Sunscreen make the lush indie-pop of your dreams
Rekorderlig Sauna Sounds are all about embracing the unique, quirky and innovative – we’ve teamed up to present some of the country’s most trailblazing up and comers, getting them sweaty and ready to show off what makes them so special.
Sunscreen was a project that began, as many do, in the garage of a sharehouse. Specifically, the band’s birthplace was Sarah Sykes’ old Newtown sharehouse, circa the summer of 2016, after the performer invited guitarist Alexander McDonald and drummer Hugo Levingston to help develop the songs she’d been writing.
“I’d been writing songs and invited [McDonald and Levingston] over to have a jam. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re going to start a band and be successful.’ We came up with a few songs and got a gig and we’ve kind of been running with it since.”
From these relatively humble beginnings, Sunscreen have gone on to become a frequent name on gigs around Sydney, establishing themselves as a band to watch with their debut EPJust A Drop in 2017.
“I don’t think it was particularly intentional to play live a lot – we just get offered a lot of good shows and we love doing it. We’re not one of those bands who worries about, like, flooding the market – we don’t really think too much about that sort of thing which I think is good,” adds Levingston.
On the live front, the band bring a rare energy to their indie pop – a faster, more visceral interpretation of their dreamy, layered studio recordings.
They brought that energy to a recent Rekorderlig Sauna Sounds. While it was something of a change of scenery from the inner west pubs that the band have made their home territory over the past few years, there was one aspect that wasn’t different – perspiration.
“I got vivid flashbacks to playing some of our sweatiest gigs,” says Levingston.
“The guy before us was drenched in sweat when he came out – I think ours was a little easier, we were a slightly sweatier,” says McDonald.
Sykes disagrees. “Speak for yourself.”
Watch: Sunscreen perform ‘Voices’ for Rekorderlig Sauna Sounds
It’s interesting to think about where Sunscreen will go from here, given their somewhat peculiar place in Australia’s current musical climate. While the band are often tagged with descriptors like ‘garage rock’ or ‘punk’, there’s a nuance to their sound often missing from such categories – the hazy guitar melodies and the dual vocal lines of Sykes and McDonald, for instance. Ultimately, the band are more in line with groups like Australian indie-pop royalty The Go-Betweens, or dream pop icons Cocteau Twins. For her part, Sykes explains that those influences tend to work on a more subconscious level than an overt one, given largely to the improvisational nature of how the band write songs.
Currently, the quartet – rounded out by fairly new bassist Oliver – are working on songs that will likely materialize as a new EP. “We’ve been working on new songs for a long time, some of them have been around for a year and a half, some we wrote last month. We’ll write a new song and kind of test it by playing it live. Way more collaborative than it used to be. Our bass player Ollie has brought a new energy to the band. A lot of our stuff is faster than it used to be.”
For Sykes, lots of things have changed within the band since they first came together. “Having a bass player now helps a lot. We began without one, and we were so desperate for one at the beginning. We played a show at the Botany View and I said between songs, ‘Hey guys, we don’t have a bass player, who wants to come play bass with us?’
“Our identity has changed a lot over time. I think it’s been really cool because we started playing live right from the beginning, we never really had a long incubation period, so we’ve kind of found our identity through playing live shows. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on new artists to have it fully formed from the get go. Our new music I think is totally different to where we started and it just comes through jamming and playing shows.”
Levingston agrees. “It’s developed as we develop as musicians.”
The band’s creative process has indeed become far more collaborative. “It’s a very live thing; the guys will start jamming and I’ll write over the top of that,” says Sykes.
“A lot of the songs will start with me and Hugo and then Sarah will write and record an amazing song over the top” explains McDonald.
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