Listening to Sun Araw is like taking a magic carpet ride through a humid swamp land, surfing over the Pacific. and then safely landing on some sand dunes in the middle of the desert. Does that make sense? Just listen to “Horse Steppin’,” a tribute to Neil Young, for clarification. The one-man project is fronted by Cameron Stallones, a psyched-out Californian dude who blends textures rough as sand with radiant sunbeams of melody. After the jump, read our Q+A with Cameron about his trip to SXSW, warm weather and finding the right groove.
Download: Sun Araw, “Horse Steppin’”
I know you were just in Austin for SXSW. How did the shows go? How did it feel to leave California and play outside of your comfort zone for the first time?
The shows were really great. I was glad that people seemed receptive, that’s always a pleasant surprise. Austin is my hometown, so it was weird in a way because I was bringing something so conceptual and personal into these places I hadn’t been to since I moved to California. It was a completely positive experience, but at the same time I spent a lot of time in the back of this van with like ten other people quietly plummeting down this nostalgia-spiral, having really intense sense-memories.
Your stuff has a beachy, outdoorsy feel to it—do you think living in Southern California, and being around warm weather all the time has had any impact on your music?
Well there is some mad heat in Austin too, so I don’t think that warm California weather really inspires my sound. For me, the music flows from general thoughts and vibrations of the season, actual and spiritual. The first album I did called “The Phynx,” was deep in a Syd Barrett, Skip Spence, kind of heavy winter hardwood zone. But things loosened up and got all wiggly on “Beach Head.” I was listening to a lot of Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of Vampires and Super Ape then, kind of meditating in those zones, trying to stretch some ideas over those shapes.
After seeing you live, I noticed that your music sounds really different than it does recorded. On record, everything feels a bit more droney and spaced out, but in a live setting the music has an upbeat vibe, and it’s very engaging. Do you think there is any real distinction between the ways in which you present these songs in a live setting?
For a while, I was never planning on playing live. I’m in a band called Magic Lantern, it’s a five piece psych-rock band, so that kind of overflows my need for live performance. Sun Araw started because I wanted to explore some other territories and I wanted to do something that was more streamlined. Having that many minds in a room is a gift, but it takes a lot of inertia to get it moving. A few of my friends convinced me to try and work some of the Sun Araw stuff out live, so I had to go back to the recordings and strip them down to their essentials. I asked my best friend William, who also plays guitar in Magic Lantern, to sit in with me on keyboards live, trying to keep it as minimal as possible. The records are mostly about the vibrations, and live it’s about feeling good.
Do you and William write and record together?
Sun Araw recordings are purely solo, with a few exceptions. I write all the songs and record them, usually starting with a single point and trying to build it into a resonance. William is an integral part of the live thing though. After I’ve recorded a song, I’ll make cassette loops of the rhythm and bass tracks, and we’ll jam on it, to see what instrumentation is covering the essentials. That’s the joyful part, just buddies movin’ to a groove.
You also design the artwork for your releases. How does it feel to have full control of what the art will look like? Is there a certain vibe that you are attempting to portray with the art?
To be honest, doing my own artwork is kind of maddening. It’s always the last part of the process, and up to that point you’ve spent so much time inside those jams, turning them over and over, that assigning visuals seems kind of reductive, even though it’s totally important. I try not to illustrate or show the whole situation. You want the art to be an expansive force, so I look for a portion that can turn the floodlights on and light the whole thing up.