IMPERMANENT, FRAGILE… AND ALIVE: Sun Bones

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On their new album the Tucson indie-rockers settle down and find a singular sound.

BY ERIC SWEDLUND

There’s an ambitious formula behind the music of Sun Bones: art-punk flair, pristine four-part harmonies, imaginative song structures and poppy melodicism.

Since 2007, the Tucson band has performed and recorded with most of the same core members, under different names (Grandpa Moses and Boreas) before they settled on Sun Bones, with an ever-shifting sound. The members: Sam Golden, Bob Hanshaw, Laura Kepner-Adney, Seth Vietti.

But on their latest release, the self-titled Sun Bones (self-released in late May), that musical identity has at last solidified, with the band moving beyond a hodge-podge to a singular sound.

“Among all of the projects we’ve done, under all the different names, this is finally a project that says one thing, all together,” says bassist Hanshaw. “We found our artistic vision while we were in the middle of recording the album and that guided the process later on. We titled it Sun Bones because this is what we sound like. It’s odd to say, but up until this point we’ve sounded like many different things.”

Sun Bones is a collection of 11 songs, pop music with a subversive twist, with songs that retain some echoes of the band’s chief influences – Animal Collective, the Beach Boys, Radiohead and Paul Simon – but in a far more cohesive whole than the band’s 2013 record Sentinel Peak.

The process of experimentation that went into creating Sentinel Peak hit its natural end when Sun Bones wrote “Never Going Back,” as catchy as anything the band had produced before, but without sacrificing their other influences.

“It is so melodic,” Hanshaw says. “The contrasting melodies are relatively simple, but they are the backbone of the whole song. The harmonies are the setting, a frame, and the arrangements are very consciously set to bring out the melody. That’s something that we never knew we were working for. That focus on melody really brings the album together. Each song was consciously written closer to the other songs than ever before.

Sentinel Peak was a lot of times more about interesting textures. We really reveled in the sounds and layers. Sun Bones is melody, piercing clarity all the way through.”

The first “single” is “Ersilia,” with its neon-drenched music video and harmony-laden backing vocals.

Guitarist Golden wrote the song as a reward commission after the Kickstarter campaign for Sentinel Peak. The subject of the song requested one about herself, with the lyrics crafted to focus about her in medical school, working toward a career as a doctor.

“It was harder to get the right tone for the lyrics because we didn’t want it to sound like a love song but a song about how badass she is, platonically,” he says.

A second video is in production for the sublimely catchy “You’re Gonna Die,” with a little post-apocalyptic visual fun set to the song’s handclaps and peppy guitar.

“You are an accident, an interesting experiment / Impermanent and fragile and alive,” sings Hanshaw, leading up to the group chant chorus “I’m gonna die, you’re gonna die, everybody’s gonna die.”

“It’s something that I’d wanted to do for a long time, write an extremely cheerful pop song about mortality,” he says. “I was in a space for a while about coming to terms with that in the most absurdist, existential way. Death is just pretty ridiculous. I just wanted to make it really lighthearted because if you don’t face death with humor then at least according to the song and how I felt at the time, you’re kind of screwing yourself.”

The album was recorded as Golden, Hanshaw and drummer Vietti were working through a lineup change that saw guitarist Laura Kepner-Adney join and guitarist Evan Casler depart. The biggest change, they say, is in the harmony arrangements. With a background in folk, country and Americana background Kepner-Adney brings intuitive harmony parts at a higher range.

Golden says all the musical journeying was necessary, a way for the band to work through an expansive slate of influences and ideas and sort what worked from what didn’t.

“We all came from different musical tastes and finding the Sun Bones sound was figuring out how to successfully blend all these disparate tastes into something that was original and made sense and wasn’t all over the place with every different song,” he summarizes.

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Sun Bones will be in Cali starting this week – L.A. on 7/8, then San Francisco 7/10 and Berkeley 7/11. Full list of tour dates at the official Sun Bones website. Below, watch a delightful cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” from 2013 (with the earlier lineup).

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