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Where Is My Mind?: Sun Airway's Jon Barthmus

- by Dianca Potts, Adam G. & Q.D. Tran

OK, let’s get all the “rising from ashes of The A-sides” and the “flying and taking flight” references out of the way. Sun Airway, the new “bedroom/basement” project turned full band from former A-siders Jon Barthmus and Patrick Marsceill, is already creating quite a buzz with their most excellent up coming debut Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier. The album’s official release is tomorrow Oct. 26 on Dead Oceans, and we think this one is going to take Sun Airway to many places (hopefully one of them is Japan). We had a chance to catch up with Barthmus on the phone last week before he headed off for his national tour, which opens tomorrow night in Pittsburgh with Bear in Heaven. Check out where his passion for music came from, what’s behind that interesting album title, and plenty of other things that we were just wondering!

The Deli: How did things get started for Sun Airway?

Jon Barthmus: Patrick and I have been playing for years in a band called The A-sides and that had kind of run its course, everyone else quit and we were kind of deciding if whether we should go on or if we should start something new ‘cause we both still wanted to play, and I had kind of been working with some different music and some different sounds so I thought it made sense to just start fresh.

TD: Tell us a bit about how Sun Airways went from unsigned to Dead Oceans.

JB: I guess it happened how it usually happens for people. We had our album all recorded and we kind of just sent it around to as many people as possible and then I think it helped when we started to get a little press from it and the guy at Dead Oceans realized he had the record sitting in his hard drive but hadn’t opened it yet, so he opened it and liked it and got in touch and came to see us at our first show in Philly and yeah that’s how that worked out.

TD: While growing up, how did you get into music (as a listener/fan, musician/band)?

JB: I’ve always been inclined towards music. I started playing the piano when I was five-years-old. I think it was largely because my sister plays and I always liked sitting and listening to her and I wanted to be able to do the things that she was doing so I guess that’s how I got into music.

TD: On your Facebook page for the band, the following words are listed under “personal interests”: integration and disintegration. How would you say those terms, if at all, relate to or capture the intention of your music?

JB: I guess the integration is just referring to holding all these different influences and various samples and kind of curating a sound pallet of them. Disintegration is referring to the kind of intentional degradation of sound and the sometimes accidental lo-finess of everything.

TD: Your lyrics include numerous references to the sky and the moon in particular. How did your lyrical focus come to be? Was that intentional or is it just coincidental? Also, the albums title suggests night with Nocturne, as do the mentions of the moon. Did you happen to write your lyrics more at night than in the day?

JB: “Infinity” was the first thing I wrote for the record and there was a line about moonlight hours and then I found the moon and the night very evocative and I was reading a lot of books that kind of had strong imagery like that too and sometimes these things just kind of, it seems like the universe is trying to tell you something so I just kept going with it and I wanted to have a cohesive album experience so once I started getting on that track I kind of intentionally was writing about it just so in the end everything would be tied together. I guess, it’s easier for me to focus at night when there’s less going on and when it makes more sense.

TD: I read that some of the Sun Airway songs were intended to be A-Sides songs. Did any of those make the album? How was it translating the sound from more straightforward indie rock to more of a lush astro-pop sound?

JB: Almost all of them would have been A-side songs. I think I had all of them demoed except for “Waiting On You” before we even really planned Sun Airway. So I do have demos of them somewhere with more traditional instrumentation so really when we started recording them for Sun Airway it was more about figuring out what sounded cool and what kind of things we could put together and just how to build each song.

TD: When writing lyrics for Sun Airway, did you take a different approach than you did with The A-Sides?

JB: Yeah, I mean I guess I can say, not that it’s like such a concept album, you know, but it was more trying to have the whole album kind of go together and flow from song to song. So I guess it’s just different because this album is the next project and I guess for the next one I’ll take a different approach again and try something else.

TD: You’ve been compared to many different bands in write-ups, particularly Animal Collective. Do you have any favorite artists that you’ve been compared to? Are there any that you don’t get?

JB: I feel like people don’t mention Brian Eno enough, because he was kind of the main reason I’m making electronic music at all. Also a big influence on just my trying to get into samples and loops and that sort of thing was Manitoba’s Up Into Flames, which is now Caribou. Yeah, I don’t know, the song writing was probably more influenced than anything by 60s and 70s pop, a lot of Electric Light Orchestra and George Harrison solo stuff. You never hear that stuff come up, a lot of people just say Animal Collective, which I get from a production value stand point but not from a song writing standpoint.

TD: How would you describe your music? Comparatively or just in general?

JB: I guess I’m okay with the way other people are describing it as kind of spacey…a term that I didn’t know existed “bliss-pop” seems to come up every now and then which, sure, I guess that sounds good. I’ve never been good at describing my own music.

TD: Who are your musical influences lately? Did any specific artist influence your new sonic approach?

JB: No one in particular…Mostly I try to listen to as much random weird stuff from the past as possible to just pull various sounds that I can use in the future. I’m looking more for up coming stuff, I’m looking more towards using bits and pieces of classical music, and more classical instrumentation.

TD: How do you think the Philly music scene has shaped/influenced Sun Airway?

JB: I don’t know. I never wanted to really sound local to anywhere, even though I think a lot of people thought The A-sides had a lot in common with the Philly sound. I always wanted to sound like you could never place exactly where it was coming from or when it was coming from. I would say that Philly has definitely shaped how the live band has come together just because of all the musicians that are around and that the bunch of fellows that I have working on it are all kind of all adding their own to it.

TD: What are the best and worst parts about going from a full touring band to essentially a bedroom project?

JB: The best part is being able to work on it whenever I want and not have to depend on anyone else, and if I have a couple hours I can go into my basement and record some music, you know? Something I can actually use and release…I guess I’m kind of getting the best of both words because then I have a five-piece live band so I’ve been getting to have all the fun of playing in a band again and now we’re going out on tour in about a week.

TD: Did you ever consider trying to continue as The A-Sides or did you feel that you needed a change?

JB: We definitely considered it, but more than anything we definitely did feel like it would be better to get a fresh start and just change because even with the two A-side albums, they’re so different from each other and rather than do that again and do something else completely different, we just thought we should start over.

TD: This is the first project that you’ve recorded on your own. What did you find to be the greatest obstacles in the process?

JB: The greatest obstacle was recording anything besides vocals and making it sound good. We tried to record some live drums and mix those in with the electronic drums, but we couldn’t get anything to sound right and I guess we were a little impatient so we just gave up, so really the only thing that was recorded with the microphone was the vocals.

TD: Which tracks are specifically significant to you? Which could be considered your favorites? Explain why they’re your fave.

JB: I have favorites for various reasons. “Put the Days Away” is probably my favorite just because of the transformations that it’s been through and it’s probably my favorite on the album now, but I was about to finish the album and I had a completely different version of that song that I just wasn’t happy with so I re-recorded the whole thing like a week before I finished the record and was really happy with the way it came out. And also “Waiting on You” is the most recent one that we wrote, but also the first to be recorded. We spent I think two months kind of solid recording that song, so that one, I guess that one has the most significance as far as shaping Sun Airway. But I think our favorite song that I’ve written is “Oh, Naoko”. I’m not sure why, I just like it the most.

TD: How is Sun Airway translating to a live setting? What’s the biggest challenge of recreating the songs live?

JB: It has been a crazy challenge of sitting around with these other four guys and just figuring out who can play what and how we should play, what instruments we should use, and what instruments we might need to buy and kind of build it from scratch, so it’s definitely been a process, but I’m really happy with the way it’s come out so far and it kind of keeps evolving and we kind of keep figuring out better ways to do things.

TD: What are the origins of the albums fascinatingly bizarre title Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier?

JB: The bulk of it I took from artwork by Ed Ruscha called Exploded Crystal Chandelier Headache that’s kind of just the color scheme with those words on it and I came across it and among other things I just kept writing down assorted words and phrases that I felt fit the sound of the music and just that I liked and that one stuck around. And Nocturne obliviously because its largely night based…the music.

TD: The name of your band was inspired by an old airline poster. What’s your favorite airline? What would be the coolest place to fly off on tour for you?

JB: Uhm, I really want to fly to Japan. I really, really want to tour Japan, but anywhere really sounds good. Let’s see, my favorite airline…I flew on Iceland Air last year to Iceland, and I thought that was a pretty great airline because it kind of felt like a club. It was like a lounge playing mellow Icelandic music all the time. It was pretty awesome.

TD: We love the new video! Tell us a bit about the decision process behind the video’s production and your choice to keep it local. What do you want people to take from it after watching?

JB: For the last show we partnered up with Ricardo Rivera at Klip Collective, and he made basically short videos for all the songs we were playing live for us to project while we were playing so it was kind of an understanding that when we got to make a video that he would be in charge of it. I met with him and discussed ideas for it, but really it was kind of just all him and we let him run with it so any of the creative aspects of the video are definitely his to explain, but I really love how it came out and I think it made sense even though I’m not exactly sure what the narrative literally means, you know. I do feel like it fits the song and I love the projections at the end, I think they’re beautiful. I just want people to have that kind of association with the song of just that blast of crazy color visuals which with all the stuff that Ricardo has done for the live shows has been just with these super vivid colors and I think they just fit with the music so I just want people to associate that with the music. I think it’s definitely a good start for a visual connection to the music, you know?

TD: You’ve been involved with the local music scene for years. Who are your favorite local artists right now?

JB: I really like Brown Recluse. I actually sang some guest vocals on an album they have coming out soon on Slumberland Records that’s really good. Golden Ages and CSLSX, I think they’re called…another sample-y electronic band that I just sort of met and really like their stuff. And them and Golden Ages, I’d like to trade some remixes with. Oh and Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs, all that stuff. There’s so much good music in Philly right now.

TD: What does Sun Airway have on its horizon (besides the release, of course)?

JB: We’re already talking about plans for next year, tours and whatnot. Hopefully we’ll be able to get to Europe and that sort of thing.

TD: What’s your favorite thing to get at the deli?

JB: If we’re talking Sarcone’s, I want a good vegetable sandwich that has provolone on it.

 

 

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Sun Airway
Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier