Interview: Sinking Suns
The lyrics are a direct reflection of what I see going on around me at the time and there was a lot of bleak negativity going on when this album was written.
Noise rock trio Sinking Suns have just released their latest album Dark Days and it’s a full on negative blast to the senses that is perfect for the times we have found ourselves living in. Gavin Brown caught up with all the members of Sinking Suns, Dennis Ponozzo (vocals / bass guitar), Scott Udee (guitar) and Gabe Johnson (drums) to talk about Dark Days, live shows, the music of their hometown of Madison, Wisconsin and a whole host of noise rock related topics.
E&D: Your latest album Dark Days has just been released. What has the reaction to it been like so far?
Dennis: The reaction has been very good. I think this is our best and most accomplished release to date and most of the feedback we’ve received up to this point has seemed to confirm that.
E&D: Is the albums title a reflection of what has gone on around the globe over the past few years?
Dennis: Most definitely. We’ve all been living through some dark days over the past few years. The title actually came from a song that didn’t make the final cut on the album. That song was related to a very specific dark day in my life but it seemed to generally describe the current times we’re living in pretty well so we went with it as the title of the album.
E&D: Can you give us a bit of an insight into what some of the songs on Dark Days are about?
Dennis: Well…for example, two songs deal directly with modern technology and the negative affects that come with it. ‘Asleep By The Fire’ is an allegory on being distracted by smart phones and social media as the world seemingly burns down around us and those who take advantage of it all while we’re distracted by all of the bullshit. ‘Plastic Animals’ is a critique of all of the general fakeness and dishonesty that comes with the modern techcentric world.
E&D: Do you find that despite having something of a bleak and negative outlook with your music and lyrics, there is still a hopeful side to the music of Sinking Suns?
Dennis: Honestly? No. Not on this album at least. Some of the darkness is presented with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour but the instrumental songs are about as hopeful as it is going to get on this release. The lyrics are a direct reflection of what I see going on around me at the time and there was a lot of bleak negativity going on when this album was written.
E&D: Was making the album a cathartic experience for you at all?
Dennis: Finally releasing it definitely was cathartic. It was a LONG time coming. We normally work pretty slowly to begin with, but with Covid, supply chain delays and everything else on top of all of that, slowing the entire process down even more, finally holding this record in my hand was a big moment.
Scott: Yeah it was, especially with everything going on right now, and at the time we were recording no one can deny their world got turned upside down. I think just being in Sinking Suns is cathartic and a way to express what can’t be said with words all the time.
Gabe: Yes. 2020 until now was not only a trying time for our country (pandemic, social unrest, etc.), but also a wild time for me personally – in the last two years my family and I bought a new house and we had our second son, so being in a heavy band like this is a great way to take a break from it all and convert some of that stress into creative energy.
E&D: What have been the biggest influences on Dark Days, both musically and beyond?
Gabe: Musically it’s the usual suspects, the torch bearers over the decades for heavy, noisy, otherwise intense music: Jesus Lizard, Six Finger Satellite, Shorty, Dazzling Killmen, Killdozer, Helmet, just to name a few of my all-timers. I’m inspired to push against all the chickenshit, boilerplate, corny, boring music you hear everywhere you go – especially frustrating is all the folk and newgrass we’re subjected to, especially in Madison – because I know there’s many of us out there who just want to rock. Beyond music I wouldn’t say there’s much in the way of influence – one thing I’ve always liked about playing in this band is that it tends to be almost totally about the music. The work ethic and focus has always been there. As I mentioned above the mundaneness and stress of everyday life provides plenty of aggressive energy for me.
Dennis: As far as the music goes, I agree with Gabe on this. When it comes to the lyrics, I’d say I was influenced by all of the general craziness going on in the world and day to day life over the past handful of years. Everything from the good to the bad to the hilarious and the tragic. We’re living in crazy times.
Scott: We’ve always been across the spectrum of art and rock n’ roll. Such as garage, psych, punk/hard-core and visual media elements of American culture such as westerns, sci-fi, history, conspiracy, paranormal, the unknown etc… The music to me tends to be observant and absorbed in all of those elements and the surroundings of everyday life and our current state of “reality.” This album isn’t any different in the process. We always come up with ideas and land on sounds we like to fit the overall landscape. Whether it be with the instruments or the music itself to the actual physical elements of the recording process.
E&D: Did you feel any pressure following up your last album Bad Vibes and was it a smooth experience making this new album?
Scott: This was my favourite album to record and I didn’t feel any pressure because we had a lot of time to work on it. Slow and steady is how we got it done. We came up with a lot of ideas “in the studio” after the songs were written and pulled some things out of the archive of demos and jams we haven’t released to use on the record.
Dennis: There was zero pressure other than the usual pressure to do our best. As far as the experience of making the album, it was the typical routine. The only difference was we took a lot more time to do it than we previously had.
Gabe: We’ve always been (relatively) slow workers, that’s just how things go for us. We don’t like to feel like we’re forcing any tracks, and if we don’t like songs we’ve been known to throw them in the trash. So no, no pressure – we just want to record songs we’re happy with. I think it did go very smoothly in terms of the creative process this time – I think this is our best album yet and part of that feeling is knowing that I like every song on it.
E&D: How have your recent live shows gone and what have some of the highlights been?
Scott: Playing No Coast in Denton, TX was really fun because we got to play in front of a lot of people and meet and hang with Chris-X for the first time. He’s been supportive of the music since Death Songs. We also got to hang with Chieftail who is also on Reptilian Records. Those guys were fun to kick it with
Gabe: Our last two live shows were here in Madison and basically THE two independent rock bars, and both went very well. The vibe I got was that people have been clamouring for a return to live music and a return to normalcy generally. The energy was very positive and celebratory. We played in Texas at the No Coast Fest in October which may have been an all-time live highlight for us – being able to play with so many like-minded bands with so many like-minded fans was a really affirming experience.
E&D: Have you been playing a lot of material from Dark Days and how has it gone down?
Gabe: Yes, at least half the set consists of new songs. We hadn’t had the chance to play many of these songs live and I like all of them, so it’s been great. People are receiving them well. They’re among some of the faster-paced stuff we’ve worked on and in a live setting that stuff tends to fire people up.
Scott: Yeah the response is good, we have been opening with ‘Cobwebs’ and it seems to kick off the show well. We’ve also been playing ‘Monsters’, ‘Savage Moments’, ‘Artificial Sun’ and ‘Triangles’ if the mood seems right
E&D: What are your plans for live shows for the rest of the year?
Dennis: We plan on getting back to our usual schedule of playing out locally every 2-3 months while throwing in some regional shows. We hope to get up to Minneapolis and maybe down to Chicago at some point.
E&D: What have been the most memorable shows that Sinking Suns have ever played?
Scott: Chrome here in Madison. They were awesome live and supportive of our music. Helios Creed is a really easy guy to talk to and we got to hang with all them before they took off on the road. That was pretty surreal as 3rd Album and Red Exposure had a significant influence on how I approach playing music and I know Dennis and Gabe have always been big Chrome/Helios fans too.
Gabe: Opening for Chrome in Madison was awesome. The type of show you’d never expect to see let alone play in. I interacted a little with Helios Creed, which was of course a little intimidating (it’s always weird meeting your heroes), but he was very nice and complimentary of us. Mentioned something about an “energy flowing through” us. I’ll take it!
Dennis: Playing with Helios Creed and Chrome was awesome. No Coast in Texas was a blast. We’ve done some random Halloween tributes which were pretty memorable. We were The Cramps one year and Scratch Acid another.
E&D: What have been some of your favourite ever live shows that you have seen and what made them so special?
Dennis: I saw some great bands at Kutska’s Hall in the 80’s in Green Bay WI as a teen. Too many to name them all but Government Issue, NOFX, Circle Jerks, Rollins Band, Fugazi were all special to me as a young kid entering the scene. Seeing the Gluey Brothers while living in Albuquerque in the 90’s was always a special and memorable time. All the Jesus Lizard shows over the years. They were probably the best live band ever in my opinion.
Gabe: Jesus Lizard around 2009, just such a well-oiled machine and an unbeatable live experience. They were a band I never thought I’d get to see (I was born in ’87 so didn’t get to see them first time around) King Crimson in Milwaukee last year – one of my all-time favourite bands and I apparently caught their last ever tour. Just a force to be a reckoned with.
Scott: Chrome, Jesus Lizard, Paper Chase, Form of Rocket, Scratch Acid, Big’n, Dick Dale, Southern Culture On the Skids, Dead Meadow…
E&D: How has your hometown of Madison, Wisconsin shaped you as a musician and the band?
Gabe: It’s a place with a very good tradition of rock music with independent venues who’ve always fostered good music scenes (and allowed a lot of great touring bands to come through). Plus we’re a college town so have a pretty steady stream of creative musicians coming through. I went to school here and was in a (crappy) band with some schoolmates, but even we got to play some shows – that can do a lot for a young musician (“Oh hey, I can do this too”).
Scott: It seems to nest and nourish bands on some level as long as they want to stay together. There’s local bars and smaller venues that keep the punk scene alive.
Dennis: I wouldn’t say the town shaped me as a musician in any way as far as I can tell but I’m sure there were things that did affect me and the band in ways we don’t necessarily realise. Living through the long Midwestern winters probably shapes your output as a band in some ways whether you realise it or not. I’m sure we’d be a very different band if we were based in a place like southern California for example.
E&D: What are your favourite bands to come from Madison, both past and present?
Dennis: Well…Killdozer of course. Droids Attack has a special place in my heart. Tar Babies. Those Poor Bastards was a band I really dug when I first moved here.
Gabe: Some of my favourites: Killdozer, Circus Lupus, Appliances SFB, Bongzilla, His and Her Vanities, Vanishing Kids, Those Poor Bastards. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the Madison bands I saw when I was younger who inspired me to get playing myself: Peaking Lights, Zola Jesus, Houndrunner, The Hat Party, Sleeping in the Aviary, and United Sons of Toil to name a few.
Scott: Killdozer, Brainerd, His and Her Vanities, Space Tugboat, Roboman, Droids Attack…
E&D: What about Wisconsin, who are some of your favourite bands to ever some out of the state?
Gabe: I’d add Milwaukee’s Die Kreuzen and Maritime to my Wisco list. Honourable mentions for some other greats: Les Paul, Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Lyle Mays, and of course Liberace.
Dennis: Die Kreuzen. Growing up in Green Bay I loved Suburban Mutilation.
Scott: Die Kreuzen.
E&D: What newer bands from Madison could you recommend for us to check out?
Scott: Daughters of St. Crispin.
Gabe: Coordinated Suicides, Czarbles, Cap Alan, Soot.
Dennis: I second Soott. Just saw them. I was impressed.
E&D: Who are the biggest influence on the sound of Sinking Suns?
Gabe: The single biggest? I’d say Jesus Lizard.
Scott: The Birthday Party, Tar, Steel Pole Bathtub, Chrome, Lubricated Goat, Hammerhead, Unsane, Jesus Lizard, Scratch Acid, Ed Hall, Big’n, Cramps, Dead Kennedys, Danzig, Killing Joke…
Dennis: Generally…Jesus Lizard. Birthday Party. Those are the two that immediately come to mind. Especially early on. But in reality there are many many influences. We have had different phases. Each song probably has a different specific influence including all of those bands Scott mentioned and more.
E&D: You previously covered ‘Exterminator’ by Unsane on a tribute album. How big of an influence are they on Sinking Suns and what are your favourite albums/tracks?
Dennis: Unsane were probably a bigger influence on me earlier on in Sinking Suns than they currently are now but I’m a big fan and always will be. I still remember buying the first self-titled cassette way back when and being blown away. It clicked with me immediately. I will always have a special place in my heart for that entire first album. Charlie Ondras was a killer drummer.
Scott: I think they are a significant influence for sure. The blistering sonic and dark melodic elements coupled with the tribal blasts and down trodden rhythms is subconsciously a part of our own music. When we wrote one of first songs ‘Bad Luck Charm’ people said it sounded like Unsane. ‘Cracked Up’, ‘White Hand’, ‘Jungle Music’, ‘Test My Faith’, ‘Only Pain, Decay’…
Gabe: I’m a fan, primarily of their earlier stuff with Ondras on drums. The Singles 89-92 is my go-to for them.
E&D: What other other artists/songs would you love to do a version of in the future?
Dennis: We’ve done a lot of covers over the years…mostly at live shows. We’ve covered everyone from Cherubs to The Cramps, Scratch Acid, Cop Shoot Cop, Ed Hall, The Ramones, Misfits, Buddy Holly, Killdozer, The Scientists, Lubricated Goat and more. We’ve recorded most of it in one fashion or another whether as part of a legit compilation or just a practice recording. I’m sure we’ll be covering more stuff in the future. It’s always fun.
E&D: What are your favourite Amphetamine Reptile releases of all time?
Gabe: Helmet – Strap It On, God Bullies – War On Everybody, and Dog Show, Helios Creed – Boxing the Clown, Hammerhead – Into the Vortex, Lubricated Goat – Plays the Devil’s Music, The Dope, Guns n Fucking comps are awesome.
Scott: Helios Creed – Kiss to the Brain, Tar – Jackson, Hammerhead – Duh the Big City, Love 666 – American Revolution, Halo of Flies – Music for Insect Minds, Lubricated Goat – Paddock of Love, Boss Hog – Cold Hands.
Dennis: Hammerhead – Duh, the Big City and Into The Vortex are both favourites of mine. I melted my brain to Helios Creed Kiss To The Brain in the early 90’s. Music For Insect Minds by Halo Of Flies. The Unsane stuff. The Helmet releases. Tar. Cosmic Psychos. So much great music.
E&D: What do you want to achieve with Sinking Suns in the future?
Dennis: I just want to keep creating music with these guys as long as we can. We’ve been a 3-piece since 2009 and have had some fun times and have created some enjoyable music. I’d like to keep the train rolling until it falls off the tracks whenever that may be.
Gabe: At least another LP and a bunch more shows. I try to focus on the fun I’m having in the present. That seems to have worked for us for 13+ years.
Scott: Keep writing, recording and playing shows.