HAVE A BEER WITH SUNJACKET
In this week’s Local Brews, meet Chicago-based indie rockers Sunjacket. With an impressive collection of songs available via Bandcamp and plans for a full-length record, this quintet is just scraping the surface of the Chicago music scene.
We caught up with the group at Guthries Tavern on June 12 to talk about the many phases of the band, their future creative endeavors and why collaboration is a difficult but rewarding process. You can see Sunjacket live at Schubas on June 24 when they open for indie pop band Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin.
Drinks of Choice: Garret Bodette [drums], IPAs, Lagunitas; Carl Hauck [guitar/synth/vocals], Stouts; Bryan Kveton [guitar/synth/vocals], Manhattans; Tricia Scully [guitar/synth/vocals], IPAs; Ross Tasch [bass], Whiskey, Maker’s Mark
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: This first question is always a cliché, but how you guys meet?
Bryan Kveton from Sunjacket: The band has taken on several forms. It initially started two years ago in September with just the three of us [Tricia, Carl, Bryan]. We knew we wanted to start something but we didn’t really know what, so we just played for a while. We added Garret in January of this past year, ended up covering some of Carl’s solo stuff to get our feet wet and then we started writing. But we hated everything we were writing…
Tricia Scully from Sunjacket: Carl’s a singer-songwriter and I’m a singer-songwriter, which is how we started in music. We would bring songs to the group and have everyone flesh it out. In that process, not everyone can put the stamp of approval on it like, “I own this. This is my project.” It was a process trying to figure out exactly how everyone was going to be contributing to the music and being okay with saying, “We’re all putting equal parts into this.”
Bryan: That was a big struggle. None of us wanted to add to one person’s completely written song, so we had a lot of arguments.
Carl Hauck from Sunjacket: We basically had an EPs-worth of material and we scrapped the whole thing. We needed to decide what we wanted to do, so we started writing from scratch.
Bryan: Last May is when we wrote “Two Parades,” which was the first song we ever did as a group. And that was before Ross [Tasch] came aboard, so it was just the four of us. In October, when Ross came along, we had some other ideas, finished most of them and recorded them in January. We came out as Sunjacket this past February.
Kristen: Is that hard being in a room with a bunch of people and trying to hash out lyrics and melodies?
Carl: Oh yeah. We’ve always done all the instruments collaboratively, but we actually even tried writing lyrics collaboratively for our most recent song and we went back and forth on every single line. I don’t know if we’ll want to do that all the time…
Bryan: Because it was painstaking.
Tricia: Yeah, it was like, “I like this syllable and you like this syllable.”
Bryan: We’ll get down to specific words.
Tricia: And it might mean this to me and it means this to you…
Garret Bodette from Sunjacket: We all have different approaches to songwriting and different ways we perceive things. Something might seem like it’s about one thing, but that’s totally not the way it was intended. In that sense, it kind of ruins whatever it was intended to be about.
Tricia: Some of the stuff that we’ve gone over just sounds so dumb in hindsight…
Kristen: Well, I mean it’s what someone would do if they were self-editing. Except you have four other people that are willing to put criticism out there.
Bryan: Yeah. We also determined that nothing sounds cool when you’re just G-chatting lyrics back and forth. It’s gotta be put to music.
Kristen: Let’s talk about the band name. Where did it come from?
Bryan: It’s the only thing that we didn’t collectively hate. After 500 emails, literally, we had a Google Doc list with terrible joke names.
Kristen: What were some of the joke names?
Ross: My Morning Coffee was one.
Tricia: There were so many poop and fart jokes.
Garret: Well, once we narrowed it down to “Jacket,” we joked about going with “Jacket Johnson.” Sunjacket was literally the first thing everybody didn’t hate. I don’t know if any of us even really love it, but it’s growing on us.
Tricia: It could mean so many different things, too. I’m super pale, so it means protection for me.
Bryan: We all are really pale, actually.
Garret: We’re a pretty pasty bunch. The Pasties. New band name.
Kristen: What goal are you working towards with your music?
Carl: Because we write so collaboratively it takes us a long time to create, so other than those four songs, we only have a couple more. We have about six or seven total. I think the goal is to work towards a full-length, but it’s going to be a little while before we do that. We want to make sure we do it right. I think that’s the goal—a full-length and not just a series of EPs.
Bryan: In today’s fast-paced world, the EP is kind of…you work so hard to put out a new EP and since it’s not a full-length album, it might get some nods, but it has the potential to get passed up easily.
Kristen: Short-lived in a way.
Bryan: Yeah, and we had spent so much time in that room writing. We wanted to get out and play. We realized we needed to put this stuff out in the world and find a way to slowly release it to build some excitement over it. We didn’t just want to throw the four songs out that we worked so hard to write and have them be forgotten. I think the process worked out pretty well.
Garret: The four songs that we’ve released so far will probably end up being re-recorded and officially released in some capacity on a full-length later on.
Kristen: Where did you record? Somewhere here in Chicago?
Garret: It’s a studio in Crystal Lake called Chrome Attic. Carl and Tricia know a guy that does a lot of work there. We didn’t record with him but another guy that works there named Jon Alvin.
Kristen: What do you think about the Chicago music scene in general?
Bryan: I like it a lot. It’s relatively small and the people who are really working hard at it all support each other. There’s not much drama. You can get an awesome bill together with bands that respect each other and everybody comes and it’s a lot of fun.
Tricia: There’s still a lot of business to it though, coming from the perspective of somebody who started as a singer-songwriter. It’s so much easier and more welcoming with a band I would say than it is as a solo artist. It’s a very rock-oriented, band-oriented city. On a solo level, it’s so hard and it sucks so much. But with a band it’s a lot easier, it’s a lot more fun. There are still politics that you have to navigate, though...
Bryan: I think that’s probably how it is anywhere.
Carl: Yeah, and with all that said, I think there are a lot of really great things happening right now. Movers&Shakers, for example.
Ross: Most of the shows we’ve played have been with friends, and the last show we played was a lot of Chrome Attic recording people.
Kristen: What’s the most rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Ross: I was at this party with my old roommate and we both signed the top half of this girl’s breast. That’s probably the closest I’ve come to feeling rock-‘n’-roll.
Kristen: Just the top half.
Bryan: It was just rock.
Kristen: No roll.
Garret: We’re all young professionals. We have full-time jobs. So the most rock-'n'-roll thing I did recently is get hammered in Austin last weekend.
Bryan: At the Movers&Shakers BYOB show we had a bottle of Jim Beam for us all to share.
Garret: I feel like we sound so lame right now.
Kristen: You’d be surprised. A lot of the bands I talk to can’t come up with anything. I think a lot of people assume that being in a band is this super rad thing.
Carl: Yeah, maybe in the ‘80s.
Bryan: And maybe not at this level. Maybe one day we’ll be throwing TVs off of hotel balconies, but something tells me we’re not that kind of group.
Tricia: Even saying you went on tour is not glamorous. It’s like…I didn’t shower for a week-and-a-half…and I was in a van.
Ross: For the most part we’re all pretty well-behaved.
Kristen: What have your biggest musical inspirations taught you?
Bryan: I think we’ve all decided that we like bands that sound like they have spent a lot of time orchestrating their parts. The types of shows that maybe aren’t raging shows per se, but they’re the shows where you can sit and listen and be like, “Wow.”
Garret: What we’re into, and what we strive towards ourselves, is music with distinct parts that come together to create a collective sound that would not function the same way without those distinct parts.
Bryan: In general I think each of us knows that we wouldn’t be coming up with the stuff that we’re coming up with on our own.
Kristen: It’s gotta be pretty hard though. How do you not take it personally when someone shuts down an idea?
Bryan: That was actually a huge part of why it took us so long to get started.
Garret: It’s just one of those things where you can’t expect to collaborate with people and not get your feelings hurt or get misunderstood at some point in time. It’s just part of the process. Once you get past that, that’s when you start creating your best stuff. That’s how it is with any creative process. We’re graphic designers [Garret and Bryan]; we deal with that shit every day. Ultimately, the process always makes it better. Even at first if you’re always defeated, it’s going to turn out better in the end.
Bryan: And I don’t know if that ever goes away. No matter how many times someone told you that they thought it wasn’t good, there’s always a bit of, “Fuck.”
Garret: Lyrically, there’s a more inherently personal aspect than there is with music because music is so visceral. Lyrics come from a more emotional, personal place.
Tricia: Even vocal melodies, though.
Garret: Well, because it’s your voice.
Bryan: Vocals are tough because it’s a direct extension of yourself.
Tricia: You can’t put a pedal on that. What comes out is what comes out. It’s hard to hear that it’s not great.
Kristen: I give you guys a lot of props for going about it that way because I feel like a lot of bands would just say “Fuck it.”
Carl: We almost did, but I don’t think we’ve had one of those moments since Ross joined.
Bryan: As a side note, Ross is technically our third bassist we tried out.
Kristen: Third time’s the charm. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Tricia: I got this from a Friday Night Lights episode, and I think it’s really applicable: “A good quarterback has a short memory.” A good anybody or anything has a short memory. Anything that I hear critique-wise in the band, if I just forget about it and grow from it, that will help me. It’s about being a new person every fifteen minutes.
Kristen: That’s actually really good advice.
Bryan: I think something else that I’ve learned is to stop worrying so much about what other people are doing, which kind of comes back to self-awareness. You just have to do your thing. You can admire other people and take notes, but it’s not helpful to compare. You just have to do the best you can.
Kristen: What’s the boldest thing you’ve done in the past year?
Bryan: We put out a couple of bold Vine videos. Everyone always seems to be concerned with how they come off, but I think we try to remind ourselves not to takes ourselves too seriously. Every once in a while…and I mean our practices are ridiculous…we’ll go off on five-to-ten minute tangents where we’re all just doing goofy stuff.
Garret: It’s mostly Bryan and I just annoying the shit out of everyone.
Bryan: If we’re trying to be serious, I feel like the way we released our songs was sort of bold in a way. Nobody knew what to expect.
Garret: And picking a name was bold, too.
Kristen: Yeah, because that’s like making it permanent.
Garret: Once you do that and you put your shit in a public forum, you’re required to follow up. It’s always there and you can’t go back. It’s a big step for any new band. You put your stamp down, you’re here and now you need to back it up.
Carl: All of the sudden there’s pressure about when you want to play your first show, when you want to release your first song…That pressure is a natural part of publishing creative work, making it permanent.
Kristen: Tricia, what’s it like being the only girl in the band?
Ross: A lot of dick jokes.
Bryan: Just a lot of farting …
Garret: It gets really musky in the practice space.
Bryan: Well, here’s a perfect example. All the guys try to answer the question for the girl.
Tricia: It keeps me levelheaded. I really have a lot of bad days at work and then I get to come to band practice with these jokers. Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes it crosses way over the line. That’s when I leave and go to the bathroom.
Garret: I feel like when guys are alone they’ll totally act like dudes, but when they’re taking something very seriously that’s a creative outlet, their feminine qualities will come out because there are feelings at stake. We probably put up a façade with a girl in the room.
Tricia: We’re doing something very emotive. We reach really deep inside of ourselves to do it. Person to person, it doesn’t matter what or who you are, it’s the same process. I wouldn’t say it’s that much different than playing with a bunch of girls. It doesn’t matter who’s in the room, if you’re doing something that you’re putting a lot of emotion, thought and care into, it’s the same process.
Bryan: Coincidentally, I think Tricia writes the manliest parts out of everyone.
Ross: Beefy guitar tones.
Garret: She wrote the heaviest thing that we have right now and it’s bitching. It’s brand new and we’ve only played it once live.
Tricia: I have a pedal called “The Swollen Pickle,” which allows me to do that.
Bryan: Which is also very phallic.
Kristen: What’s your band philosophy? You kind of summed it up when you were talking about the creative process.
Carl: I think we summed it up with our writing process and that was something that took us a long time to figure out. It’s good that we took that long to digest and find something that worked for us, and I think we’ve developed something that’s unique to Sunjacket instead of a carbon copy of something or someone else.
Tricia: It’s also kind of comforting to know we went through so many phases of what this band “could have been” that we weren’t necessarily happy with. Every time we come to practice now, we get something out of it, and we can be confident that if something didn’t happen that practice, it will the next time. We’re all just as invested.
Bryan: We say that every time we leave, too. Every time I leave a practice where I feel like we got nothing done, I know we’re going to come back the next time and we’re going to get something awesome done.
Tricia: We all want it to happen.
Bryan: Wanting it to happen…I think that’s the reason we never stopped. We’ve had two or three meltdowns in three-month increments.
Kristen: The band lifecyle.
Bryan: We knew something had to change otherwise we weren’t going to move forward. But under it all, we all knew that we could make it work somehow.
Tricia: It’s this mutual respect. I’ve always admired what these guys have done as musicians and friends. I admire them and I respect what they do. It’s insane. I feel respected and valued and being in a band like that, it’s just unique and different and I want that. We all want that.