Sunscreen are a band that Sydney loves. According to Sarah, Alex, Ollie, and Hugo, they’ve even had to call off a holiday, given the insane amount of local shows they’re being offered.
And it’s not hard to see why. Even before released their debut EP Just A Drop, Sunscreen were winning new hearts in every new room they played, a result of their charming, undeniably bright rock tunes.
Before they hit up Go Here Go There, a brand new multi-venue festival coming to Kings Cross next weekend, we caught up at the local for a few drinks, a chat, and a fiery round of pool.
Before they check in to the studio to record their second EP, we caught up with Susncreen for a chinwag and a round of pool.
(The interview starts with Sarah saying something indecipherable about doing two festival weekends in a row)
HAPPY: I know about Oktoberwest, but what was the weekend before last?
SARAH: We went to Wollongong.
HAPPY: You did Yours & Owls?
SARAH: I played saxophone for You Beauty, one of my favourite bands ever. Great band, two albums which are both concept albums about different things, but they’re both masterpieces.
HAPPY: I did not know you played saxophone.
SARAH: I played it as a kid…
ALEX: She’s really good at saxophone.
SARAH: … so I was that kid in the wind band.
HAPPY: I played cornet for like a year, didn’t agree with it. I kept being late for band practice.
OLLIE: Is that the one that’s got the really small reed?
SARAH: Oh cornet! I remember, there were some trumpet kids who got chosen to be the cornet kids.
HUGO: That’s huge.
HAPPY: It was like year five, they were like “learn an instrument.”
SARAH: They used to do that! “That’s the kid this orchestra needs. We need some French horns.” Who the fuck wants to play a French horn?
ALEX: I was in the concert band, but I pretended to play, because I couldn’t be bothered to learn the songs. I’d just play the odd note I knew.
HAPPY: Do you still just pretend to play?
ALEX: I still pretend, yeah.
SARAH: My whole childhood was the concert band. I did jazz band in high school, jazz was like the first genre of music I played. So it kind of stuck with me, playing the saxophone. You can’t really unlearn it.
HUGO: Especially if you play jazz first, because that’s so hard. That’s like starting with extreme BMX, doing backflips. Then just riding the bike will be easy.
ALEX: That’s a great analogy.
HAPPY: So Bigsound, I saw you play just the once but apparently you played four shows. How was that?
SARAH: It was awesome, it was really fun. It was a lot of hard work, and it got exhausting at times but it was really good for us because it’s like building your endurance, you know? You never get to practice playing four days in a row, but we did it.
OLLIE: It was really nice. As musos you always get the fantasy of going on tour and seeing how many shows you can pull off in a small amount of time, so to actually have that reality was…
HAPPY: Just to see if you could do it?
OLLIE: Yeah. We were pretty proud of ourselves by the end of it, by the last show. It was our final showcase, we were just on a really big high. It was really nice.
ALEX: Bigsound’s like the Beep Test for music.
SARAH: It is, they see who’s going to struggle.
ALEX: The stragglers.
SARAH: A great thing at Bigsound is that you get to discover all these awesome new bands.
HAPPY: Who did you see?
HAPPY: Wax Chattels are crazy. Sarah we chatted about this during the last interview…
ALEX: I rocked up late. I was there for the photoshoot.
OLLIE: So you looked present?
HAPPY: He just looked like he was there, but he didn’t say anything for the entire interview.
ALEX: Next question!
HAPPY: You guys keep a really serious gigging schedule, definitely more than most in Sydney. Is hitting as many shows as possible still the Sunscreen philosophy?
SARAH: That’s never been our philosophy as such, I think that just happens because we get offered a lot of nice shows.
OLLIE: There’s a lot of bands that we really like that we keep getting offered shows for.
SARAH: We don’t try to play lots, in fact we were planning on taking a break over the end of the year, then we got offered shows that we couldn’t really say no to. And studio dates! And at first we were going to record in a vacuum – we’re recording next month – but now we’re going to be recording between shows. But that’s kind of ok.
OLLIE: That’s kind of been what we’ve always done, so it’s better that we record while we’re doing all these shows. You know, so our calluses aren’t wearing out or anything like that. Keeping the chops up!
ALEX: I’m proud, we get asked this a bit and we’ve built up this reputation as a band that performs live a lot. I think that’s a good thing.
HAPPY: It’s a good reputation to have.
SARAH: That said, we’re going to try and take a break from Sydney after all these shows.
ALEX: I think this year has been about playing live, really. We’ve become a tight live unit, I think. And we’ve had lots of fun.
HAPPY: Is it a different energy when you’re doing heaps of live stuff, but you’re not releasing anything?
SARAH: It’s hard to say, sometimes it’s easier to play when you’re in a release cycle because you think that people might know the songs, because they’re recent. Sometimes I feel like I have to try harder to win over a crowd when we’re not on release cycle because they might not know the songs.
HAPPY: Because they’re not on radio or something?
OLLIE: But we’re lucky enough to live in a day and age when [cycles] are almost something that doesn’t exist anymore. People could discover us, or any band, at any time and it’s really shone through in our live performances. We know the songs really well and we’re hearing them heaps and heaps, but there are people who might have just walked into the room that absolutely revitalises it for us. Every show.
OLLIE: Even the songs that we know back to front, it’s always so exciting and such a nice response.
SARAH: But we are going to take a break… after this batch of shows.
HAPPY: You mentioned not being able to say no to something, does it get tough keeping to that schedule?
SARAH: Well we get a lot of shows thrown at us, so it does get hectic at times. Because you know, we all work day jobs in Sydney, some of us work two jobs in Sydney as well as being in a band where you want to rehearse and you want to play shows. And you want to rest and stay sane at the same time. So it gets tiring, well not tiring, but just busy. We’ve all learned to use the Google calendar app.
HUGO: Thanks Google.
HAPPY: Since you’ve done the Sydney thing a lot, I’ve got a hypothetical for you. If you could take one thing, like the stage, menu or sound, from one venue and put it in another to make it perfect, what would you do?
SARAH: Is this just Sydney, or Melbourne and Brisbane as well.
HAPPY: Just Sydney, so for example you could give Oxford Art Factory the cage stage from Freda’s.
HUGO: I like the foldback at OAF. The main stage drum foldback was, just for me… I liked the OAF foldback.
SARAH: I love the Lansdowne – the sound of the room.
ALEX: Also the sound guy is legit.
HUGO: We’ve taken Jeff with us.
SARAH: Jeff, the sound guy at the Lansdowne, is keeping us and a few other bands going.
HAPPY: So just put Jeff in every venue in Sydney?
SARAH: Clone Jeff!
ALEX: Jeff did our sound at Bigsound.
HAPPY: Oh, nice.
SARAH: I love the sound of the room in The Lansdowne because it’s purpose built, which most venues in Sydney aren’t, which separates them from venues in Brisbane. Whereas in Sydney it’s like the Botany View, where they just slap a stage in the corner.
OLLIE: They just need to ask OAF where they got their foldback, then it would be the perfect venue.
HUGO: I love that foldback. I could hear the bass and the guitar… and the kick drum.
OLLIE: I like the crowd at the Botany View.
HAPPY: The followup was; bring one venue from Fortitude Valley to Sydney… where do you put it and why?
SARAH: I would put it on south King Street, so there’s a purpose built music venue in Newtown that’s not a pub.
HAPPY: So Newtown Social Club?
SARAH: Basically yeah, bring back Newtown Social Club.
ALEX: What venue would it be from Brisbane?
HUGO: What was that place we played on the first night?
SARAH: The Brightside!
ALEX: The Brightside’s a cool venue.
OLLIE: So we’ll just take the foldback from OAF…
SARAH: Or The Lansdowne!
OLLIE: Take the foldback from OAF or The Lansdowne…
SARAH: Put it in the Brightside, and transport the whole…
ALEX: With Jeff!
SARAH: With Jeff! And transport the whole of the Brightside to Newtown.
OLLIE: Sit it on top of Holey Moley.
HAPPY: I’m glad we came to an agreement there.
OLLIE: Welcome to the inner workings of how we finish an album.
HAPPY: We managed to create and destroy at the same time.
OLLIE: We’re all avid recyclers, that’s just us. It’s very important in house and home, and outside.
HUGO: Yeah we’re like eco-developers, that’s our side project.
HAPPY: Sunscreen isn’t actually a bad name for a construction company.
HUGO: I was actually just plastering at the Holey Moley site, I was plastering up all the golf holes so they can’t play anymore.
ALEX: Hugo’s taking matters into his own hands.
HUGO: I’ve had enough.
HAPPY: You guys recently played World Bar, and you have Go Here Go There coming up. How does Kings Cross feel at the moment, as a band?
OLLIE: It’s pretty exciting to just play somewhere different, I guess. About a year ago, another band I play in played in the same venue upstairs, and they’re cool looking venues, you know what I mean? Where they hold Otto’s House Party, World Bar, that back room’s pretty interesting.
SARAH: When it’s packed full of people, for sure. The first gig I ever saw in Sydney was in that room, it was packed and there was someone crowd surfing, it was awesome.
HAPPY: There’s this weird nostalgia thing. On the one hand, everyone’s been to an awesome show there a long time ago, but at the same time it feels like something new because some people haven’t been to Kings Cross in ages.
OLLIE: Perhaps it’s a good thing, like we’ve all had some time to… forget.
HUGO: We’ve forgotten about Soho.
OLLIE: You know, taken some time away from it. I’m kidding, it’s nice to have some time away and come back to it. It’s feeling revitalised, it’s not this terse attitude. People are actively, like with the Go Here Go There festival, they’re actively trying to get well-known acts that people like to play there. Not being egotistical there, I mean other bands.
SARAH: It’s totally exciting. We’re still waiting for a lot of people to give it a go again, I feel like a lot of people have in their minds that it’s not a good place to go out anymore, we get in our inner west bubble a lot. So I think it would be good if people went.
OLLIE: And there’s such rich history in Kings Cross and Darlinghurst, especially from a musician’s and an artistic perspective. It’s a generational version of what we’re living through now, which is something to respect and admire.
SARAH: I just hope people give it a go.
HAPPY: The last thing to talk about is this new record you’ve got sessions booked for. Is it going to be an EP or an album?
SARAH: It’s going to be an EP. We’re about to hit the studio, we’ve got some dates booked for October, this month actually!
OLLIE: We’re going to be working with Simon Berkelman at Golden Retriever Studios.
HAPPY: Oh I met him last week actually, before Oktoberwest.
OLLIE: He’s a really sweet guy. On stage he’s an absolute animal but no… he is the golden retriever, essentially. He’s the nicest guy, and we hit it off really easily with him.
SARAH: It was really easy to get along with him, really natural.
OLLIE: And he’s agreed to help produce the record. He fit right in, he didn’t get weirded out by Alex shouting into a microphone with a delay for five minutes, which is the sign of a good producer I guess.
ALEX: That was fun.
HAPPY: Golden Retriever is such a beautiful space.
SARAH: It’s the only studio I’ve ever been to where there’s natural light. It’s amazing.
HUGO: It’s not a dungeon. A$AP Rocky was there last week, apparently. The proof is in the pudding, they say.
HAPPY: Now last question, when we spoke about your first EP you mentioned that the songs you had written most recently were your favourites, not the oldies. Is that still the case today?
SARAH: I think we can’t pick any favourites because we haven’t recorded it yet. We just love all the songs and we can’t wait to record them.
OLLIE: We’re trying to completely revolutionise the way we record, and not go in with the idea that one song is going to be the single. We’re trying to let it form itself, and let it surprise us. Our expectation, I suppose, is to be surprised by what we make.
HAPPY: Nice, that’s a nice sounding attitude to have.
SARAH: When you record songs you can see them in a whole new light.
Sat 20 Oct – Go Here Go There – Kings Cross, Sydney
Sat 3 Nov – Record Fair Live – Waywards, Sydney
Sat 10 Nov – The Psyched As 1000 – Portugal Madeira Club, Sydney
For the record, Hugo and Alex won pool.