Frontman Christo Bowman talks about the process of making the band’s debut album, Language & Perspective, not following trends by making your own path, and why chemistry is the most important thing to have in a band.
You’ve been out on the road for a lot of this year. How has that been going?
It’s been really good. It’s been a new experience for us. We’ve always been a band that was conducting experiments in our basement, so it’s been nice to get out more and play. It’s been a great change going from playing two times a weekend every week, to just rehearsing, to being able to travel to places we’ve never been to before, finding out that we have people in other parts of the world and the country that are familiar with our music. It’s been a pretty crazy experience for us.
How much touring had you done before this year?
This year was the first time we’ve ever done it, starting in January.
Has there been anything that has surprised you about it so far that you didn’t expect?
We’re always expecting the worst, so it’s actually proven to be easy. It’s nice because a lot of the times what you’re expecting is to learn more about each other and learn things you don’t necessarily want to learn about each other. We spent all of our time together at the beginning, so that adjustment was really easy and really natural. There’s nothing crazy about that. You know, band problems we’ll have every once in a while.
Really the craziest things have been like in January, we played a venue in Chicago to 10 people. On this last tour last month, we played the same venue and it was sold out. Things like that have really been surprising more than anything else.
You guys are a young band and officially started at the beginning of 2012, but most of you had been playing together since junior high before that. What do you think was that final piece that ended up making Bad Suns come together?
I think it was just us growing up a little bit. We’re already such a young band as it is that when we started we really were a young band before then especially. I think it’s something that starts to happen over time, when things start to shift and you find out what it is you really like. You’re trying to figure out who it is that you actually are and the way you dress, all these different things, and it takes time. That was when we all put the pieces together, like, “All right, this is what we want to do.” We wrote a song together and thought, “This is great. Let’s keep searching for this thing.” It’s really been about exploration.
What do you remember was the first song you guys wrote?
There’s nothing concrete with us. A lot of times you’ll hear a band say, “Oh yeah, the first song we wrote is the single on the radio now. Everything just formed around that. It’s crazy.” It wasn’t like that for us, really. When this band even started is blurry.
There’s certain things, like it kind of started here but I guess it really started here, because we were always coming at it. It wasn’t one day where it just happened. It feels like something was always in the works with this band. One of the earliest songs, I guess, that really formed the sound of Bad Suns was probably “Transpose.” That’s the oldest song on the album.
So did you first start picking up music as a kid? How did that come about for you?
Yeah, for me it definitely happened when I was a kid at an early age. I always liked music but it never hit me as something I wanted to do. I didn’t think about it and go, “Well, you know, this is fun, but maybe not seriously.” It really just hit me all at once, like this is a viable option for a person. This is an actual job people have. You can do this and I can spend my time doing this, because I was always searching for something to occupy my time with more than just video games.
So when I picked up a guitar, there was this whole new feeling of wow, I can actually create something that didn’t exist when I woke up this morning by writing a song. That was really enticing to me, that feeling of being able to create something. Like I said, something that didn’t exist until you made it. I felt like I could do that and I could nurture that when I was a young kid, so I’ve been writing songs since I was nine years old.
I know you got started with the guitar first. How did you start singing? Was that something just out of necessity?
Well, the thing was I went to a school where there weren’t that many likeminded people. I needed a band but there was no one around me, so I learned to play every instrument. I learned to play the drums. I learned to play the bass. I learned to play the keyboard. I learned how to sing. I tried to learn how to record, so I could make music and listen to it. I didn’t have anyone else with me, so I just took it upon myself to start doing all of that stuff. What I would do for fun is make recordings on Garage Band, cover other songs and write my own songs – things like that. It kind of came out of that, out of necessity.
You are signed to Vagrant Records, which might not be the most obvious of places but has definitely worked out so far, and they’re also based in L.A. How did you get their attention and end up signing with them?
It’s one of those things where our manager had a relationship with them already. They both work with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros together, so that was how that connection was made. Really, he sent them the songs. They really dug it and reached out to us. This all happened in the period where we were both looking for management and labels. People were reaching out to us, and it kind of worked out with this whole team that we’re behind now. It made the most sense for us.
I think for a band in our stage, it didn’t make sense to go to a major label right off the bat. We didn’t feel comfortable with that. We like the people we’re working with. Personal relationships are really important in this industry, and it’s worked out great for us. We love working with them. They’re an awesome label and we couldn’t be more stoked.
You released the Transpose EP at the beginning of the year and then the full-length came out a month or so ago. Was this thing recorded in different pieces then? How did that all work out?
Yeah, it was. It was all done in the same place with the same producer. A third of the album we recorded before we had management or a label or anything. We just went out and we self-funded it. We got a little bit of money together doing strange jobs. We just wanted to record a couple songs. It was “Transpose,” “Matthew James,” “We Move Like the Ocean” and “Cardiac Arrest.” That first batch we did in the summer of 2012, after a year of trying to get everything together. We signed the record deal the following year and got back in the studio. Then we had the opportunity to finish it up at the beginning of this year.
I think working in that way, as opposed to trying to get in for one week or two weeks and get everything out right then and there… We’re always writing and collecting ideas. The best ideas don’t all come at the same time. We’re always looking for stuff so that we can make the best record possible. That way of working was conducive for us, and it worked out well.
The versions that made it on the album, are those the same from 2012, or did you end up redoing them?
No, same versions.
Oh, cool. Now as far as the lyrics go, what kinds of influences and experiences do you draw from when you’re writing?
I think it always has to be honest, so it’s always about whatever it is that I’m feeling. A lot of times the music will come first, and however the mood of the song is will inspire what it is that I’m talking about or feeling at that moment. I think a lot of it is just going through young adulthood or experiences that friends of mine have gone through, that I’ve gone through, that I’ve watched people go through. Sometimes it can even be more of a story – things that I wonder about and how things will be when I’m older. It’s all stuff like that. It can come from anywhere. A lot of it is about not knowing a whole bunch, not knowing what’s coming next, and trying to find peace in that.
I read that for some songs you like to get in different characters for. Is that going along with that too?
Yeah, totally. Like the song “Sleep Paralysis,” for instance, is about a man fearing what the mark it is that he will leave when he’s gone. I think that fear can be inherent in a lot of people. When I’m gone, what do I have to show for it? What is my legacy going to be? It’s about being scared shitless about using your life and making something of it.
There was one song I was curious about, which is the first song, “Matthew James.” Now is that a real person? Who exactly is Matthew James?
“Matthew James,” that’s a funny story actually. The way that name came to be with that song is really completely random. There’s no specific tie. It was one of those things where I was making a demo, sending it to the guys, and I needed song titles. I didn’t have a title, so I would use a random person’s name that we knew or just a random inside joke or something. One of our friend’s names is Matthew James. I sent it to our producer and he was like, “That’s a cool title.” I thought about it and it just sounded right. I liked it, and for some reason it stuck.
So it’s more of a character then?
Yeah, exactly. It’s kind of funny. I talked to him before and was like, “Do you have a problem with us using this as the title for the first song on our album?” He has was like, “No, man. Go for it. That’s great.” That was cool.
A lot of bands in their late teens or early twenties write a lot of songs about girls or being in high school, and as you’ve been saying you try to do something that has a little bit more depth to it. Can you talk about that?
I didn’t really go to high school. I went for about half of one year, and then I left to go on tour with another band that had hired me to play bass at the time. Then I left and did homeschooling my other three years. I kind of got out of that really quickly, so I didn’t have much high school experience really, for better or for worse. It got me thinking about different things. I think my life was different in that sense, so there’s not too many songs about chasing girls down the hall or anything like that.
For the songs that made it on the album, what would you say was the easiest song to get right and what do you think was the most difficult?
I don’t think any song was really all that easy to pull together all the way through. The songs “Rearview” and “Learn to Trust” were the two songs we actually wrote in the studio, kind of like, “We have a bunch of songs here, let’s keep going. Let’s push ourselves and see what we can do. Let’s do something different.” Those two songs came about in that way and they came about really naturally. That was a really fun experience. All of the songs, but those more so, were a really collaborative effort to get together.
I remember for the song “Rearview,” I wasn’t even sure that we could do it. I had written lyrics for five songs that week and was like, “What else do I have to talk about?” Our producer was like, “Look, just write the song. We’re going to go to dinner. We’re going to be back in an hour-and-a-half. Have a song ready.” It was like, “Shit!” Pressure was on. I had to think, “All right, what do I want to talk about?” I thought about it and had an idea I really dug, and it just kind of came that way. It was initially a really difficult task, but it turned out to be really easy and really fun.
I think the most difficult song might be “Salt,” just because of how long it took that song to get to where it was. The chorus was something different. The way that it sounds and the way that it’s played with the syncopated rhythms wasn’t there before. That song went through three different stages before we settled on that sound, which I think has become part of our signature sound. That song had a big hand in shaping the record, so that was difficult to get to but was ultimately one of the most rewarding ones as well.
“Cardiac Arrest” has done really well for you and become a pretty decent sized hit. What was that process like, seeing that song slowly catch on and then expand to all these different places?
It’s been pretty crazy. Like I said, we recorded that song two summers ago now. Things have been happening and it’s been crazy, but it’s also felt natural. It feels like it’s growing. I don’t really listen to the radio, so I don’t follow all that stuff, but when people come to our shows and they’re singing along, that always blows you away to an extent.
I think one of the interesting things about it, which I think a lot of times people can be lost about, is how do you get the music out there? That song existed for an entire year before anyone heard it. There’s so much work that goes into it, beyond just creating art that you think is good. You can make something but you have to give people a reason to listen to it. It took so long to actually get people working the song, people getting it to radio stations, and people finding out about it that way. That was an eye-opening experience for us about the work that goes into making people care about your band. It takes a lot and it’s not very easy.
So is the second single going to be “Move Like the Ocean?”
I believe the second single is going to be “Salt.”
OK, nice. Is that going to start getting a push out soon?
Yeah, I think so. We’re filming a music video for it in the fall.
The last couple years there’s been a big influx of dancy bands that have these 80s influences, and it’s been something you’ve kind of been lumped into. How do you then go about differentiating yourself from the pack and make sure you stand out?
Yeah, I’m not sure if that’s working for us or against us. That’s the kind of stuff we’ve listened to always, since we were kids. It’s natural for us, and I think a lot of stuff right now can sound a bit contrived. That’s honestly up to the listener and what they want to listen to. We’ll see who will still be around in two years, in three years, in one year.
We’re not so concerned about being lumped into anything because I think we’re confident in what this band is capable of doing. I don’t see us being a flavor of the week type thing because we feel like we have so much to say and so much to do, as opposed to just one trendy sound or something like that. I don’t feel that way about our band, but time can only tell.
Going along with that and looking ahead to these next few years, what kind of career trajectory would you like to have?
Whatever happens to us, inevitably. As long as we’re doing what it is that we feel confident and comfortable doing, which is writing music that we really love, and doing our thing and not compromising that for anything else or for any sort of trend, as long as we’re doing that then whatever we can accomplish within doing that is the kind of trajectory I’d like to see us have. That means we’ll be happy and doing what it is we actually love. That’s proven to be the only way that it works for us to do this.
When I listen to “Cardiac Arrest,” it doesn’t sound dated to me even though we recorded it two years ago. There’s so many trends that come and go on the radio. We could have recorded the song in a completely different way and it would have sounded like 2012. We just want things to stay fresh over time.
Is there a band you can look to and be like, “That’s what we’re aiming for? That’s what we want to do?”
You know, there really isn’t one. I think that’s an important thing too. It’s not like we look at one band and go, “Man, they got it right.” All of my favorite bands, there’s something where I can say, “Eh, I wouldn’t have done that.” That’s important because we’re not trying to rip anyone off. We’re not trying to do anything the same way that another band has done it. There are a lot of bands that we look up to and respect – don’t get me wrong – there are definitely tons of bands, but I think we want to try and create our own career path and our own thing the way that we do it, so we’ll see.
What do you think has been the biggest key that has allowed you to get you to where you are today, and then moving forward what do you think is the biggest key for that?
I think honestly it’s just been a lot of luck, and when I say luck I mean us all finding ourselves in a band with each other. We’ve been in bands, even when the lineup has been different by one person, and it just doesn’t work. The chemistry between the four of us is really the most important thing. You have to respect that as a band. You have to play into that and you have to really work at that. We feel really fortunate to have all ended up in a band with each other, and as long as we respect that chemistry and respect the way that we work together, we’re going to be OK. That’s how I feel.
11:16 AM on 08/07/14
Awesome interview, awesome band, awesome record.
12:29 PM on 08/07/14
She wears hats above her ears
01:55 PM on 08/07/14
As someone who loves this album, but doesn't know much at all about the members of the band or their history, I really enjoyed this interview. Seems like this guy really has his head on straight, and I can definitely respect that. Excited for the future of Bad Suns!
11:14 PM on 08/07/14
Band rules so much. Crazy to think that Christo Bowman is only 20. You read this interview and it seems like he's done this shit for years on end.
08:53 AM on 08/08/14
Move Like the Ocean NEEDS to be a single.