By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Sleepy Sun.
Sleepy Sun of San Francisco, CA is enduring something of a long-distance relationship right now.
Their lead vocalist, Bret Constantino, made the executive decision to up and move to Austin last August with the rest of the band living in SF and they’re trying hard to make it work. Constantino felt he was being priced out of the city his band re-located to after graduating from UC Santa Cruz where they met.
It can be taxing to remember all these cities and their timeframes but imperative nonetheless to truly grasp the history of Sleepy Sun. The visual jam/blues band began in college though Constantino felt their productivity was lacking in those days, in part due to the “reputation” of vices the town has or just that college bands tend not to have such high goals for themselves. They’re past that now and though they may not all be physically in the same place, their work ethic is as strong as it needs to be to sustain what could be a long-lasting and impactful career.
BTR was able to speak with Constantino as he was coming off a recording session in Austin trying to figure out what to do with the songs.
“I think the rest of the guys are considering doing the same. It’s gotten really expensive to live in San Francisco,” he says, adding that an “opportunity sprang up to move to Austin” and he “jumped on it.”
Anyone can have those good old fashioned romantic feelings about where they called home for years but when the area becomes too expensive, you’ve got to go. Land itself has no sense of loyalty. He hints at the band’s plans to do “some email collaborations” and continuing their writing process. If anything, Constantino’s move has gotten the band to get “a little smarter” about how they budget their time for the band as opposed to days when they could always count on getting some writing done at the band house.
He also notes that this is the first time, with the exception of a semester abroad with the band’s other guitarist Evan Reiss, since he’s been in Sleepy Sun that he’s truly been out of touch with the others.
Which is strange since they used to be in such close proximity.
“I used to think that was important to the songwriting process, being completely immersed in each other’s face but that doesn’t last forever. You spend enough time with each other in a van and you desire some time apart which is good. I think [living in a band house] worked really well, we wrote Fever while we were living together so I think it worked really well for us. As you grow older, everyone matures in different ways, you get girlfriends and you can’t live in the dude house anymore,” says Constantino on Sleepy Sun’s former living accommodations.
Sleepy Sun began when Constantino and Reiss met each other at an “intramural basketball group meeting kind of thing” at UC Santa Cruz. The two started to get friendly over talks about music and shortly after, arranged their first session where they wrote their first song. Upon first playing out, they limited themselves to the confines of the “house party” type of band (think Loveburger in Can’t Hardly Wait). He says they eventually branched out and wrote more “spacious songs.” They played parties but never really achieved any kind of “college rock” success, and only started to really get serious once when they graduated.
He points to a band’s “point of maturity” and “lack of responsibility” that can keep them insulated in the town in which they attend class. He says he gets a nostalgic feeling every time he comes back to Santa Cruz, missing the times when “things were easier and less complex.” Especially in Santa Cruz, he says, “you basically take a hike through the Redwoods to each class.”
Santa Cruz has a certain reputation that falls right in line with the more material influences of psych-rock, but just how closely do Sleepy Sun identify with that part of the Santa Cruz lifestyle?
While low-grade hallucinogens may not define the scene, Constantino says that he thinks “that was definitely an influence though for some of us; for me especially. I think any art that has the power to move people can be easily related to psychedelic substances. That’s definitely an easier and quicker way to achieve that kind of movement in that realm of consciousness. That’s ultimately what I try to do with the music is reflect that movement.”
“Sometimes it can be used as a tool. I’ve learned that if you’re careful you can jump into that zone with the help of certain substances. It’s nothing that can be depended upon. You have to be careful, stay focused, and stay disciplined,” he continues.
Constantino brings up an interesting goal or rather, sub-goal of playing music, that he aims to recreate the feeling of experiencing psychedelic substances without actually being on them. One way the band has tried to do so is through their visual art—a sort of take on the intricate prints that can be found among your dad’s Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane records.
Though Constantino says it’s not “entirely derivative” of the Bill Graham work but that it is “important to have a visual identity.” He generally gets these ideas after the music has already been written, and he’ll have a vision. Again, not from the drugs but from the music.
Constantino is quite pleased with his band’s trajectory, speaking of their first show in San Francisco after moving there, and the “overwhelming” response as well as the praise for their first album. As for the rest of the country, it’s hard to feel truly understood by such a diverse place. In fact, he feels right at home when he plays out in Europe and Canada, but thinks that Americans are missing something about their music.
“It’s more difficult for us to reach the American audience for some reason. It’s just a different culture; just a different way of perceiving live performance and art. What’s important to American spectators is less important to European and Canadian audiences. I think that Americans are more concerned with popularity and I think they’re less able to discern what’s good themselves. Their taste seems to be more determined by the media and what’s popular. I think European audiences are a little bit more sensitive to art in its genuine flavor. They seem to be a little more supportive of that,” says Constantino.
For all our self-congratulations as American listeners, I think we can take a little constructive criticism. This seems to be the crux of Sleepy Sun’s artistic agenda-meets-social-contract with their audience: challenging the listener but only in so far as they are challenging themselves.
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Check out Sleepy Sun’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.