The Sunpilots

Interview date

28 Mai 2012




Interview Raj Siva-Rajah (by mail)

Hello Raj, thanks for your time, we are the French webzine Can you tell us first what you would consider your main musical influences?

We all have different musical influences. Radiohead is my favourite band. I also listen to Tool, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age, Janis Joplin, Hendrix, some blues, Latin music – it’s a long list. Tom (the drummer) is into a lot of metal too. Bob’s taste is quite eclectic. Justin has a funk background. It all fuses together in our sound.

Where does the name of the band come from?

It was inspired by one of my favourite Pink Floyd songs, ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’.

I've read that you have Sri Lanka origins?

Yes, I was born in Australia but my parents are Sri Lankan. Mum is a Carnatic singer (classical Sri Lankan / South Indian style of music), she began teaching me when I was 8.

You seem to be very "European" for an Austalian band?

The reaction at shows over here has been really great, so it seems to be going down well with Europeans. Other than that I can’t really say, a ‘European sound’ probably means something different to everyone.

I noticed that you’ve done a lot of shows in France. This is different to a lot of other Australian bands. Why is France an attractive country for you guys? Is it rock 'n' roll, girls or wine?

Beautiful wine, beautiful food, beautiful girls and such arts-rich culture... you guys have got the right formula. From a personal point of view I’m completely in love with France. From a music perspective things have started to take off for us over there so we keep coming back. French fans are always so passionate, which makes the shows such a pleasure for us. Touring France is easier for us than most Aussie bands since we now live in Berlin.

Actually, I first heard of you because I won two tickets on the radio for one of your concerts (Grasse) in the south of France. Not a very big venue, but you put on a hell of a show there. Do you play a lot of small clubs?

Small clubs are the core of what we’ve been doing over the last couple of years. They’ve been the best way of making fans in new countries, getting a buzz going and having some...  let’s say ‘local adventures’. It’s hard work, we’re independent and have been touring Europe non-stop for the last 18 months, 3 or 4 shows a week, every week. A hell of a lot of fun though. We’re doing some festivals and bigger shows in France this year but there’ll still be plenty of small clubs in the next tour.

You surprised most of the audience with your very scenic presence, Raj. What a show! Is the theatrical part of your show as important as the music itself?

Thanks. I don’t really think about what I’m doing on stage, I just sing. The lyrics (of this album in particular) have a lot of meaning for me, so I tend to get lost in them when we play. Watching videos of gigs is a little weird sometimes!

Your latest album is called ‘King of the Sugarcoated Tongues’. Could you explain what it means? It seems a little obscure to me and I’m guessing for most French speaking fans?

In English, to ‘sugarcoat’ something is to make something seem more appealing or pleasant than it really is. ‘Tongues’ is a metaphor for ‘words’.

So it's a story. Can you summarize it?

It’s an eight chapter story about the human need for security and the freedoms we are willing to give up in return. I prefer not to go into more detail than that, it lets people come up with their own interpretation.

How did you write these compositions? Is this a band's work? The lyrics? The music? The recording?

Writing normally starts with vocals and guitar – I’ll have a melody or Bob will have a riff. We’ll get together and sketch out a demo then take it to the rest of the band. Things evolve as everyone adds their parts. Sometimes an ambient section will turn into a balls-to-the-wall heavy bit and vice versa. Next we add it to live sets where it evolves some more. We’ve found the best place to do the final crafting songs is at gigs.

We produced ‘King of the Sugarcoated Tongues’ ourselves. In the studio we wanted to keep things as organic as possible so we recorded together (live) with no click. We also recorded to tape. Extra guitar parts, percussion and backup vocals were done at our home studio. Peter Schmidt mixed the record in Berlin and Ted Jensen mastered it in New York.

My lyrics are about whatever is important to me or on my mind at the time. I hadn’t had time to write fiction for a while so doing that in the context of an album was really enjoyable for me.

I found King of the Sugarcoated Tongues quite different, and somehow more catchy to my metal ears, than Living Receiver, your previous album. Do you see a rather important evolution in your music when you listen to these two albums?

Definitely. It was written in 2008 - our sound has changed a lot since then. We still enjoy playing songs from ‘Living Receiver’ at shows but ‘King of the Sugarcoated Tongues’ is where we’re at now. Hopefully we’ll be somewhere different for the next album too. No point in making the same record twice.

You made the decision to give away the entire album for free on the internet, unveiling new tracks every few weeks. Why such an approach?

We want to get our music in front of as many new ears as possible. People can download the tracks for free, and in return share them on facebook and twitter to help us spread the word. It’s working well, our fans have been really supportive.

We’re still selling the album on our webstore, iTunes and Amazon of course. People who want the sexy CD package (with some beautiful artwork by Aussie artist Divij Darbar) or a high quality download with digital booklet can buy it. That’s what helps us pay the rent.

We also heard that you distributed the first album on your own label, is this still the case for the second album?

We’re completely independent and run our own record label, Honeytrap Records, which is distributed through Rough Trade in Europe.

Isn't it difficult for you to handle the business aspects of things, like running a label, and keeping the artistic part focused on the good stuff?

Hell yes. I’ve been managing the band for five years now and I’m still figuring out how to balance it all. You just have to put aside time to be creative each day, no matter how busy things get. Being on the road full-time makes it harder too, mobile internet is our best friend. You just have to do the best you can. The business is there to let us be musicians, not the other way around. You have to make time to be an artist otherwise there’s not much point.

Do you manage to write new material while on the road, packed in your old VW van?

We’re always writing, in hotel rooms, backstage at shows, in Berlin on our days off. There will be another album coming next year but right now we’re focusing on touring ‘King of the Sugarcoated Tongues’.

Aren't you home sick?

It’s hard. In the last eighteen months we’ve seen our families and friends in Australia for a total two weeks. Touring is a great adventure which helps keep us distracted but yes, it’s hard.

What's next for The Sunpilots?

We’re doing mostly festivals over summer, then heading back to Australia for three weeks in September. When we get back we’ll be starting our biggest European tour so far: 6 months, the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia and Poland. We’ve also decided to give up our flat in Berlin and live on the road for these six months. We’re thinking of calling it the gypsy tour. It’s possible we’ll kill each other, but living together for two years has been good training so I think we’ll manage ok.
After that, we’ll be heading to North America.

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