haim sisters jealous.

“Growing up in California, you just naturally absorb all those great vocally-driven pop bands,” says Danae, “Obviously the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas and the harmonies of those '60s girl groups really influenced the sound I envisioned when I started thinking about forming a band.”

“Plus a lot of R&B influences and modern indie rock like the Arctic Monkeys,” Priscilla adds while stressing the later, darker Arctic Monkeys sound, “And those are just a few places where we draw inspiration for our music.”

While obsessively listening to their debut EP Last Summer which drops today, I've also been trying to get to the core of their musically dense blend of atmospheric indie pop.  Just how does Sunhaze create that complex, ominous and yet still strangely accessible music?

Play ball!

The Bay Bridged: First off- how did this project start?

Danae Labraña: Well it’s a fairly recent one- our first show was just last August. I had been writing on my own for about a year before the idea of a band began to take form. I would stay in my room writing melodies and harmonies by myself, and it wasn’t until I met Priscilla at San Francisco State while I was pursuing my broadcasting major that things started to get serious.

Priscilla del Rosario: Yeah, once we met we started jamming and hammering out the ideas in Danae’s head. It was just us for a time, rehearsing at the sketchy studios over on Jessie Street. At first we planned on forming a group of all girls but just couldn’t find a female drummer that fit the band. Luckily we found Brandon (Iljas) through Craigslist and he complemented our sound perfectly, writing all the rhythms himself and totally nailing the vibe we were trying to create.

DL: I did manage to find a girl bassist though! I kinda stalked her at SF State as well. One day while waiting to see a counselor I heard Erin (Walter) in the room mentioning a date she couldn’t make because she had to play a show. A few days later I blindly hit her up on Facebook asking if she wanted to jam. I know, not creepy at all.

PR: After that Brandon’s longtime friend Aaron (Chin) joined in to add some lead guitar.

DL: Which Priscilla wasn’t exactly excited about at first. She felt a lead guitarist would steal her thunder (laughs).

PR: It’s no fair, guitarists always get all the attention! (laughs). But he added another great layer to our music so I couldn’t really say no.

TBB: About those layers, I notice your music is immensely complex. There are so many things going on musically in each song. How do you construct these layers? Is there an overarching arrangement put forward by one person? Or does each musician contribute specific parts individually?

DL: It really depends, each song is written differently. On “North,” for example, I wrote all the vocal harmonies myself, but each band member wrote their own parts. Sometimes we have a vague structure and then jam it out until we have a fully fleshed out song. Other times we have a much clearer idea of what direction we want to take a song in. Overall, though, I’d say it’s more of a community effort than any one individual plan.

PR: Yes, we definitely feel out our songs before we commit to any specific arrangement. We’ll pick out what we liked, what we could improve on, what needs to go. For the most part, though, we have good instincts as musicians and use them to write individual parts that fit into a larger structure.

DL: I rely on my bandmates a lot to help me communicate the vision in my head. We really feed off each others energy, and I think that’s what makes this band so special.

TBB: I’ve also noticed that your songs, while very pop-oriented, are also tinged with sadness, even darkness. Was that effect planned out from the start or developed during the songwriting process?

DL: I agree. Our music is pretty melancholy deep down. That feeling just came out organically, I don’t think I went in purposefully composing dark melodies or dark lyrics. It just sort of happened. Priscilla and I are just very emotional, passionate people, and I believe that fact shines through in our songwriting.

PR: We’re definitely mining some raw emotions when we write these songs. Sometimes the lyrics can be very personal, but that’s what songwriting is about. Maybe that sounds a bit dorky but, whatever, we’re huge dorks. As long as it feels real.

TBB: I have to ask- whose idea was it to cover the Kendrick Lamar song ("Swimming Pools") included on your new EP?

DL: Funny story about that. So it was a Saturday night and I was living in the Inner Sunset at the time. I was home alone listening to hip-hop and especially Kendrick, one of my absolute favorites. All my friends were out on the town having a good time and I was trying to entertain myself.  I learned the chords to “Swimming Pools” because I had nothing better to do, and I guess I wanted to get something accomplished to make myself feel better about staying home.  I started rehearsing the song, recorded it, and posted it on Facebook. The things we do when we are bored, right?  Anyway, I received a lot of positive feedback from the cover and when my bandmates took a listen, they basically convinced me to cover it as a group.

It was about this point in the night when Travis Ishikawa hit the three-run home run that sealed the Giants' 2014 pennant. Travis Ishikawa? Really? Okay, now it’s time to start doubting my atheism. Cheering, hi-fives, and overly-enthusiastic bro-talk fills the cafe as I hurry to spit out the last question before celebratory chaos ensues.

TBB: Is Sunhaze a definite long-term career goal for the band members or is it just a venerable hobby?

DL: I think we’re all in this for the same reason. Priscilla especially, she was a music major. I think we’re all on the same page and all believe there’s real opportunity here to turn this into a future.

PR: It’s great, there’s very little drama and we all want to make music for a living. I understand how hard that is to do nowadays, or really always, but when you have a band full of talented musicians who love to play just for the sake of playing, who knows where you'll end up.

That’s the ballgame. “Don’t Stop Believing” starts playing.  I hope that's a prescient sign of a bright future for this band.

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