San Francisco’s Sleepy Sun brought their strong brand of neo-psych rock to Columbus last Friday night (2/28/14) in support of their terrific fourth album, Maui Tears (see TFN review here.) The Rumba Café near the Ohio State campus was filled to capacity and the night also featured New York newbies KDH and Cincinnati stalwarts, Buffalo Killers (who are about ready to release album number five!) It was my first time at this particular venue and, though small, seems to be run specifically to make national acts feel welcome.
I caught up with Sleepy Sun guitarist Matt Holliman during Buffalo Killer’s sound check and he agreed to answer some hard-hitting questions while manning the merch table.
TFN: So you guys go way back, right? Did all of you attend UC Santa Cruz?
Matt Holliman: All of us except our current bass player, Jack, we all went to UC Santa Cruz. And actually myself and (guitarist) Evan (Reiss) and (drummer) Brian (Tice) all lived on the same floor our freshman year. We started hanging out and ended up meeting (singer) Bret (Constantino.)
TFN: You tour a lot so have you started hating each other yet?
Holliman: It’s cyclical. It’s inevitable, especially by the end of a tour. You put five people together in a van ten hours a day, arm’s length away, for weeks at a time – it can happen, you know. But it’s not all serious. A lot of fart jokes and bad rap music!
TFN: And after four albums and all that touring, what keeps you going?
Holliman: I don’t know. Maybe there’s this unspoken goal, desire or need to play music regardless of who’s standing in front of you or how many people are there. We never wanted to be a band that puts out one record and then…
TFN: One and done?
Holliman: Exactly. At least for me, I love playing music, I love writing, I love recording.
TFN: So how did Dine Alone Records come into the picture?
Holliman: They actually got a hold of us before we recorded Maui Tears and said they were fans and said they wanted to work with us. With all of our records we pretty much just charge ahead, use all our money, record an album and if a record company’s interested, cool, they’ll pick it up but don’t sit around on our hands waiting for money to show up. We’re like: “We’ve got the money, so let’s go ahead and do it and we’ll figure it out from there.”
TFN: They’ve had some success lately breaking new bands, haven’t they?
Holliman: They have. And like I said, they were interested even before we recorded it. We ended up laying down the foundation of the tracks in January 2013, played Australia in February, came back, mixed it, sent it over to them and they were stoked to be a part of it. So we signed with them. I didn’t really know much about them until we played Canada and everyone was like, wow, you guys are on Dine Alone? They’re like one of the largest independent labels up there. They’re doing something right. They’re about business but they are also there for the bands and never force their hand on us. They have suggestions and we do try to suck up that knowledge and use their contacts and whatever. We went on tour with City And Colour, which is one of their bands, and in the States we were playing theaters, like 500 seat venues, but in Canada we were playing hockey stadiums. They’re just huge up there.
TFN: So what guitars do you bring on the road?
Holliman: I bring this Stratocaster that I bought on our very first tour. Around the time I had gotten my government tax return, we were in Milwaukee and I said: “I’m buying a Strat.” Sure enough, I walk into the store and there’s a white Strat but I’m gonna be smart about this and play them all, but I knew I wanted that one. I didn’t sound great but it felt right. So after re-fretting it and putting new pick-ups on, new tremolo system, all that – now it sounds great and I play it a lot. I’ve had it five years now and play it everyday.
TFN: Do you and Evan talk about Fender versus Gibson, who’s playing what, because a lot of you guys’ guitar work really compliments each other?
Holliman: Not really. After Brian, Evan and Jack do some live basic tracks we kind of go back and do whatever the song calls for. I go back and do overdubs. A lot of the time Evan will be using the Telecaster he’s had since college. And whatever producer we’re using will give us suggestions on what’s working and what’s not. When we were recording Spine Hits with Dave Catching (QOTSA) he would bring down all this vintage gear and it was such a cool thing to have such a well-spring of great stuff and it can be a little self-indulgent like: “Of course I’ll play this 1960’s Les Paul” and all that. But it all depends on what the track needs.
TFN: Who’s got the bigger pedal board?
Holliman: Me. By far. I collect effects pedals. It’s really a stupid hobby. I’ve got drawers and drawers. Some work well live and other are for the studio only.
TFN: “My Blood Ain’t Runnin Right” or “Come To My Party” / Do you ever feel yourself leaning more one direction – more straight up rocking versus horn filled soul?
Lewis: We wrote this stuff and it is us – we don’t try to stick to any one thing and try to do what sounds good – before we tried to stick to a format but this new style is better for me!
TFN: We can turn this into a gearhead segment! What are you running through?
Holliman: I’m running through an Orange OR-50 head and the cab is an Avatar 4-12 I got while they were still a smallish company with Celestion V30’s in it. Our last tour I was playing with that and a Twin Reverb for the clean tones and the Orange for the dirtier stuff and that was fantastic but I blew the Fender amp so now I’m just going with the Orange with a reverb pedal clone. For now. I constantly cycle through gear. But I think I’ve got enough and I don’t want to add any more pedals – I’m tap-dancing enough already with my pedal board. It’s ridiculous!
TFN: Do you read reviews? I mean, you got slammed pretty hard in Rolling Stone.
Holliman: I do read them but it doesn’t bother me. Spine Hits got hammered too and I think it’s a good record too.
TFN: What’s your favorite Black Sabbath album?
Holliman: Oh, God. (brief pause) Volume IV.
TFN: That is the correct answer, by the way.
Holliman: I don’t know. I say that among friends and get immediately criticized for it. Every single Sabbath album has great moments on them. I saw them like five months ago on their reunion tour and initially I wasn’t all that stoked about it because they had a squabble with Bill Ward.
TFN: I thought the squabble was because Ward can’t drum worth a damn anymore.
Holliman: I’ve heard a handful of other reasons. I saw them in Palo Alto, East Bay, you know, and it was amazing.
(drunk fan steps in and asks the question I vowed I would never ask)
DF: What are your influences?
Holliman: The bigger influences on me when I was learning how to play guitar were Hendrix, Iommi, Gilmour, Page. All those 70’s bands were really influential to me. I listen to a lot of current stuff but even today I go back and learn from those guys, trying to figure out how they did it.
TFN: Such a good call. I grew worshipping Gilmour and Steve Howe.
Holliman: Steve Howe from Yes? Wow. I was just listening to Relayer. They are such a weird band. There are certain aspects of Yes that I never clicked with but to be able to produce those kind of records is really unique.
TFN: Do you believe in aliens?
Holliman: Yeah, of course. Space is such a big place it seems unlikely that we’re alone.
TFN: Congratulations on a terrific album. Maui Tears is pretty great and I hope it makes some year end lists.
Holliman: Well if it doesn’t we’ll just record another one and see where that takes us.
Thanks again to Matthew Hollliman, Dine Alone Records and Crash Avenue Media. Maui Tears from Sleepy Sun is out now.
Sleepy Sun Website
Sleepy Sun Facebook
-Interview by Scot Lade