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?
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.