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.