Sunset Lines Interview
Written by Allie LaRoe
Photo by Angela Romano
Like most of us, Sunset Lines went into 2020 with big plans. They had been working hard on honing their sound, they had added new members Ben Manning on Drums and Scott Smit on Bass, and they were gearing up to promote a new music video. Then, as we all know, the world shut down.
Now, celebrating the release of their latest EP, Home Anywhere (as well as their recent wedding) Liz Brooks (vocals/synths) and Paul McCorkle (Productions /Synths) sat down with us to share how they were able to overcome the challenges and re-discover their momentum to ultimately get their music onto your playlists.
ALLIE: It sounds like you went through some transitions as a band and were just building up momentum with a new lineup when the pandemic hit and shut everything down. How did you get and stay motivated to keep working on your music through all the challenges that were brought up?
LIZ: After the breakup of our old band, we kind of went on hiatus with just Paul and I working together. We had been writing music that we thought our previous bandmates would want to write and play. When that broke up and it was just the two of us, we came up with this new style and that's how we wrote “Phototaxis” and some of the slower softer songs.
We really got into adding more layers and synths and we've got this awesome rhythm section, Ben and Scott, who added their own flavor to what we had. That's how we formed the new Sunset Lines.
We were pretty busy recording and playing shows again, kind of gaining momentum when we played our last show in January without even knowing it. Shutdown happened and our drummer almost immediately moved back home to Atlanta. We all started working remotely to put the finishing touches on the album, but to be honest, it was hard to stay motivated those first couple of weeks.
We went to our music studio in San Francisco (where we were at the time) and we brought all of these instruments home. We didn't know how bad it was going to be. We didn't know if we were going to be able to go to our studio. We had all of these instruments crammed into our apartment and we're like “Oh my god, we're going to be so productive for the next few months!” And we weren't. At all.
PAUL: I think we were hyper-productive for like a week and a half because we thought it was just going to be a three month thing. Then, as more and more data and more and more news came out, we started to realize it was going to be a lot longer than three months. That zapped so much energy from us initially, like after that first week and a half or two week period.
It’s been something we've been kind of battling through, and we're coming out on the other side of it now. We were fortunately able to at least have the momentum to finish all the songs on the record and everything. But we had a period of time of extended months where we were, like, “maybe we just play video games instead.”
LIZ: Yeah, there was this period of no productivity at all and then we realized, “We have to finish this album. We have to put it together and put it out there.”
ALLIE: How did working remotely change the recording process? What part of Home Anywhere are you particularly proud of, or just felt really good to make?
LIZ: We just had so much time that we went back and revisited some of the songs. “Easy to Offend,” the last song on the record, we ended up completely redoing and did the vocals in a different style. We did end up writing a new song for the record, “Read the Whole Room.”
In the song I think I say “130 days and what hell we raised” because that's how many days we were in the pandemic, and at that point it was during all the protests and everything that was going on.
One of the best parts of this album was that we were able to record it ourselves in our own studio. As a vocalist, I was able to take takes until I was blue in the face so we could get that perfect one. It’s not something that we've been able to do before, because prior to that we were in these studios where you’re paying a bunch of money for a set amount of time, just trying to get the best takes you can.
So recording in our own studio let us live with those songs and do what we truly wanted to do with them. It was, at least for me, the first time I've ever been able to do that as a musician so that was really an eye opening experience and I don't think I'd go back to doing it any other way
PAUL: For me, the song “Unresponsive,” was kind of that moment. Liz writes all of our songs and is an amazing songwriter, but we'll go in and then the two of us will work and figure out how we make it sound like a Sunset Lines song. How do we make it sound like what we want it to sound like?
And [“Unresponsive”] for whatever reason wasn't clicking. We were working on it and just weren't getting the right feel. We'll still try everything with a full band just because it's, you never know what's going to happen when you bring it in front of additional people. So we brought it in front of the other two band members and we started playing it and all of a sudden it took on this whole life of its own. It was a really exciting moment where, all of a sudden we've got this song that sounds even, like, pop-ier than what we normally write. It was so cool having two other musicians come in and really influence the way that it went. Kind of coming in with one thing, and then leaving with something that was completely different.
ALLIE: Was there any music from other artists that influenced you and inspired you that you lean on in hard times? Did any of that influence the creation of this album?
LIZ: I think. I think for me, at least from a singer-songwriter perspective Angel Olsen is somebody who I always kind of fall back on for inspiration. She just puts out great music, that is, again, I don't like to say “sensitive” or anything like that; it's just, you know what she's writing about, It matters and that has really influenced me. So I've definitely gone back [and listened to her music] and also some of the recent music that she's put out. And of course always and forever, Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks.
PAUL: She’s the primary songwriter. Obviously her answers carry more weight than mine, but I think for me in terms of production and getting the sounds and kind of vibe, I always like to revisit some of the more 80’s oriented influences that we have. Like, Echo and the Bunnymen and Tears for Fears. Things like that. I tend to hone in on one or two synth sounds and then I'll go listen to records like that, that have really rich production. Just going back and hearing how creative people like that are, and how many different sorts of textures and sounds they get when I'm locked in my box is always something that's really inspirational to me. I like hearing, you know, how they kind of approach things.
LIZ: To piggie-back off that, I totally forgot but during, like, the harder times of the pandemic I was listening to a lot of Bonnie Tyler, which is a thing that comes up during certain parts of the record. I know that that was also a huge influence on me during that time as well, just to, you know, go back to those 80s references.
ALLIE: So, you two just got married recently, as well!
LIZ: Yeah! It did actually just happen. We were supposed to get married back in January.
We met on Craigslist! I answered his ad for the first band that we were in together (they were looking for a keyboard player) and we just kind of clicked immediately.
We had a lot of fun in that band, but it imploded pretty quickly. We walked away from that realizing that we work really well together as friends and musicians, and that very quickly evolved into our personal relationship as well.
So that has always played a huge factor in our songwriting and in the way that we work together as partners, both musically and not. Sometimes that could bleed over a little bit negatively, I think.
You know sometimes you carry some of those discussions from practice home with you, or vice versa. But I think that that's something that we always navigated pretty well.
PAUL: And I think we're able to navigate it well enough that it has never made the band uncomfortable. That's important.
ALLIE: Did it help having this EP to work on? You were having to quarantine together I would imagine. That's a lot of time together.
LIZ: A lot of times together, especially because we both work from home, too.
Just speaking for me, I think it's really nice to have this separate project to work on to kind of take ourselves out of our day to day lives. I kind of think it also just makes the relationship a little bit more fun at times, just having this whole completely different side of our relationship that's not necessarily romantic or you know cooking dinner or whatever. That we get to work on and be creative and actually have that to share together, get to be on stage together. I think it's great, really. Especially during pandemic times when you're just cooking and cleaning dishes. All. Day. Long.
PAUL: I would agree. I think it's one of the coolest things. I've never been in a band before with someone that I was in a relationship with as well, but sharing the highs is really cool, like when you play a really great show or a song comes out from a recording the way that you want it to. Sharing those highs is awesome.
And I also think there's a level of trust. When you know a person beyond the band context, you can be really earnest about stuff and argue about it, but it's a healthy dialogue.
We're not as worried about offending the other person because there's there's a level of trust and we can just be like frank and forthcoming about, “This is what I think about this,” or like “I think this should be this.”
Where, especially if you're in kind of a newer band everybody's always on eggshells around each other. Trying not to offend each other. I think that's been really helpful for us.
Having the pandemic and working through a lot of the different songs and arrangements and things, it was really great to kind of have those conversations. It was also really great to have that be something we could focus on versus being locked in our apartment.
ALLIE: How are you adjusting now that things are starting to open up a bit more?
LIZ: Right now, the biggest challenge that we're facing as musicians is what we want to do with live shows, moving forward. We're still kind of trying to figure that out. I mean, we're excited for it but our drummer is in Atlanta now, and our bass player is in law school.
So we're trying to figure out what that formula is going to look like, trying to get back into that live music scene. Whether that be, perhaps, operating with drum machines moving forward, which could totally change the sound, or if we want to find new musicians.
PAUL: It's a weird adjustment period. We're trying to see if there are other folks that are like minded that want to play, you know. But even the idea of getting back into a practice space just seems weird. I think it's something we're both excited to do and hoping that in the coming months, we can start to actually find shows to play and get into a practice space and everybody can, you know, interact normally. It all feels a little strange right now.
LIZ: I think we're just excited to go to shows again.
ALLIE: When you were creating Home Anywhere did you have an impact in mind that you wanted for the listener, or something you wanted to evoke? Or was it more freestyle, just a collection of songs that were ready to go?
LIZ: I think it started off a little bit more freestyle before the pandemic when we were first starting to get things together.
As a singer, songwriter, I get a lot of fun out of writing lyrics that have a sense of duality to them. “Season of the Witch” sounds like it's about, like, depression or some type of horror movie situation, but it's actually about an abusive relationship I was in a very long time ago, but, you know, I think that's something that a lot of people do relate to.
Also “Unresponsive” sounds like a very simple song about unrequited love, but the lyrics are actually totally about how much trouble I was having trying to find a job out of college and just getting ghosted by all these potential job offers.
I think for me, it's very interesting to see what the listeners take away from it. I think we've all heard lyrics that we feel are pertinent to something that we're going through and then we actually read an interview and find out the song is about something different.
I think for me, there's a lot of fun and just writing what I'm feeling, putting it out there having fun with the word play, and wondering where the listeners are going to take that based on where they are in their lives when they listen to it.
And we started putting this together with a pandemic, so that certainly impacted the way that we arranged the songs and packaged everything together. We wrote that last song and put it in as kind of a leeway into “Season of the Witch.” It gave us a lot more time to focus on how we wanted to put this together as a whole for the listener.
PAUL: I think the only thing I would add is, like, we also just wanted to make a record that sounded how we envisioned the songs sounding versus going into a studio and kind of rushing and just trying to frantically get takes. It allowed us to really cater to our own whims hoping people would like it also.
I think for us we had the opportunity to make it sound how we want to sound and we hope people like it.
ALLIE: What do our readers have to look forward to from you in the future, and where can they follow you to learn more?
LIZ: In terms of what's next I think that's a little bit up in the air. We definitely want to get back into playing live shows but are in the works of navigating how that will look like, now that our rhythm section is a bit more spread out. It may require incorporating drum machines or finding new members....TBD. But we definitely want to get on stage again. On that note, we're already starting to work on new music (though it's still in a very preliminary stage) and I think that being back to just us, and potentially working with new musicians or electronic instruments, it will certainly have an impact on determining where our sound will go next...but there will definitely be more!
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