On September 3 Sundowner will release Neon Fiction through Fat Wreck Chords so I got on the phone with Chris McCaughan to discuss his latest release and what's next:
When did you start working on this follow-up to We Chase the Waves?
It took a long time to write, I hadnít really intended, I wasnít writing a record to put it out, I was just writing a bunch of songs and it got to the point where I felt like I should make a record. So I guess itís a couple of years in the works, in some ways. We recorded it almost a year ago now at Atlas, last summer we did the tracking on it so leading up to that I was writing. So a year plus, but again I was just writing songs and it got to the point where it felt like a record.
What was your main motivation for shifting to more full-band songs?
Well, the first record kind of came out of acoustic based demos so it really made sense that it had that sound. The second record also felt a little even more stripped down, I think I was always going for a little shift with each record. When I was writing these songs, in my head, I just heard electric guitars. Thereís still an acoustic guitar thatís a core of the record, but yeah. Me and Neil talked about it a lot, we were just ready for some drums. I mean, the drums on the record, the way Neil played on this record was very deliberate in a different kind of way. I donít think the drums feel like I donít know, rock drums. We were just trying to build a different landscape of sound, so thereís some kind of evolution I guess, from record to record.
Yeah, thereís a lot of guys doing acoustic side projects now.
Totally. And I think it was important for me, not necessarily to distinguish myself from that, but I wanted to make a cool record that felt really unique, authentic and genuine. Part of that was trying to build it sonically in a way that felt new. I think thatís kind of the idea, to me weíre making a record thatís not just an acoustic record from a guy in a punk band. This is something fully thought out, fleshed out, in a different way.
Whyíd you settle on Neon Fiction as the title?
I had an earlier title that I wonít divulge to you, it wasnít really working, I struggled with a title for this record for a long time. I like the way it sounds and I think it kind of illustrates a lot of the themes and vibes. A lot of the record is about living in the city, this is going to sound ridiculous, but being a human in the city environment, you know? Buildings and lights and I think a lot of the songs Iíve written, even for the Lawrence Arms, over the years kind of come from that sensory place so that is kind of what made me arrive at that title. You know, Iím from Chicago and I grew up reading a lot of novels and I went to school for creative writing and fiction, it just came together in that way. And then we shot the cover of the record, which kind of coincides nicely, with a bunch of blown out neon lights. We were kind of trying to figure out a way, I worked with my friend whoís a photographer and we tried to arrive conceptually at something that really got to the core of the record. I actually named the record after we shot the cover too.
What would you say the core of the record is about? Living in the city?
Now Iím going to dance around this question. (Laughs) Itís about a lot of things, itís about hitting a certain transition in your life where youíre willing to let go of a lot of things. Itís certainly about living in the city and some of itís about coming to terms with leaving certain geographies in your life. Like I moved out of Chicago about a year ago and went to the west coast. I lived there my whole life, itís a place that I identify with so much so it was kind of a big deal for me. Another thing about the record is that thereís a lot of half truths and creative nonfiction. Overall the record is like a self-actualization record for me, I feel like Iíve been trying to make this record for a long time. Like I said, I never really set out to make this record, but in the end I felt pulled towards the songs and when it was all said and done it felt like something I had been trying to put together for awhile.
Which song is your favourite?
Itís a tough one, but probably ďPoet of Trash.Ē Itís a little bit of a later song on the record, itís got a lot of different layers. Itís really honest, but itís also kind of tongue in cheek. I really had a lot of fun with the guitars on this record, writing the melodies and things kind of coalesced with that song for me in terms of being a guitar player. I really love the first one on the record, I really think it kind of encapsulates a lot of the sonic qualities. Thereís acoustic guitar, electric guitar and thereís drums but theyíre not overpowering. Itís a really melody driven song and thatís what we tried to do with this record, get all of those qualities working together.
Thatís cool because ďCemetery WestĒ is my favourite and I really think it sets the tone for the record as well. How did the lyrics come together?
Well I grew up in a part of Chicago thatís directly west of a cemetery so itís a major geographical location for me. Itís the place my family lived for 30+ years and thatís where I grew up so thatís the first line. A lot of that song is anchored in the chorus ďI wonít let the darkness catch me this time.Ē Basically more around the theme of hitting the point in your life where youíre actively pushing forward and moving ahead. For me the song is about where Iím from and being honest with myself about who Iíve been and continuing to live. It sounds cheesy and stuff, but thatís what a lot of the record is about. I wrote it not thinking about how people might take it or perceive it. At the time I was just trying to write things that are genuine to how I write.
Whatís next for Sundowner?
I have a few small shows coming up in the fall here and there, itís still sort of coming together. Iím at the point, where at least right now, I donít envision spending weeks at a time on the road. Iím trying to continue to write, thatís what really drives me, the writing and making of the band. Iíd love to get out there and perform, but how extensive thatíll be remains to be seen right now. Weíll see how it goes, the record comes out soon and Iíll be playing some of those shows in San Francisco, the Midwest and the East Coast. I just feel fortunate that Fat picked up the record and was willing to do it. Itís a really cool opportunity for me and I want to do my part to get this record out there. I really believe in it and Iím proud of it.
Can you tell me anything about The Lawrence Arms? I understand you guys just finished tracking the new record?
Basically what I can tell you is that The Lawrence Arms record exists. Itís been written and tracked and I guess itís in process now so there should be a bunch of news shortly. Iím really excited about it, I think the reason we waited is because we wanted to make a great record, not just the next record. I feel pretty stoked for people to hear this record when it finally hits for sure. In the meantime weíre playing Riot Fest and the Fest, which will be rad as well.