Ave Noctum is to a large extent reflective of the underground scene of the music it reports on and supports; no funding or sponsorship, self-produced and financed, and living outside the all encompassing and smothering blanket of popular culture. One band that encapsulates that ethos could well be Dundee’s own Solar Suns; fresh from launching their second self-financed album ‘Retrograde Motion’, and having raised their profile with a barnstorming set at Bloodstock 2017 after winning a coveted Metal for the Masses slot, bassist/vocalist Rory Lee (RL), guitarist/vocalist Danny Lee (DL), and drummer/vocalist Peter Garrow (PG), were kind enough to answer a few questions.
AN: Firstly, congratulations on the new album ‘Retrograde Motion’ which is a real cracker. It is the often nicknamed “difficult follow-up”; were there new elements to this album, or was it just a natural evolution?
DL: Thank you very much! Retrograde Motion is definitely a bit heavier and darker than our first album. A few of the tracks, ‘The Rift’ and ‘Mirror Machine’ in particular, needed work on the lyrics and vocal melodies and had a few musical flourishes added here and there during the recording process, but a large portion of the album had been written and was regularly played live before we started the recording. So it was our natural evolution and inevitable follow up album.
AN: It is inevitable that people like adding labels to music, and I’ve used the term “Prog” to describe an element of your sound. I appreciate this can sometimes be limiting, so what would you like to be known as, or associated with?
DL: We definitely have proggy elements in our music and the ‘prog’ tag accommodates experimentation and freedom to build the songs as we imagine them rather than staying within a particular framework. We are a rock band with lots of influences who like to have variety in our music, as much for our own enjoyment as the audiences. Defining your band as a particular genre isn’t easy and there are so many bands and sub genres now that I think trying to pigeon hole yourself into one category could detract from potential fans. It’s all rock and roll
AN: This is your second album, and again is free from any label support, or even a kick starter campaign, something that even established acts are now using. Have you ever been approached by a label, or are you happy to remain self-contained, and if so, why?
RL: We like working the DIY way and it being self-enabling means we can produce what we want and on our own terms. We’ve not been approached by any labels but we would certainly be interested if we thought it would benefit the band. A kick-starter campaign may be something we consider for a future project to help generate funds towards something a bit more epic, like a vinyl release or double album.
AN: ‘Retrograde Motion’, as well as your first album have a pretty heavy Sci-Fi influence. What is it that draws you to that as a subject matter for your music, and are there any particular authors you are influenced by?
PG: Sci-fi is a genre that we are all into and we think the feeling of adventure and variety that space and sci-fi incite, suits our music. It also gives us a platform to start from with lyrics. Lovecraft and Philip K Dick are definite literary influences. We also draw influence from film, and visionaries like Stanley Kubrick and John Carpenter. Musical influences also play a huge part and the lyrics of our favourite artists and hearing how they approach writing, certainly helps us shape our own material. Good story telling is what we are going for with our music and lyrics.
AN: Your songs really do combine some excellent and complex musical compositions, as well as eschewing the standard verse-chorus-verse structure of most bands; what is your writing process like, and is it a conscious decision to avoid the norm?
RL: We don’t deliberately avoid the verse/chorus/verse/chorus approach and it can often be where we start from. If there are a few riffs we think can go together, we’ll get an idea of which one is the chorus, verse or bridge, then start with that as a base. Then parts like intros, outros and solo sections can be placed around the base structure. We’ll often start a song with a fairly standard approach before taking it somewhere more ‘proggy’. It’s never the same though and the songs always have their own personalities which need to be understood and jammed through to work out the kinks. Some songs don’t follow any conventional format and each part might only happen once or twice in the song, keeping us and the listener on our toes, and constantly evolving. While others may be fairly straight forward in their structure, going back and forth between two parts, but maybe having more emphasis on building the dynamic of the repeating parts.
AN: I’ve seen reviews that compare your sound very favourably to the likes of Rush or Hawkwind, are there any bands or other influences to your music that might surprise somebody new to your music? If you’re at all embarrassed by any let me start you off by saying my all time favourite guitar solo is from The Commodores’ ‘Easy’, which is something that most folks who meet me find hard to believe.
DL: I love artists like Bob Dylan & Neil Young and listen to lots of music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Jimi Hendrix is a huge influence and inspiration. We all have a really broad taste in music and are always on the look-out for new music to listen to. All of us are big into metal and rock of course, but there will be a few artists in our collections that might surprise people. Pete’s partial to a bit of Lionel Ritchie too, Spenny. I’m sure he knows all the words.
AN: Your set at Bloodstock in 2017 was very well attended, and Simon Hall (MTM and SOPHIE booker) specifically came up to me after your set, possibly as I was wearing a Solar Sons shirt, and said “they’re pretty bloody special!” How was the festival experience for you, and have you any plans to hit up more festivals, or maybe play further afield?
PG: That is awesome to hear! Simon is great and it was truly an honour to not only perform at Bloodstock, but having Simon Hall come down to check us out, awesome! It was a huge milestone for us and really boosted our confidence to go ahead with determination and courage. We had lots of great compliments from the stage crew on the New Blood stage, who were the most excellent team we’ve had the pleasure of working with, and the whole experience of playing Bloodstock was just amazing. A taste of the bigger stages, and we want more of it! We will definitely be playing more festivals next year and into the future! And yes, we will be looking to start venturing further afield into England, Ireland, and Wales and further still, into mainland Europe…and beyond.
AN: When I wrote the review of your album, it was after the high of seeing your show at Dundee’s Church, and I was pretty scathing in terms of the musical tastes of the local population in general. Did you find the lack of a scene in the city stifling, and have you ever considered moving further afield?
DL: We have a good following in Dundee and although it has taken a while to grow, we always see familiar faces at our shows, which is great and spurs us on! The scene isn’t as strong as it is in Edinburgh or Glasgow but they are bigger cities with bands that have helped shape the scene and build an exciting community for metal and rock. Dundee has that too, and although I agree it could be better, it’s definitely here. The album launch was a prime example of how you can have a successful metal gig in Dundee. Got a great line-up, built the hype, promoted the show for a month or so, made sure our fans knew it was happening, and it was an ace night and well attended. Of course we’ve played our share of poorly attended shows but that’s going to happen from time to time and you can’t get disheartened by that nor put in less effort because of it. The opposite if anything, and try to make the next show busier. We want to continue to do our bit in developing the scene in Dundee.
AN: You’ve brought out two albums in two years, which in modern terms is rather prolific, especially for folks who are self-financing; do you have plans for a follow up, and would you consider adding new elements to future releases?
RL: Yes, we absolutely have plans for a follow up. Follow ups! Don’t hold us to it but we aim to maintain that rate and release new material every year. We like working at that rate and getting our music out into the open for people to hear. We have material to work on that isn’t really what would be classed as ‘metal’ so an acoustic/funk/ambient release is on the cards, as well as more heavy material. I think we’re still finding our sound and exploring the possibilities of what we can do with our music so who knows where it will go. We’re always writing new music
AN: Finally, a question I always finish with; you must have to plough through a pile of interviews and the same old questions. Is there a question you would like to be asked, what is it, and what is the answer?
PG: I wouldn’t say we were inundated with interviews… but from the ones we’ve done, the questions are generally fairly similar. Having said that, we are always happy to answer any questions and give anyone who’s interested some insight into Solar Sons and what we’re all about. That’s a hard one. Never really given much thought to what questions we’d like to be asked but how about, – What is your dream band to go on tour with? Iron Maiden would be the answer!
Thanks again to Solar Sons for the interview; their music is available via the links below.
(Interview by Spenny)