Solar Powered Sun Destroyer: The CultureMob DC Interview

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Since first getting together in early 2008, Solar Powered Sun Destroyer have breathing life back into the Dead City underground with a formidable live show that includes three guitarists, a light array and epic sounding songs that combine avant garde ambience and genre-defying riffage with (gasp) melody. In anticipation of their first headlining show tonight at the Velvet Lounge with Born Empty, Vinny Vegas and Birthing of Millions (8 bucks! 10 PM!), CultureMob DC talked to SPSD drummer and co-founder Jimmy Rhodes about the band’s new line-up, their plans for an LP and blowing out the power while opening for an icon of the DC scene.flyer

You guys have been only been together for about year and already on your second line-up. How’d did you initially come together and where’d you snag your three new members?

JR: I started the band with my friend Justin Horenstein, who plays guitar. We had an original line-up, played about ten or fifteen shows and we realized that it wasn’t really what we wanted. So, we got rid of everybody in the band and created a new line-up with all our best friends. We got our singer [John Kneip] to come down from Ohio. I played with him in a band in Nashville. We had Ross [Hurt] start playing bass and my guitar player Dave [Davies], from All Else Failed, comes down from Philly once or twice a week. Now we have three guitar players and one of them sings. It’s basically been since April with this new line-up…This is the official line-up and it won’t be going anywhere. This is wanted to do from the beginning. From here on, it’s just record and, hopefully, start touring as much as possible.

Knowing the past bands you guys have played in, you all seem to have come from the metal and hardcore scenes – two genres that the sound of Solar Powered Sun Destroyer seems dramatically removed from. The only other I band I could really compare you guys to would be Cave In, who themselves made the same type of transition.

JR: Well, not all of us do. Dave and I were in All Else Failed together, which was obviously a hardcore band. Then our singer and I were in band together in Nashville, whose name I can’t even remember. We only played a few shows and then I joined Tony Danza. We all like really heavy music, but only a few of us come from a hardcore background.

I don’t know what [our sound] is. I really, really like Cave In, especially the Antenna record, which a lot of people don’t like. But we listen to an array of stuff. Our influences are everything from Isis to Explosions in the Sky to Minus the Bear and pop elements, vocally. When we started this band, we wanted to do a band that sounded like Explosions in the Sky, but with vocals and pop song structures…I was so sick of screaming vocals at that time that it’s a really nice change to being in a band where could listen to it and go, “Wow, there’s a melody.”

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You got to open for DC spazzcore legends Frodus last month at one of their reunion dates at the Talking Head in Baltimore. That must have been one of the most prominent dates SPSD has had yet.

JR: The Frodus show was awesome. It was a real honor to play with them. I met Jason Hamacher, their drummer, who used to manage Cave In and Darkest Hour, through the Dillinger Escape Plan guys…That’s how we got the Frodus show. He was cool enough to let us open and that was kind of a dream for a lot of us, to open for a band that was such a huge influence. We all love Refused, At the Drive-In, Frodus – those are three of our favorite bands ever, ever. The fact that we got to play with one of them is pretty amazing. But we have our own lights set-up and we blew the power during our first song. After that, everything was fine, but we really, really like our lights. We like to create a certain mood when people see us because we don’t want it to be a typical show.

The band just posted two new demo tracks, “The Roulette Year” and “Ghost Light,” up on your site – which makes it the first new stuff we’ve heard since the Intromission EP. Are you planning hitting the studio anytime soon?

JR: We’re writing a full-length right now, so we figured we would record two songs from it and those just happened to be the first two that were done. We just wanted to put out a sampler, so that people know what the new line-up sounds like and what direction we’re heading in. We have a lot of songs done musically. There still needs to be some stuff done vocally, but, for all of June, we don’t have any shows set up and we’ll be writing and finishing up songs. We want to have about fourteen to choose from and are trying to keep maybe twelve for a full-length. We’ll be using those demos to send out press kits to labels and, hopefully, see what happens.

With three guitar players, is studio time ever a challenge? I’d be worried that everyone would be vying for the lead.

JR: It’s really, really easy. I never thought I be in a band with three guitar players that get along as easily as they do. In the studio, it was really easy to deal with. I did my drum tracks pretty quickly, they got guitar tracks done really quickly and nobody argues in the studio or anything. Everybody knows their role. Justin writes a lot of our initial riffs, but now it’s becoming more of a collaborative process. Even going from just Justin and me writing to five people, it’s never been conflicting…We just use our own judgment on all the songs and are pushing ourselves in a certain direction towards how we wanted to be viewed. To someone outside of the spectrum, even if they just see our artwork, I want them to know what we are all about.

Yeah, and unlike a lot of other up-and-coming bands, SPSD seems to have a really strong design sense. Between the light set-up and your MySpace page – which looks better than about 95% of the band sites out there – it seems like you put a lot of effort into presentation.

JR: I really, really care a lot about every little detail of the artwork – whether it’s our grid logo or our MySpace page or our merch…With our initial logo, we got the guy who did all the artwork for the Minor Times, Mark Price, and I went through everything with him piece by piece to make sure everything was cool. I feel like the more attention you pay to the details, the better the work is in the end. We’re so anxious all the time to just put out stuff, but we’ll wait until it’s perfect – just so that people know we care. We care about everything, whether it’s our gear or our artwork or our songwriting or our lights or our merch…Let’s say you got Kid A by Radiohead and it was just crappy artwork. It would have sucked. That record, when you open it up, puts you in a certain mood and that’s very important to me.

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Your show this Friday at the Velvet Lounge is your first headlining gig. After playing out so much, you must be pretty pumped.

JR: Well, we weren’t even supposed to headline. The Black and White Jacksons were supposed to, but they broke up, so we kind of stepped up to the plate and said let’s try it as our first headlining show. Three of our best friends’ bands are opening. It’s a very diverse bill. It’ll be a lot of fun…[Ross] plays drums in Caverns and plays bass with us. We both played the Frodus show and he did double duty and we have some dates in July, where we’ll be playing there with Caverns. He said he’s willing to do it. I guess he’ll just exert more energy in Caverns (laughs).

We’re trying to do a tour in July, but I don’t really know how it’s coming together. We’re really focusing on finishing this record and we want it to be the best it can possibly be. So far, it’s the record that I’ve wanted to come out for a long time and we’re actually doing it.

Speaking of sharing members, you told me today that your were good friends with the guys in Deleted Scenes, who seem to building up quite the following these days. What are your thoughts on the current state of the DC rock scene? Baltimore was kicking our ass pretty good there for a while.

JR: We grew up with those guys. Our guitar player Justin was in a band with all of them in high school, then everyone went away to college. Then Deleted Scenes formed and he and I did this. I was at their first show at [notorious, now-closed DC dive bar] the Grog and Tankard when they were a three piece. Deleted Scenes, the indie rock kings of DC right now, had their first show at the Grog and Tankard! But we’re very close them…They always come to our shows, we always go to their shows.

But I love this question because I think there are a lot of very promising bands in this area right now. There was a lull for a very long time, but bands like Caverns, Deleted Scenes, Imperial China, The Fordists – those are four bands that are amazing. There’s another band called Tone that’s really cool and we’re actually trying to do a few shows with them.

And, of course, you guys too are getting pretty well known in and around DC. How would you describe SPSD to someone who’s never seen you live before?

JR: We have really pretty parts, but try to make it huge sounding at the same time. We’ve had kids come up to us at shows and say, “Yo, you guys remind me of [Icelandic instrumentalists] Sigur Ros and [New Jersey metalcore band] Deadguy.” I don’t see how you see any of that at all, but those are two of our favorite bands, so that’s sweet that they say that. The important thing is that we’re getting comparisons to bands we all we really, really like a lot. Just to be in that mix is pretty cool.

See Solar Power Sun Destroyer live:

May, 22 2009 08:00 PM – Velvet Lounge w/ Born Empty, Vinny Vegas, Birthing of Millions
The Velvet Lounge, 915 U street NW, Washington DC

July, 24 2009 08:00 PM – The Talking Head Club @ Sonar. W/ Caverns, Vinny Vegas, Hammer No More The Fingers
407 E. Saratoga Street, Baltimore, Maryland

July, 25 2009 08:00 PM – The Spazzatorium w/ Hammer No More The Fingers, Vinny Vegas, Caverns.
807 E. Dickerson Ave, Greenville, North Carolina 27834

Sun Powered Solar Destroyer on MySpace

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