Posted on 08 September 2012 by dubs
Sacramento ex-patriates By Sunlight make a home in Seattle
Words by John Phillips
“What is true by lamplight is not always true by sunlight.” — Joseph Joubert, French moralist/essayist
Though starting with a quote is a bit clichÃ©, especially by anyone like Joubert, who doesn’t exactly get remembered for much other than cute little quips. Still, there is much truth that can be found in an over-simplified message. For the members of the band By Sunlight, maybe the quote would be more along the lines of, “What is true in Sacramento is not always true anywhere else.”
The gentlemen that occupy the moniker By Sunlight (originally known as Bridges) decided a few years back that a new perspective would suit them nicely, and packed their bags and took off to the city synonymous with mediocre sports franchises (at least those remaining), Starbucks, its weather and its iconic music scenes. By Sunlight’s Mike Sparks laughs over the phone during a recent interview when asked if Seattle’s dismal meteorology caused any changes in his music.
“It’s funny that every time I do an interview I get asked that. I guess so?” Sparks remarks, in a sort-of vocal shrugging, “I woke up this morning and it was overcast and I almost had a tear of joy. I mean, it’s beautiful now, but I really like that weather… It’s temperate for me, you know? Living in Sacramento was heinous. I couldn’t stand it at all.”
But, hey, not all of us living here love the heat. Still, moving to Seattle was behind a large part of how he both developed as a musician, and as a person. Sparks continues, “We were ready to get the fuck out of there. Hey man, sometimes when it’s 4:30 p.m., and the sun’s down, and I’ve got three beers in my body, yes, I might feel a bit of darkness in the spirit. There are tons of metal bands up here, tons of punk bands up here, and there is a lot of reflection of that environmental aesthetic in how people behave here, but I wouldn’t describe it as a sullen city either. Yeah, biometrics is a huge fucking change in my life, but going from everything I know to where I don’t know anything, that I would say was a more profound affect rather than the climate.”
After residing in the city for a handful of years and constantly touring, By Sunlight finally decided to settle down, and take a year off from the road. They took to inviting another Sacramento musician, Evan Ferro of Bright Light Fever/Roman Funerals, to make the journey up to the Pacific Northwest, and have Sparks, producer and band member Robert Cheek and Ferro move in together in order to record their latest album.
“We would go home after work or what-not, and we would go straight to working on the record,” Ferro recalls. “Whether it was writing or fine-tuning, it was non-stop. It was a lot of thought, a lot of annoying ourselves with how much we were thinking about it. But, ultimately it became what we wanted it to be.”
Sparks considers the decision to bring Ferro into the picture to be just what the band needed. “It’s kind of what saved our band,” says Sparks. “After the aesthetic exhaustion, fatigue and demoralization that you can sometimes get from working so hard at a band, and not really getting anything. You sort of question your art all the time; it’s that sort of weird, entropic little head thing you can get, and it really pulled us out of all that.”
Robert Cheek, who even now is instrumental as a producer and sound engineer locally–working on albums for Doom Bird, Life in 24 Frames and others–despite not being on full-time duties for this By Sunlight album, is an extremely valuable asset as both a musician and technical mind, and the other members in the band are very aware of it. Particularly since By Sunlight is a very technically minded project, employing many elements that build on and flow through each other, with a sound that is both intricate and intensely mellow, it takes a lot of abstract thought to orchestrate and balance so many elements peacefully.
“I think I’m just so blessed to be in a band with people like [Cheek]–where music is really the only thing of interest to him. For that ethos alone is enough to get a boner for a dude in your band,” Sparks says through a chuckle, “I mean, not literally. It’s like if you have someone you work with intimately all the time that share the same enthusiasm as you, and also you’ve got these huge technical talent.”
“Yeah, he’s valuable. He’s done all our records prior to this one, and even with this one he helped definitely, and did some work also. Yeah, it’s a huge one-up, and we all couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities that affords us.”
Ferro agrees, taking it a step further: “[Cheek] is a genius. There is not a better word for it, really. He puts so much work into what he is doing, whether it’s a band he is working with or a band he is in. Bob plays in Roman Funerals as well, so I have the experience of not one but two bands with Bob. To have him in a band is a musician’s dream come true. If you’re having second thoughts on a song you are writing, go to Bob and Bob will give you the answer. Actually, it’s somewhat ridiculous.”
With Cheek, Ferro, Sparks, bass player Jack Clemens, and drummer John O’Connell–the only member not from Sacramento (he’s from Virginia)–the band is chock-full of veteran talent. Finished with their latest album, titled Penumbra, they now face the arduous and sometimes daunting task of getting it out there. Starting off with a quick West Coast tour, the guys are looking forward to finally seeing the road again.
“With all the bands I’ve toured with, By Sunlight is the easiest,” says Sparks, “just because, we’ve all done it, you know, too much, and so the emotional thing that is so often an issue on tour, is sort of an old hat for us; it’s not hard at all.
“Not to sound over-confident about it, but we’re all best friends,” Sparks continues, “It’s not like we don’t get into fights sometimes, like when John wants to listen to baseball on the radio, and I just want to sit there and feel sorry for myself. It’s not like those things aren’t going to happen, but there is no fear that the bottom is going to drop out.”
By Sunlight will return to Sacramento on Sept. 8, 2012 when they play Harlow’s with Doom Bird. The 21-and-over show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets can be purchased through http://harlows.com/. For more on By Sunlight, check out their website http://www.bysunlight.com/.