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Interview: Sugar Nap
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
What got me into music would definitely be my family. I grew up in a very musical home. They were all on the church's worship team at different times growing up, and at home there were a lot of jam sessions. I started out playing movie theme songs on the piano pretty young, I was always really moved by movie soundtracks. I started writing stuff I imagined could be in movies, which is probably why I'm so into creating real lush, soundscape-y layers with my music now! Eventually I picked up the guitar at 15 or so, and really latched onto that, eventually learning the other stuff in later years.
One of the big memories that really hooked me into music was getting called into my dad's office when I was probably 12 or 13. He had me turn on the lights, sit on his lap, and he played me Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety on his nice desktop speakers. I don't know if you remember the little visuals Microsoft's media player would play behind music, but we sat and listened and watched those the whole time. I was so into it. I remember thinking what a complete and total masterpiece. I had never heard anything like it, and I wanted more. I still feel that way. Pink Floyd is hands down my favorite band.
It's hard to say what I would be doing if it weren't for music. I mean, it would always play a huge part in my life, even if I was pursuing something else primarily. If it weren't the main focus, I would probably put the rest of my year into commercial fishing. I've always loved boats, mechanics, being out on (and under) the water, and all the adventures that come with fishing. My dad fished commercially for salmon on his own boat when he was living in Cordova, Alaska with my mom in the early years of their life together, so did my uncle. I actually fished for salmon out of Cordova this summer with a cousin of mine while I couldn't really play any shows in Washington due to COVID. Fishing definitely has had a big place in my family. Commercial fishing still has a place in my life, even with music full time. I dive (seasonally) for sea cucumber in the fall/winter months two days a week in Southeast Alaska. The openers (days we are allowed to commercially fish/dive for cucumber in SE) are only Mondays and Tuesdays, which leaves a lot of time for flying home for shows or doing whatever else during the week for music, including lots of writing. It's such an inspirational place, above and under Alaskan waters, and the experiences have inspired many songs of mine. Even the sounds underwater have inspired songs. Brown Eyes, the intro track on my new EP definitely was heavily influenced by the weightlessness and alien-like experiences of being underwater.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Recreationally, I really love to scuba dive and free dive. I just think it's one of the absolute coolest things a human being can experience/do on planet earth. It's the closest thing to being in outer space. The weightlessness and feeling of flying is unreal. It's very immersive, you feel like a guest down there where all of this other life is so different than anything you're used to. I also spend a lot of time riding my motorcycle. I've got a late 90's Honda Shadow, American Classic Edition 1100. It's a commuter when the weather allows and definitely my preferred mode of transportation! I also have a 60's travel trailer that I renovated that I'll haul with my truck and for trips either have a buddy take a different trailer with our motorcycles or just throw mine in the bed of my truck. That's one of my favorite ways to explore. Surfboards on top, motorcycle in the truck bed, and hauling the camper. If I'm not backpacking, that's usually my camping set up! I do lots of hiking and backpacking too. I spend a lot of time out on Washington state's Olympic Peninsula with all that, a very inspirational place for music. I also plan on touring with the camper, and I'll probably bring the motorcycle too. There are so many great roads on and off road I would love to explore between cities and different shows.
I listen to a lot of vinyl too. I'm pretty proud of my collection. Lots of Pink Floyd (of course), 60's/70's folk, some sweet original presses of some classic records and some amazing releases from newer artists like Glass Animals, Adrianne Lenker, Tame Impala, Shlohmo, and more. Meddle by Pink Floyd is one of my favorite records I own. It's an original pressing, and sounds phenomenal. Dreamland by Glass Animals is one of my favorites as well. Incredibly well produced and mixed record, and it just sounds fantastic through my 70's Sansui receiver and late 70's speakers. Shlohmo's Bad Vibes and Bon Iver's 22, A Million are other favorites. I listened to those albums a ton when my dad had cancer, before he passed away, so they bring me to a really special place. I escaped into those albums, same with Blonde by Frank Ocean. That one never did come out on vinyl. but I'd buy it in a second if it ever did.
Horror/thriller movies are definitely a big favorite. Rosemary's Baby (1968), Carrie (1976), The Lighthouse (one of the best newer horror films in my opinion), The Shining, Psycho, the original Friday The 13th.. Definitely anything by David Lynch. My cat's name is Laura Palmer, from Twin Peaks. Donnie Darko, Annihilation (I think that still counts in the thriller genre?). I like comedies and action movies a lot too... Adventure movies.. Into The Wild, Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.. another couple of favorites amongst many. I love Westerns. Outlaw Josey Wales, Open Range, Dances With Wolves, Quigley Down Under, and most of the Clint Eastwood, Robert DuVall, and Tom Selleck movies.
I also tinker a lot. I build a lot of stuff. I love projects. Electronics stuff, woodworking and other handsy projects, some of which finds its way into the studio. I did construction for years with my dad, which definitely was a big part of me learning a lot of that. A pretty fun project I did that turned out to be a big part of this recent EP was taking a house phone from the 80's and wiring an input jack to it, so that I could sing into and record with it. All of the vocals for Stay were all done on that telephone mic, which gives it that unique quality. Pretty fun project!
How long has music been your career?
I started playing professionally when I was probably 15 or so, shows and eventually recording. Of course it started with recording terrible home demos, but I got real serious about playing live. It was mostly playing rock. Harder rock and metal at first, which changed to a really "90's Seattle grunge" inspired sound. We all loved that growing up; me and the musical buddies I was playing out with. Alice In Chains was a big one for us. My first band actually played a memorial show for Mike Starr for a couple years, and that was one of the favorite things we did. I loved trying to sing like Layne Staley and Chris Cornell, those guys were some of my idols. A lot of people tried to sound like them in the circle I started playing music with. Eventually some of us found our own voices, but those guys were like guiding lights for us just starting out. Eventually I moved into a more jammy kind of sound. Experimented and probably spent the most time with a group called Dire Fire. It was sort of like if Sublime met Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, with some Grateful Dead, of course. Lots of guitar solos from me, and long, improvisational live jams withe guys. Really fun, feel good, easy listening (for the most part). I did some singing, but mostly enjoyed focusing on the guitar and writing. Those were some really, really fun years with a great group of guys. We all mostly still stay in touch and root each other on in our respective paths. Only two of us continued to pursue music. Towards the end of our time, I was really pushing the envelope into different territories. I wanted to explore new sounds, introduce different instruments in the band, not just do the rock thing the whole time, and really take the reins in the studio environment. I was helping produce everything we did, but I wanted to be one engineering things too. That wasn't necessarily where we disagreed, but the musical directions we all separately wanted to go didn't really align anymore. It was a really pivotal point in my life too. My dad was in hospice, I had just gotten out of a pretty serious relationship, and I felt like everything was on the line with music. Right around that time I wrote Slow Motion. The lyrics are ambiguous, but almost every line in that song was a metaphor for what I was feeling and going through at that time. It was a hard song to finish for me, and it took many different recorded versions before arriving at the final released version.
It was around that time that I started writing Sugar Nap stuff. I think that was the first song I had written that I knew would be for a different project. Brown Eyes and Going Nowhere were the other two earliest Sugar Nap songs, written two years or so before the July 2020 debut with Going Nowhere. It wasn't long after I started writing Slow Motion that we broke up and went our separate ways. I started building up Humble Jungle Studio (my home studio), writing, engineering, and obsessively researching, recording, and building what it would all become.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I grew up in the greater Seattle area. Des Moines, Washington, specifically. I'm still based in the greater Seattle area. The Seattle grunge bands of the 90's were definitely a big early influence. Also just being by the water. I love the water, and I've written many songs on the beach (Redondo) by my childhood home in Des Moines.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
The best and worst shows definitely came with my band Dire Fire. We played a LOT of shows. It's hard to think of a "worst" show. There were some when one of us was too drunk, or the monitor mix was so bad that we couldn't hear ourselves and only hoped that we were all in tune, like all bands end up playing. We did play a weird battle of the bands one time. We lost to a weird 80's pop cover band which we thought was kind of lame, considering the type of thing it was, us being original and all. The judges had some pretty colorful comments about us. A light fell on stage during the set and we got called bad citizens because of it. I guess they thought it was our fault, but I don't think it was. I remember it being a rigging problem. They also called me a blonde Steven Tyler that didn't fit in, which was pretty funny to us. Granted, I was wearing scarves and rings and some vintage jacket that I probably thought gave me guitar powers or something. I would have preferred Keith Richards, but I'd probably be a cheap rip off of him too!
We had our share of bad shows but we had a whole lot of good, really magical live shows. At least it felt magical to us. My favorite show we ever did was with an extended line up. We were normally a four piece, two guitars/vocals, bass guitar, and drums, but we added two beautifully voiced women for backing vocals, a third guitarist, a saxophone player, and a keyboard player. We played in a nice, big performing arts center to 900 or so people for a cancer benefit. It was just us, and we had an intermission in the middle of our set. Having theater fidelity and control and the ability to put on a real production was a dream come true. I designed this mirrored mannequin that would spin on a little rotisserie motor base with the lights hitting it, we had a grand piano rolled on stage after the intermission for me to play on our "big" song, which was really just a local favorite and one of our personal favorites we thought had the best chance and taking us anywhere.
Arranging the parts for the live band was incredible. We opened with a really Stonesy cover of Come Together for the first part of the show, and Speak To Me/Breathe by Pink Floyd after the intermission. That alone was one of the coolest things I had ever done on stage. I had the lap steel out for the slide guitar parts and everything, and being accompanied by the extended band did the song justice. It was an incredible experience. The curtain came up, and playing and singing that song will be a feeling I'll never forget, not to mention the arrangements for our own songs that we had only dreamed of before.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
After the theater gig, it's definitely a dream to do some big productions in theaters and bigger stages. I love outdoor venues, and I would love to play Red Rocks and The Gorge someday, same with the Paramount and the Moore Theater in Seattle. Also, just to live out my Pink Floyd fantasy, playing at the Pompeii amphitheater would be so cool.
So far, Neumos has been one of my favorite venues to play at. Great sound, professional crew, and nice room.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
If I could play any show with any lineup, it would probably be with Pink Floyd at the UFO in London, or doing some show with Andy Warhol putting it together. Maybe something more "traditional" would be with Glass Animals, James Blake, Tame Impala, and Bon Iver at some cool outdoor venue. Probably Red Rocks or The Gorge. I could see us all sounding good together! Maybe Crosby Stills Nash & Young could show up for a cool jam, too.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
If I could give anyone trying to get into music advice, it would be to find your own sound. Find your voice, be authentic, be genuine, and be OK with being influenced by all of your favorite bands and songs and even trying stuff they did in your own music. I think, after all, an artist is typically the sum of their influences. Own it, never stop pushing the boundary, never stop honing your craft, practice practice practice, and never stop being authentic. When you start trying to sound like someone else, people notice, but people just want to hear you. That being said, don't ignore your influences. Just let them inspire you to be you.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
It's hard to pick which song of my own means the most to me. Of the ones released, Slow Motion is connected to a really emotional part of my life. But I think Going Nowhere is sort of this guide, and that means a lot to me. It's really philosophical and introspective. It's main message is one that I live my life by: take your time but don't let it pass. It's sort of a mantra. Don't get so wrapped up in the future and the noise that you forget to be present, but don't let life pass over you while you're idle. Sometimes there's not some big grand plan, but you just pick what you pick and do what you do and you run with it. Sometimes, I think, when we try to add too much of a reason or plan or expectation, we let ourselves down and pass up a lot of incredible things along the way. There are so many experiences and lessons that life has to offer, and exercising an awareness of those things enriches the journey.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
Of the songs released so far, Stay is a really fun song to play live. However, the full, live Sugar Nap band has only played one show so far. Of the fans and friends, Brown Eyes was requested again after the one show, recorded at my house in my outdoor garage with a liquid light show. Super fun show. Our (the Sugar Nap live band) favorite to play live and to jam on is an unreleased song that will be coming up on my "virtual tour", which is essentially just releases of songs from that one pre-recorded live show over the course of the next few weeks. The song is called Tomorrow, and that is often requested acoustically by friends, fans, and family who have heard the song already. The song has quite a story to it, with the writing as well as the recording. Some very cool people joined the recording as well, some of the first performances by other musicians on a Sugar Nap song, which are usually just me. Tomorrow was recorded at a legendary and very special recording studio, and was also the first Sugar Nap song recorded outside of Humble Jungle, my home studio. I'll talk more about that as the studio release comes closer, which we're still a ways out from. I don't have a set date for it yet, but there's a chance it will be one of the singles before the full length album sometime next year. The live version is real jammy though, and not too far from the studio version. A bit different and definitely longer. It was great getting back to some of my jammy roots.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
The creative process for me comes in all sorts of different shapes and forms. Influences come from soundscapes that I hear in dreams that I want to recreate, underwater sounds and sights, loneliness, introspectiveness, memories and moments in time that feel like pausing the entire world. When She Comes feels like a pause in time sort of song to me; a snapshot of a kind of emotion.
Another song influence is what comes from audio engineering! The Beatles, for example, did some crazy stuff for their time, especially around the mid 60's when they were doing more psychedelic stuff, and that's inspired me to try different techniques that end up turning into songs. Sometimes I'll write initially on acoustic, and then take that to the studio. That usually happens when I'm out fishing. Otherwise, a lot of times I'll just be messing around with a synth sound or something that will get me excited and I'll start writing around that. Sometimes lyrics first, but more often than not the music comes first and the lyrics are born out of a mood I'm creating musically.
A lot of songs of mine have manifested from improvisations. With a bottle of whiskey and my acoustic guitar out in my camper or somewhere outdoors, I'll hit record on my phone and play and sing exactly what I'm feeling. There's this pressure to say what I mean, and I have to say it, because it's recording and I'm just in it. Sometimes it goes terribly but there have been many times where an entire song is written in one take, without ever going back to edit lyrics or anything. There's an authenticity that comes from those takes that sometimes I can't even reproduce in the studio. Maybe I'll release some limited vinyl of those phone recordings one day, the cork popping out of the bottle and everything.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
For me, I like to inspire, distract, and relate when I'm writing. Songs like Going Nowhere I aimed to inspire and try to get people to reflect. When She Comes is, to me, a pause in time kind of song where someone could relate with some silly experience of their own in the early exciting stages of a relationship, before being in love or breaking up after or staying together or whatever. Maybe we'll stay together, maybe not, but either way, let's skip the bars, go to the beach, and lie to each other about ourselves and the places we probably won't end up actually going to. But it's all sweet, you know? Because there's this charm, and you still notice the little things about each other that make you smile. Maybe there's a message in there, maybe not, but I really like storytelling. Then there's songs like Stay which is sort of this psychedelic journey. Some of the lyrics are ambiguous, and the music is weird. Drums panned to one side and bass on the other, like some early psychedelic stereo mixes, and some really weird chord changes. It's not really a background song I think. Like, you want to tune in because it's kind of different, and it goes against what you're used to in a song that would have more traditional chord structures. So, it's really like something you can take to just zone out, same with Brown Eyes. I like to think that it's ear candy, or like a mood setter. Like, maybe you're cruising down the highway in the summer, and Brown Eyes is playing, and it just creates this really nice, chill vibe. I always imagined Brown Eyes being a super cool song to hear while being underwater and just kind of floating. Going Nowhere is sort of like looking out the window at rain slowly coming down a quarter after midnight.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
I produce, engineer, mix and co-write for and with other artists, so I think I've gotten pretty good at moving past disagreements during collaborations due to me being a medium for artists to get their vision across in songs I might be producing or helping write. It's not something I've done too much of, but something I love doing for sure.
I get really excited about people's ideas, and my own, so I can usually give up on my point of view because I can get excited about why the other person feels a certain way. Sometimes, if I feel really strongly though, I'll express it and we take a coffee break or whatever, come back with clear heads and discuss it. Usually that clears up whatever we're disagreeing on but if not, we'll just come back to it another day and it gets figured out.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
The immediate future consists mostly of promoting this new self-titled EP, which just came out on October 8th and can be found on the streaming platforms. I'm really hoping to get some traction with it and come into the new year with lots of live shows and hopefully a tour. Also planning for a full length album release sometime next year, with no exact date planned yet. The main thing I'm wanting to spotlight right now is the "virtual tour", merchandise, and the songs on the EP. The “virtual tour” has a new live song from a pre-recorded show released every Wednesday on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram.