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Lighten Up: Santa Cruz-bred psych rock band Sleepy Sun opens for Mudhoney this weekend.

Hot Spots

Santa Cruz indie luminaries Sleepy Sun burn bright with a new album, a forthcoming tour and a Saturday gig opening for Mudhoney.

By Paul Davis

Alot of great bands have emerged from the creative hothouse that is the Santa Cruz music community in the past decade--Comets on Fire, the Fucking Champs and The Devil Makes Three immediately come to mind. And while there's a slew of great local bands at any given moment, it's been a while since the town gave birth to an undeniable breakout. Sleepy Sun may be just that band. Its full-length debut, Embrace, stands as one of the most assured and realized releases to emerge from a band with local roots in years. And though Sleepy Sun now calls San Francisco home, its members still spend plenty of time in Santa Cruz, obliterating local audiences with a phalanx of bad-vibe psych rock.

The touchstones of Sleepy Sun's music are clearly recognizable, but the band has so ably consumed its influences that a mere line-listing doesn't do it justice. For those taking notes, you can hear the legacy of space rock forebears ranging from Moby Grape to Spacemen 3 in evidence, but it has been recapitulated into something wholly new and otherworldly. Distorted, stoner-rock bass fuzz brushes up against deceptively pretty vocal lines, and tinges of shoegazer abstraction are buffeted by shredding psych rock guitar. The disparate elements shouldn't hold together, but somehow they do.

It's discursive stuff, driven by an aesthetic that is willfully obscure. Sleepy Sun's rallying cry is "Let's get weird," a manifesto taken to its logical extension. The members are just as bizarre and slyly irreverent in interview as they are onstage, and it's as difficult to coax meaning from their responses as it is from their surrealistic work. But if the men (and woman) of Sleepy Sun indulge in obfuscation, it's of the most tantalizing kind.

  Witness member Matt Holliman's characterization of the band's creative process: "Most of the songs are derived from a single idea that is then presented to the group in a formal meeting," he slyly notes. "There is a system of checks and balances and one member serves as the High Judge once a week. The real secret is that nobody can know who the High Judge is at any given time. It's a guessing game, baby."

As sources of inspiration, the band points to "bats, coming directly out of hell." 

When it comes to discussing Embrace, the members are far less cagey. The stunning debut was nearly two years in the making, Holliman explains. "The earliest of songs on Embrace were written in mid-2006. 'New Age' was a song that we played in practice and live settings for over a year. Other songs were written a few weeks before the eventual recording. In fact most, if not all, songs were radically changed during the recording process: entire guitar tracks were removed, vocal harmonies were added and percussion was wrangled on the spot."

Holliman cites the support of producer Colin Stewart during recording sessions at Hive Studio in Vancouver. "We had developed a really solid relationship with him, and it felt natural to record these songs with someone who understood and appreciated the concept of musical naiveté. He is as much a psychologist as a recording engineer." The process was worth all the blood and sweat the band poured into it.

Embrace has been rapturously received in the underground press and become the toast of the indie rock bloggerati. A spring European tour is in the works that will find the band sharing the stage with such forebears as the Jesus Lizard, Spiritualized and Sleep. And as the band continues to spread songs that, in Holliman's words, "spin their own web and connections through time," the members of Sleepy Sun have one driving ambition:

"To do Wayne's World for a living," Holliman explains. Like everything with Sleepy Sun, it's a completely confounding and absolutely appropriate response. 

SLEEPY SUN opens for Mudhoney on Saturday, Dec. 13, at 8pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15 advance/$18 door; for more info, call 831.423.8209.

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