This article originally appeared on Boston Band Crush ).
The Sun Lee Sunbeam will be releasing their brand-new CD entitled, Beneath the Burning Sky this Friday, Oct. 16th at The Pill dance night at Great Scott.
If you’ve been listening to New England Product on WFNX
– the band has been debuting new tracks these past few weeks – all of which you can stream here.
I caught up with Jessica Sun Lee to ask her a few questions about the recording process and the big release show:
BBC: Your vocal style seems to take some cues from some strong female vocalists (I’m thinking Joan Jett, PJ Harvey, Courtney Love) who are some of your favorites and what other acts have influenced The Sunbeam’s style?
TSLSB:Allison Mossheart is probably my current favorite. Somehow I just discovered The Kills this past year. There’s a natural, raw, and very real sound coming out of that girl. You really believe that she means it. And of course I love Karen O., PJ Harvey, Siouxie Sioux, Kim Deal, Emily Haines… and going back further, Bjork and Cyndi Lauper.
My voice isn’t ‘pretty’ or perfect by any means, so any vocalist–male or female–who infuses emotional style into their music gives me a greater license to feel comfortable doing the same. As a kid, my voice was really low and froggy so it was difficult not being able to sing along to anything. Thankfully nowadays there’s more variety, but singers with atypical voices and styles helped me get over not wanting to sing just because I didn’t like my voice. I probably have just as many male musical influencers as I do female.
Everyone in the band has different influences and I love that because it can take something that might have been too reminiscent of something else to an entirely different place. It’s hard to differentiate between influence and admiration sometimes, but we listen to everything from Leonard Cohen to Sonic Youth.
BBC: How was the recording process for you? I know you worked at my personal favorite local studio, The Moontower.
TSLSB: This is our second album and both were recorded with Mike Quinn at The Moontower. We love him. And this time we worked with Scott Janovitz, as well, who’s also pretty awesome. They know their shit, pick up on things we may otherwise miss, and put up with our awful humor. The process, though, was more difficult than I anticipated–greatly due to the logistics of us going from a 3-piece to a 4-piece with two of us (Mike and Jeff) new, as well as the variety of songs we wanted to record. We spent a lot of time getting our sounds right on a limited budget and schedule and that was a little stressful.
Recording is so different from playing live. There’s so much self-analysis that it’s hard to keep your head straight after awhile. You listen to all your flaws on repeat and have to figure out what needs to be fixed and what adds to the charm of it being truthful. And, of course, once you go in there with the magnifying glass, you’re overwhelmed by what could either be imperfections or awesomeness. There were days when I was so excited that I wanted everyone to hear it all right away… and others when I went home feeling totally inadequate and wondering if our energy was worth it. That had nothing to do with the studio or the band and everything to do with my own internal tugs-of-war. Most of the time I’m okay with what music is to me and why I need to create it–as well as the fact that I got into it pretty late. But I live in this critical world that likes to group, package, and compete. I’d be lying if I said that never affected me. In the end, though, it never affects the music.
I consider myself insanely lucky to have found Mary, Jeff, and Mike. If it weren’t for them, I totally would’ve quit at least five times in two months. No joke! And now that a few months have passed, the album’s done, and we’re gearing up for the release show – I’m feeling really proud of this body of work and us as a band. This album really showcases the relationship we’re building, a lot of different times in my life, as well as the people who inspired the songs. It’s pretty fucking exciting, actually.
BBC: And you took on an unusually large number of songs (15) only a year after your first release. Has this been an especially prolific period for you as a songwriter?
TSLSB: I suppose so, although I always wish I had the time and headspace for more. There were some weeks where I wrote three or four songs that I liked. But then there were strings of weeks where I wrote nothing. That always makes me anxious. During the recording process, I purposely wouldn’t allow myself to write. I felt like it would help me focus on what needed priority. I’m not so sure that was a good idea, in hindsight.
As I mentioned, I got into this late. I started playing the guitar in December of 2003 when my brother Jeff bought me one for Christmas. He showed me something like five chords and then I took off overseas for awhile. I pretty much started learning how to play by writing songs with those five chords rather than figuring out other people’s songs. And then I learned about power chords and never left the apartment! Anyway, because that’s the way I learn–by writing songs–in nearly six years, there’s a good amount of them. When Mary and I found Jeff, we started playing some of the songs that I never wanted to play with the band before. And then when we found Mike, we opened it up even further. So it was really a back-and-forth process narrowing it down to fifteen songs.
One of the things I’ve been grappling with is the variety. I know it’d make us more marketable if I were to just focus on one sound and we just did that. But I don’t write a song thinking about marketability and I’m never sure what’s going to work with the band until we try it. Mary, Jeff, and Mike say they’d get bored if we just focused on all hard rock or lovey pop songs, anyway. And then this weekend I ended up listening to the Beatles’ White Album and felt better when I heard ‘Helter Skelter’ following ‘Sexy Sadie’. We sure the hell ain’t the Beatles or want to try to be, but there was definitely some comfort in that.
BBC: The record release party is kicking off the dance night, The Pill at Great Scott – do you have any surprises in store for the event?
TSLSB: We’re going to start the show with a choreographed dance. I’ve been busting my ass on it. Just before the pyrotechnics, one by one–from left to right–we’ll spin, revealing one word embroidered on each of our shiny jackets that will spell out the album title. I’ve got dibs on ‘sky’ because, really, who wants ‘beneath’, ‘the’, or ‘burning’?
No, seriously–when practical, we like to create the atmosphere a bit and The Pill is the perfect show to do such things. But aside from a little of that, I just want us to focus on the music. What I like the most about seeing live bands is believing the people delivering it genuinely feel it. I’m hoping to ditch this pneumonia in time to not have to think about anything else but being in the music and having a good time with my peeps.
DJs Ken & Michael V.
with live guests:
The Sun Lee Sunbeam (CD Release)
21+ 9pm $5.00 details