Listen to the live interview Episode #455 Behind The Music with Jacqueline Jax : http://tobtr.com/9933709
GETTING TO KNOW ANIMAL SUN
by Jacqueline Jax host of A.V.A Live Radio
Steven Alton: Lead Vocals/Guitar
Jonathan Harris: Vocals/Guitar
Casimir Olko: Bass
Will Alton: Drums
We’ve certainly had our good days and bad days. We’ve played several prominent venues within our own state and now have the opportunity to work with Rob Ulsh of Master Sound Studios. However, it was in NO means an easy road getting here. It all started last year when we met our good friend and one of our current producers, Brian Jones. Brian was an accomplished studio musician/engineer who rescued us from a bad situation with a current project at the time, and took us under his wing. Later on down the line, Brian happened to be the same man who would later introduce us to Rob Ulsh. We owe the man so much and couldn’t be happier to have him working alongside us again!
What has been interesting for me in this process is how the more we get involved in the music business the more it starts to feel like a job. Through this music isn’t always fun! We aren’t just a few friends jamming in our basement anymore. We have to treat it as a job and that means making sacrifices that probably won’t be enjoyable at the time, but will ultimately make us a stronger band and help us be where we want to be. I feel like outsiders often have this romantic view of what it means to be a professional musician. In reality it takes an absurd amount of hard work and dedication to make a professional band. We literally have put blood, sweat, and tears into where we are and where we want to be. Trying to make that transition from the “fun college band” that is just a hobby to actually making a livelihood out of it really shows a musician’s dedication to his craft. So I would definitely say, while yes having to do all the business things can suck, it is definitely worth it because I feel like through dealing with the music business we have become a tighter, and much smarter band. To put it simply, the more important decisions we have to make the better we get at making them.
I believe that there is a lot of the music business is knowing the right people. At the same time, if you are a truly talented musician, people will recognize that talent. Understanding this can be quite troublesome at times, I know I’ve felt like the music path was hopeless before, but if you keep on trying, I believe that you will be rewarded for your hard work. Sometimes the hardest thing about playing music professionally at this stage is being taken seriously, especially by your peers. I think everyone still has this mindset that we’re still that god awful Smashing Pumpkins cover band from high school–or something of the like–but I truly believe we have grown exponentially and that our debut single and upcoming EP are going to shock quite a few folks. It has also been really hard to balance music with schoolwork, especially as a science major. So much money has been put into going to school here that it would be an absolute waste of time and money to not walk out of here with at least a degree. On the other hand, there is almost no better feeling than playing your own music at shows, looking out at the crowd, and seeing everyone there having the time of their life. All that energy and joy is just absolutely inspiring. Also, piecing together a song in the studio is an awesome process and, if you’ve never tried to record anything before, do it. You certainly won’t regret it because, although it can be a grueling process, seeing the development of the piece from start to finish is a wonderful feeling. The best and most absolute pro in music is being able to do something I love with the people I love. The bonds I’ve created and the people I’ve met through playing music is something I will always cherish. We always joke about how the band is basically a family, but it’s kind of true. We can always count on each other to have each other’s backs, and we always know that each of us has each other’s best interest at heart. We also tease each other relentlessly, just like family members should do.
A few months ago, we went into the renowned Master Sound Studios to work with one of the most accomplished producers and studio engineers in the state of Virginia, Rob Ulsh. Based in Virginia Beach, Rob Ulsh has personally worked with and produced some the industry’s most prominent super stars such as: Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, Counting Crows, Prince and Depeche Mode. Needless to say, we were absolutely stunned that we even had a chance to work with him. “Around Again” was the first single we completed with Rob, and we couldn’t be more proud. It was written at a very chaotic time in our lives where we were trying to balance both music and school full time. We felt it truly captured our sense of helplessness and frantic lifestyle we couldn’t seem to escapes from. Furthermore, we wanted to convey the emotion that no matter how hard you try to make things happen for yourself, sometimes you just end up “spinning around in the end” haha. Not to be a pessimist since the song is ultimately about overcoming trying times, but still we felt it was a period that needed to be expressed in the only way we knew how; so we wrote a song about it.
I think Steven summed that one up pretty well. I don’t have much to add as far as the origin of the song, but it was kind of just a really straight forward, hard hitting pop rock song that we were going for in the studio. Something reminiscent of the sounds of popular alt rock hits back in the day from bands such as the All American Rejects, Switchfoot, etc. You can kind of hear that with the guitar tones, and the fun little stops and bends that I threw into the second verse. It all just came together in the studio very smoothly, and once we got to recording the vocals we had a pretty good idea of what types of harmonies and lyrical expression would fit the vibe.
After showing the song to people, the majority of the feedback was people saying “hey this sounds like so and so” and always name at least one of the influences that Steven and Jonny mentioned. But people always say that it also sounds like us. So it’s nice to know that we properly infused our influences into a song but still made it our own!
With “Around Again” being our first single to be released from our upcoming debut EP, we are proud to announced we have almost completed our second single and have at least two more songs in the works to be released by the end of summer 2017! All of these songs have come from a very trying point in our lives, and although we have only been “Animal Sun” for about two years now, it wasn’t really until this past year that we found our sound. Before it kinda felt like we were stumbling around a bit trying to find our bearings, but now it feels like we’re moving towards something really exciting! We want people to hear the difference of how much time and energy we put into our music sure, but above all we want our audience to feel something. Even if that emotion isn’t what the song originally intended it to inspire, art is ultimately meant to make people feel, and that’s all we can really hope for.
Steven really hit the nail on the head. I’m excited because we actually seem to have formed a musical identity for ourselves and we are constantly pushing each other to become better musicians and to come up with better music. It’s exciting to have an EP that will actually represent us and our sound. To be honest, this is the first time we have all been collectively trying to show people our music. In the past we sort of fizzled out several demos, but with this debut single we are feeling extremely proud and know it is only going to get better!
While we all met while attending Christopher Newport University in Newport News, 3/4 of our group is actually from Charlottesville, Virginia. The biggest thing Charlottesville is known for is the birth of the Dave Matthews Band during the 90’s, however, Charlottesville is also known as a starting point for the highly successful Parachute, and was even called home by James Mcnew of Yo La Tengo and Tom Peloso of Modest Mouse. Growing up here was very influential on Cazzie, Will, and I. Personally, I fell in love with the dream of becoming a rock star at the age of twelve, and although I was very young at the time, never really gave up on that dream. My younger brother Will and I started playing in bands when we were about 12 and 13 and just kept it going no matter what. Whenever a group would fail we would kind of just go, “Well onto the next!” It was during these times of transition that we would discover the most about ourselves and what kind of musicians we wanted to be. In terms of “music venues” or “cool places” to hang out, I remember everyone wanting to perform at this local coffee shop known as Mudhouse during my younger days. As we grew up though, the scene there kind of died and became less of a place for musicians to perform. We then set our sights on more legitimate local establishments such as The Ante Room, Rapture, and The Southern. So far we have only played two out of those three venues, Rapture not really supporting the alternative rock scene too much so we never reached out to them.
The Southern is certainly the biggest venue we’ve played in our hometown of Charlottesville, seeing as how they host national acts multiple times every week, but The Ante Room is by far our favorite. We have a close relationship with the owner, Jeyon, who has watched us grow from when we first started playing years ago, to where we are now. All in all, Charlottesville was a great experience for us musically, and I couldn’t be more proud to call it home. However, when we’re at school things are certainly different. For instance, we play a lot in the college scene, but there isn’t much of a music scene in the area outside of campus. We have played all over Virginia and little bit in Maryland before, but generally avoid the town of Newport News because unfortunately, the place isn’t really too great for our genre of music. I’m graduating this year and although the rest of the band has one more year left, we still plan on finishing the EP, doing some summer touring, and very much keeping the project alive for the unforeseeable future! In other words, we have a lot planned and are just getting started with this first single.
As Steven said I am also from Charlottesville and to be perfectly honest I am in love with it. The music scene is absolutely amazing and is so diverse. On any given Friday you can generally find quality concerts in any given genre. There is a really amazing outdoor concert venue called “The Sprint Pavilion” that hosts many national acts from out of town. Willie Nelson, The XX, 311, Beck, Wilco, and Old Crow Medicine Show are just a few out of the endless list of amazing acts that have performed. There is actually a really thriving jazz scene in Charlottesville too! A bunch of New York jazz players moved to Charlottesville when they got families so they are always playing. There is this small restaurant on the downtown mall called Millers that serves as their stomping grounds. It’s also a place that younger musicians go and try and gain a reputation! That’s actually where Dave Matthews got his start! He was a bartender who would participate in the open mic nights and you can see how he turned out! So all in all, Charlottesville really is a great place for a band to gain a following and establish themselves.
I agree with both Caz and Steven about what they said about growing up in Charlottesville. There is an incredibly prominent and diverse music scene in Charlottesville and it was awesome to grow up in this city. Growing up you’d always hear people saying stuff like “that’s where The Dave got started!” or “Coran Capshaw comes here all the time!” It was truly inspiring to grow up listening to stuff like this because it made playing music professionally seem tangible. I remember the first rock concert I ever got to see in Charlottesville–at Scott Stadium, I think. It was U2 when they were on their 360 tour with Muse opening up for them and I remember being blown away. From there on I had the pleasure of seeing countless other amazing acts and bands come through town just as Steven and Caz describe. However, it does come with some challenges in that because the music scene has produced so many class acts, it can be difficult to grab a foothold in the music scene without knowing and impressing the right people. That being said, hopefully we’ll continue to grow so we can keep writing and performing to our heart’s content.
I would love to have 5 minutes alone with…
This is a very tough question me for because it always comes back to a choice between my top three favorite artists. If I had to pick one I think I would choose the person who most musically inspired me and who just overall seems like a fun dude: Dave Grohl. I grew up on a lot of alternative music such as the Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Modest Mouse, Switchfoot, but there was never a man who has inspired me more than Dave Grohl has. The man was in two LEGENDARY bands, helped create an entire new genre of music, and wrote more hits than a vast majority of bands in the past twenty years. He’s a seriously inspiration to me and I wouldn’t have half of the music I have today without his inspiration as a songwriter. Hopefully I get to meet him one day and thank him for inspiring me/all the great work he’s done, but hey, here’s to dreaming!
As Steven said, that’s a very hard question haha. It really is a close tie between Tom Brady and Jon Foreman of Switchfoot. Both of these people are prime examples of the utmost passion and tenacity in their respective professions. Neither were carried to their success on the backs of family legacy or money, and they have always been my biggest inspirations for taking hold of my passions for athletics (up through high school) and music since I was a young age. Brady is obviously one of, if not the most accomplished athletes of our generation, and I find Jon’s songwriting capable of striking almost every chord that identifies with my various human experiences. I would also add that Jeremy McKinnon of A Day To Remember has also had a huge impact on my passion for music, as he has always found a way to connect with others through his writing and vocal expression.
Man that is a hard question haha. Right now it would probably be the tenor saxophone player John Coltrane. I have been listening to a lot of his music especially his later music like the records like “Love Supreme” and “Meditations” and it has really helped me expand my playing and way of thinking about music. The songs are just journeys into sound where no musical idea is off limits, which often results in sheets of notes. I want to talk to him about spirituality helped him create these awe-inspiring masterpieces. For me, this is music in its purest form. The musicians are playing what they feel and trying to express a greater ideal, which in turn makes music into an idea rather than just a song. You aren’t limited to one way of playing. He is just a huge influence on me and has helped me expand my way of thinking about music and improvisation. Along with him, definitely The Beatles. I was raised on their music and truly believe they are one of the greatest bands ever. No biased whatsoever. They don’t have to be your favorite band, but I think to be a good musician, you have to recognize that they are one the greatest because of how they influenced multiple genres during the last fifty years!
If I could have 5 minutes alone with anyone in the world right now, I think it would be Thom Yorke of Radiohead. The rest of the band is probably laughing at me while reading this because I’ve been a Radiohead fan-boy ever since middle school. Thom Yorke is an absolute visionary, and his music has had a huge impact on my life. What I love most about Thom and Radiohead is how their sound is constantly evolving–drastically–and not many other world class acts can say the same. I would love to get more of his story and I think I’d like to hear his opinion on certain currents events.