Sun Atoms discusses the inspirations behind new album (watch his new video)
Jsun Atoms has been making psych pop for 25 years with such groups as The Upsidedown, The Bella Low, and more recently The Daydream Machine. He's releasing a new album, Let There Be Light, this Friday as Sun Atoms. It was produced by The Dandy Warhols' Peter Holmström and mixed by Smiths/Blur producer Stephen Street, and features Alex Maas of The Black Angels.
The new single off the album is "Half Robot Half Butterfly," a tripped out six-minute opus packed with droning electronics, shimmering guitars, dayglo melodies and Jsun's deep, whispered delivery. The extra psychedelic video, directed and illustrated by Dan Fernie-Harper, premieres in this post and you can watch that below.
We asked Jsun to tell us a little more about the inspirations behind the album and he obliged with a list of 10 things, including Echo & The Bunnymen live in 1984, the works of Stephen Street, more than a few places, and more. Check out his list and commentary below.
Sun Atoms - “Let There Be Light” Influences:
Morocco was the last place I traveled before starting the album with Pete. The layer after layer of color through winding mazes created a shift in my writing that felt like I had fallen out of time. My wife and I created field recordings of the thousands of sounds in the ancient medinas. The sound collage that begins Side 2, was created by stacking several of these recordings we made in Marrakesh. The blue city of Chefchaouen was an inspiration for some of the dream inside the dream type lyrics throughout the album. Many travellers only go to the blue city for day trips from Fez, but we stayed for a week and when the tourists would leave each afternoon, it felt as if the ethereal blue paint of the walls seeped right into my journal. It was a dream of an experience to write in the old haunts where William Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch and Paul Bowles wrote The Sheltering Sky along with all the Beats who gathered around them during that period in Tangier.
2. Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files
If you haven’t subscribed to Nick Cave’s blog where he answers cold call letters from fans, good and bad seeds alike, then you are missing out on a friend. He is open to a crushing fault. Some of the answers are so revealing that they take your breath away. He digs deep and twists the mirror into that part of your soul that is sometimes hidden from reflection. He is open about grief, love, mistakes, and the humor is often dark, but inclusive. Reading this weekly gift made me want to be more vulnerable in my writing. When he came to Portland a few months before the pandemic for his “Conversations” tour, he was playing songs on the piano and answering all questions. He shared some revelations about his creative process, his wife Susie’s success with the Vampire’s Wife fashion house, and his honesty about how they got through the accidental loss of his son was true and kind and painful. When the microphone was passed along, someone asked him, “Do you have any advice for someone that fears sharing their art and music with the world?” He replied, “just noodle on, what have you got to lose?” I took this sentiment and wrote the first line for the third song on the album titled “Captain Tunnel Vision.” The opening line says, “Get lost, we’ve got nothing to lose.”
3. The time 11:11
For some reason, really strong ideas kept striking at this time twice a day when Pete and I began recording the album in his Southeast Portland “Air Traffic Control” studio. It was getting to the point where we would be texting or sending mixes back and forth and Pete or I would say, “Did you wait to send that until 11:11?” We were both surprised when the answer was a resounding, “No!, I just thought this was a great idea and wanted to see what you thought.” One of my favorite things that happened on the album at 11:11 are the breaks that Pete created in the Manchester/Factory Records-esque track “Fell For You.” It’s one of those songs I’ve always dreamed of making since loving albums like New Order’s Brotherhood, and Power, Corruption, and Lies, and Big Audio Dynamite's debut. It felt very satisfying when BBC 6 radio producer Adam Dineen said that we have a hit on our hands with this one. I would love for artists like Bernard Sumner or Mick Jones to hear it and think we got it right. Hopefully they will listen to it at 11:11.
4. Echo and the Bunnymen - Live at The Royal Albert Hall 1984
“Of all the treasure still unlocked, the love you found must never stop!” Besides the incredible catalog they had already amassed in those initial perfect albums, there’s the unbelievable guitar work of Will Sargent, along with the perfect lyrics and spirited power of Ian McCulloch’s vocal delivery. They are a flawless band with Les Pattinson on bass and Pete de Freitas on drums in this era. The performance is so raw, but the delivery is so refined, it feels like the perfect balance. The 1984 era of their live performances was particularly influential in the making of Let There Be Light because on stage they have the string and conga percussion elements that I’ve dreamed about having in a studio album for a long time. I wanted to incorporate the strings and congas in the studio without losing the mystery and believability of the songs. Pete knew how to do this by tucking them in here and letting them shine there. I recall Will and Ian called Pete up onstage to play on an extraordinary version of “Do it Clean” here in Portland. They have quite a history of touring and playing together. On another note, I do believe that “The Killing Moon” belongs in the “as-good-as-it-gets” category of all time greatest songs, but there really isn’t a song on Ocean Rain that doesn’t move me just as deeply, especially “Thorn of Crowns.”
5. Portland, Oregon.
I’m in love with this city. We’ve been through a lot together. It’s my home and it speaks to me. It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since I first started playing here at the legendary Satyricon as a teenager in 1991, but here I am, still totally in love with rock n’ roll and making this album that I consider my life’s work. The city is breathing and changing, and going through pain and reflects our suffering, but I am here for it and I remain totally inspired by it. I love the bridges, artists, and the venues. I’m so proud of our music community for rising like a phoenix out of this pandemic. Our intimate venues; Doug Fir, Mississippi Studios, and Star Theater are perfect for our city. Along with new exciting venues and booking agents breaking out on their own like Folk Magik and the recently held Lose Yr Mind Fest at Vitalidad. The Portland bands influencing me right now are The Shivas, Roselit Bone, The Prids, Silver Triplets, Møtrik, The Dandy Warhols, Modest Mouse, Moon Duo and Collin Hegna’s (Brian Jonestown Massacre) Federale, who have been putting on marvelous events all summer including classic drive-in movies with bands accompanying. Portland is alive and kicking.
6. Train Graffiti
As luck would have it, I was sitting on a loading dock near the Broadway Bridge in Northeast Portland just blocks from the Willamette River. I had recently learned the droning chords to Sonic Youth’s “Starpower.” I found that if I played them backwards and hung on them for twice as long, there was an undeniable vibration that was speaking to me. I sat and played long enough for a train to pull up less than a foot in front of me. There in the most beautiful expressive graphic lettering appeared three words, “Super Switch Kid.” The universe had delivered the song title for exploring these open drone chords, which became the first song on side two of the Sun Atoms album. I have always loved graffiti far more than any corporate signage. Recently when taking the train from Berlin to Prague, I couldn’t get enough footage of the innovative, unfettered designs as they flew by.
7. Pioneertown, Joshua Tree, California
About six months into recording the record, we took a break from the studio for about a month. I needed to finish the lyrics for the final 2 songs. A road trip to the High Desert was in order. The scenic route through Zion to the living, breathing, old west motion picture community was sublime. My wife and I were the only ones staying at the historic hotel. An experience I had always hoped for. All the other times I had been to Pioneertown, my band was playing the stellar Desert Stars Festival with the likes of Dinosaur Jr., BRMC, The Black Angels, and Spindrift. The solitude was ideal. We spent our days lazing in the hammocks among the cactus with journal and pen in hand, listening to new mixes Pete had sent. Hundreds of Westerns and early television shows were filmed in Pioneertown since it was founded in 1946, including The Cisco Kid. It was the perfect setting for focusing in on finishing the lyrics for the album under a western sky with echoes of the old frontier. These lyrics appear on my songs “Two Wolves And A Lamb Voted On What’s For Dinner” and “Half Robot Half Butterfly.”
8. Stephen Street
My wife and I had stopped in London to see Blur in Hyde Park on our way to India, and Streety had just produced their album “The Magic Whip.” Fast-forward five years, Pete had produced some strong early Sun Atoms mixes and said, “I think we really have something here, you should think big and outside of our box about who should mix this.” I went about sending these early mixes out to some major studio wizards that I had only dreamt about working with. To our delight, Streety replied that he liked the songs, but asked to hear more before committing to the project. He heard more and said, “I like this, let’s do it.” At that point, not only did we have a deadline because Gorillaz were going to be working in his London Studio after us, but it upped our game to know that we would be handing the files over to a master mixing artist that had made seminal influential albums with Blur, The Smiths, Suede, The Pretenders, New Order, and The Cranberries. At that point, I started listening even deeper to his catalog. All four of the Blur albums were on heavy rotation, listening for references, along with the brilliant Strangeways Here We Come and his masterpiece Viva Hate. Although it was somewhat intimidating to work with someone who had just received the 2020 Award For Outstanding Contribution To UK Music at the Music Producer’s Guild Awards. Streety was easy to work with and very kind. I love that he stood his ground on some mixes, while being very fluid and open to changes on others. I am so very grateful for Streety’s patience and willingness to put off mixing the opening track for an additional month to give Alex Maas the time to work on the chorus. It really paid off. One of the many highlights of working with Streety was when we were mixing our first single, “Don’t Take Me To Your Leader.” I was able to reference his genius horn and strings mix on Blur’s song “The Universal.” Which, in my opinion, has one of the great string and horn arrangements of all time. There we were, working with the studio guru that created it. It felt like we had the perfect pilot flying the plane. I love how the horns and strings turned out on that track. Still pinching myself over getting to work with such an absolute ace of a legend.
9. The Cure - Disintegration
Of all the albums I love, Disintegration is a culmination of all the musical directions I’m interested in at once. It’s moody and poppy and ethereal and dark and layered with melodies that never leave. I hope for those things in my songs. Pete is the perfect producer because he wants to make music that he’s never heard. You can hear it in his catalog of songs as Pete International Airport. Pete got to see The Cure perform Disintegration in its entirety at the Sydney Opera House. The atmosphere of Disintegration is like a cloud that changes shape as the wind blows. I love the depth and mystery. One of the lyrics on my album that I feel that influence in is the line, “When the world is at its worst, the darkest clouds will have to burst. The rain will sing a lullaby so beautiful it will make you cry.”
10. Mental Health
Pete and I created this record in his studio while the rest of the world felt like it was ending. It was an escape into another world. I love music and it’s the place where many of us are whole. If it’s your place too, may you never forget to go there and do your work. I’ll be listening.