I showed up very early, around 7:20, at Mississippi Studios for my assignment. I had some beers with my friend and photographer Ric and chatted until about 8:45, when we went in for what was going to end up being quite a fine show. Over the years, I’ve had some great times at Mississippi Studios—granted, the crowd doesn’t usually dance, but this venue is the perfect example of how a small city like Portland can make itself into a hub for some of the best music and culture through sheer good taste and entrepreneurship.
Tender Age brought the night off to a good start: shimmering open chords and percussion, pretty background projections, and dancing, lots of dancing. One thing that entertained me a lot about this set was the fact that Tender Age invited a few of their friends to come onstage and dance for the first and last songs. Tender Age give off a very relaxed stage presence, and their music has a dreamy languor that may be familiar to fans of fellow Portlander Valet.
Golden Retriever, one of my all-time favorite Portland bands, brought the house down with a semi-improvised set. A bass clarinet and synth duo, I daresay they are quite different from the two blurry-sounding pop groups they were sandwiched between! However, they brought an equal crowd of fans, playing in the center of the room rather than on the Mississippi stage. Golden Retriever are a powerhouse experimental outfit, towards the end of the set, Jonathan Sielaff’s booming notes were literally sending tremors through the crowd. As mentioned, they gave a semi-improvised set based on some composing done in their down-time—what is really special about this band is that whenever I have seen them, they have always tried to give a performance that was somehow unique to that setting. If you can, check out their newest album Seer, one of the best of the year in any genre.
Finally, A Sunny Day in Glasgow took the stage, beginning the set with the masterful “In Love with Useless (The Timeless Geometry In The Tradition Of Passing)” and the enormously catchy “ByeBye, Big Ocean (The End)”. As a live act, they kick up a cloud of beautiful noise like great dream pop and shoegazing bands should. It’s really in the live setting that you come to appreciate the strength of the melodies in this band’s songs, the interplay between vocalists Jen Goma and Annie Fredrickson was very graceful. At no point in their glittering set did their energy seem to lag, and vocalist Goma danced the whole night long. I was particularly impressed with the performance of their rather underrated bassist, Adam Herndon. His lines had an anchoring presence in the live setting that I had not noticed on record in the past. Interestingly, group leader Ben Daniels preferred to keep himself tucked in the back, out of the spotlight.
Most of their material came from Sea When Absent, but they occasionally reached into their catalogue for fine songs like “Drink Drank Drunk” and “Shy”. They dipped back onstage for one encore, leaving an adoring audience in the wake. A Sunny Day in Glasgow are a really fun live show, it was a great night of musical bliss and almost non-stop dancing. Check Sea When Absent out soon, another sleeper classic to-be from this year.
Check out the interview after the cut:
After about 4 years of silence, A Sunny Day in Glasgow are back, with their excellent new record, Sea When Absent. Before attending their Sunday show at Mississippi Studios, I got the opportunity to talk with them via email about the creative process, their influences, and their new album. Special thanks due to A Sunny Day’s publicist David for forwarding my inquiries to Ben Daniels and Jen Goma.
Describe the process behind the making of Sea When Absent. What were the strongest influences on the making of this record?
Ben: The process was a bit more complicated this time around for a number of reasons. People seem to have focused on the fact that Annie and I live in Sydney, Jen and Ryan in Brooklyn, and Josh and Adam in Philly– and that added to the complexity for sure– but for me I think recording in a pro studio was a bigger part of making this record than the distance between the members of ASDiG.
Jen: I think the length of time it took also influenced the record a lot, it’s crazy to think of how old some of the original demos are. Ben reminded me recently of how we’d have to schedule sessions around when the studio was available so, that definitely drew out the process of making it. When the studio wasn’t available we’d kind of keep revisiting things and reworking them, that probably made a difference- I think? It’s hard to know how it would’ve been different but, I think the studio and the amount of time we spent on this probably played a big role.
Ben: For me, the biggest influence was just an idea to have a really bass-heavy/drums-heavy record. That was something I was constantly trying to keep in mind and work towards.
What were the themes that you all wanted to explore with this record?
Ben: Change, the sea as a place of change/bringer of change, loss, getting what you want, fascist/tyrannical sexuality, and humanity/human love.
Jen: I guess if there any themes I was personally exploring they were more nebulous. I remember having a lot of visual influences for sound, like scenery passing outside of a car window or imagining the situation of speaking directly to someone or something or Addressing an inanimate thing in a personal/ familiar way. And Also, responding to Ben’s “themes.” We didn’t call them themes but, it’s really nice to mull over someone else’s thoughts in your own head. You end up thinking about things you never would have thought of on your own.
In what ways do you feel this newest album is different from your past efforts?
Ben: I think it’s a little clearer in terms of the production maybe? It’s still very difficult to say because I am just too close to the record. In a year I hope to have a better chance at answering this.
What qualities draw you into a song?
Ben: Gosh, it could be anything and I don’t think it’s ever the same thing, but melody is a big one for me. I also like dynamics. I get bored easily.
Jen: I guess if you’re talking about what personally draws me to enjoy a song I’d say I like melody because I like to sing along and I like lyrics. But, in a more subliminal way I’m drawn to rhythm, it’s a kind of mysterious and necessary part of music to me. Like I’ve heard of people being able to read music like a book or see all the aspects of music as though it were on a map. The rhythm region is still the darkest part of the map to me, I don’t completely understand it, I’d like to go to there, so to speak.
You have often been described as revivalist shoegaze. What would you all say are your all-time favorite albums from the first wave of shoegaze?
Ben: I understand why people say this, but I am really not a big fan of what is often called “shoegaze”. I think that most of the bands typically given this label are very boring. I think my favourite “shoegaze” albums would be so far down my list of favourite albums that i can’t even pull a few out. Does “Heaven or Las Vegas” count as “first wave shoegaze”? I do love that record.
Jen: Is U2 “shoegaze”? I am fan of a good portion of their catalog.
How has your interest in ambient music influenced this newest record?
Ben: Ha, i was really trying to get away from ambient stuff with this record. Is it ambient sounding? I don’t really know anymore. I feel like ambient was a far bigger deal for me with ashes grammar than sea when absent.
Jen: yeah, does thinking ambience produce ambience? There were definite moods we were thinking about. I think we were thinking ambiance more than ambience.
The shoegaze idiom seems to have had a strong influence on chillwave and so-called indie rock. What do you think about this process of the “mainstreaming” of shoegaze influence?
Ben: I haven’t really thought about this before, but maybe it’s just that there are bands today who are obscuring vocals more?
Jen: right, characteristics of “shoegaze” have become more popular musical devices but, that’s what happens with musical ideas, once you introduce something to the world anyone can do what they want want with it. And as for mainstreaming, I don’t think there are any top 40 “shoegaze” bands but who can say if someday there will be, only time.
What did you all think of the new My Bloody Valentine? The new Kitchens of Distinction?
Ben: I really like that new/old MBV album. I was actually kind of bummed, they played Sydney about a month after that came out and I was really excited to see them play the new stuff but they just played old stuff and it was kind of a dull show. I don’t really know any new/old Kitchens of Distinction.
Jen: It was cool to have an MBV album come out in my adult life, i do remember everyone being pretty stunned by it, it’s like you always want another record by a band you love and then we all got one and it was real good. I feel like that’s kind of a best case scenario. I liked that they handed out ear plugs for their live shows when they toured that record too. I don’t know any Kitchens of Distinction.
What was your favorite record from last year? Who are your favorite current musical acts?
Ben: I really loved that Disclosure record from last year, I also thought the Vampire Weekend record was pretty great. Ryan’s been playing this brand new Mariah Carey song in the van on tour and I am pretty in love with that song (don’t know what it’s called) right now.
Jen: I got to see Sparks play live last year and that was pretty amazing, I feel like they’re doin something new, I guess they’ve always been doing something new but, again it’s cool to see it happening in real time.
What is your favorite city to play in? To record in?
Ben: Even though we are originally from Philly, when we started out no one would come to our shows in Philly but the shows we’d play in New York would be packed so I always love going to New York and kind of think of it as a sort-of hometown for the band (and Jen and Ryan’s hometown, obviously). Playing in Glasgow, Scotland over the years has also been really wonderful. And any chance to visit to New Orleans is great.
I loved recording Ashes Grammar in Lambertville, NJ. It was like going on a mini vacation every weekend. Also, recording bits of Autumn, Again, while we were on tour in Europe, was fun.
Jen: yeah, it’s funny to answer the question of favorite city to play on tour while on tour. We’ve been having some surprisingly good weeknight shows. Like Pittsburgh on a Monday and Chicago on a Tuesday were really fun shows. I think we’re all looking forward to being on the west coast though, just because that’s not our turf, we wanna jump in the ocean and eat a burrito. Also looking forward to being in New Orleans, good food and good people there.
What are you thinking about working on next?
Ben: Getting through tour in one piece, hopefully not completely broke at the end.
Jen: right so, we’re on tour and I guess all we can think about is what we’re working on right now. Trying to maybe figure out some covers? And we’re working on some new systems for our merch table? Haha It sounds so boring but, Tour is really like running a small business, you want it all to make sense, you wanna be able to do it good, do it right. I guess we’re just working on tour right now.
Words by Matthew Sweeney.
Photos by Ric Santora