Northern Transmissions chatted with A Sunny Day In Glasgow members Ben Daniels and Jen Goma. The band’s new album Sea When Absent is now out on Lefse. They play tonight in Boston, MA at Great Scott.
Northern Transmissions: Was it difficult recording Sea When Absent, considering the geographical challenges of the band?
Ben Daniels: Yes.This was clearly not a normal or ideal situation for making a record, but it did create interesting ideas. Also, it forced us to be disciplined. This record took 2 and a half years to make, but I think it may have actually taken longer if there wasn’t the distance.
Jen Goma: Yes, interesting results are a thing to walk away from this process with. It would have been a totally different album had we done it any other way. But, it’s funny to think what ways it would’ve been different. I guess mathematically, if we handled this distance with the same charm and wit of the characters in You’ve Got Mail the album would have taken 8 years.
NT: Did you have a bit more financial leeway on the album? Scribble Mural Comic Journal was made on a pretty tight budget.
BD: Ha, yeah, SMCJ was made for essentially $0 because i was broke. We did initially budget more money for this record than any other, but we also seriously under-budgeted for making an album in a professional studio. We VERY quickly blew through a budget twice that of Ashes Grammar’s budget. Our fans truly saved the day in our Kickstarter campaign. We had no label when making Sea When Absent, so no label support. I feel like ‘poverty’ or ‘being broke’ should be listed as a band member because s/he plays a huge role in our music.
JG: It sucks when the money runs out, it sucks out loud. But, I’m glad we never had an email thread titled “The Money is Gone, It’s Over.” The brokeness didn’t kill the album, and that’s great news.
NT: Did having the opportunity to work with producer Jeff Ziegler (Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs) make the technical side of the process a bit easier?
BD: Yes and no. There’s probably no short answer to these questions, but without a doubt, Jeff has amazing gear and he knows how to use it. Recording in that environment was wonderful. I could write an essay about how beautiful his acoustic guitar recorded through his Neumann mic sounds, so all of that was wonderful. But, I ultimately mixed the majority of the record and the technical translation for that to happen was tricky.
JG: Right, for certain things he’d done before it was a lot of easier but, there were a lot of things none of us had done before on this record.
NT: You guys haven’t hit the road in a long time, are you excited to get out and play the new songs?
BD: Absolutely. A little scared too, but mostly just excited. We had our first rehearsal in a while today and it was great. We all like each other a lot as well, so it’s just nice to spend a lot of time with each other, even though I am sure by the end we will be ready for time apart.
JG: We’re all so excited to play together again and see how these new songs sound live. We’re trying out a lot of new stuff in practice right now so, we’ll see what works out! And yeah, it’ll be nice to play this music together and just be hanging out in real time. But a month in tour time is probably equal to 2.5 years in internet time. I just checked that math and that is totally not right but it feels right.
NT: Some people have described Sea When Absent as the band’s most accessible album to date. Is this something you would agree with?
BD: I’m really not sure. I don’t have perspective on the album yet. While mixing the record, I’ve listened to it hundreds of times. You get a little lost in that. I’ll need to re-visit next year to have a definite answer on that.
JG: Yeah, I guess all we can notice is that more people seem to be accessing it? I feel like we’d have to do some jaywalking to know the true answer to your question.
NT: The song “Bye Bye Big Ocean, (The End), is a bit of a devastating song. What was the song inspired by?
BD: This is another question without a short answer, but one of the things I personally wanted to explore with this record was a lot of ideas I have for a science fiction novel. I hesitate to put too much importance on this aspect of the record, because there’s a lot in here and the sci-fi idea was more of a helpful framework for me than a “concept”. But, this song is essentially the end of the story, or one of the stories in my novel idea. I’ve set it in a spot in Sydney, overlooking the ocean, and it’s kind of singing to the ocean. There’s also maybe a hint of Peter Weir’s “The Last Wave” in there.
Jen: And, to take a step back from the story of the song to the story about making the song: I remember listening to early demos while taking the bus down to Philly and that drive, in winter especially, is like a long, ambient movie about nothing. I also remember an instance walking around in NYC and turning my head really quickly. Ben would share these ideas he was having about the song and it’s great when someone else’s ideas affect your landscape. This spot in Australia overlooking the ocean was so far away in my imagination and I don’t have a strong history with science fiction. That’s a topic Ryan, Ben and Josh definitely bro down on more than me. I remember pretty specifically Ben’s ideas influencing me because I just never would have been thinking about that stuff. I had these futuristic fables in my head as my own bastardized version of what science fiction is, and this Australian ocean on top of my own ideas about what was going on. I think we were all picturing very different oceans even though we were writing for this single ocean in the song. That made for a really interesting landscape, I think. Ideas about ideas that, when laid on top of each other, make for a pretty insane hologram. That’s how holograms work, right?
NT: Which five albums are still inspiring you?
BD: This answer would change hour to hour, but right now I’ll say:
1. Joni Mitchell – Blue
2. jj – no 2
3. Nirvana – In Utero
4. Magnetic Fields – Wayward Bus / Distant Plastic Trees
5. Led Zeppelin – IV
JG: It does change all the time, but this year: and I think Ryan can get behind me on No.1
1. Sunday in the Park with George – Stephen Sondheim
2. Pet Sounds- Beach Boys
3. Jailbreak- Thin Lizzy
4. Arthur Russell- Calling Out of Context
5. Graceland- Paul Simon