Sunny Down Snuff has a passion for music. It started with The Beatles’ Rubber Soul and was bolstered by the film ‘Dig!’. To most the 2004 flick is remembered for documenting the rivalry between The Dandy Warhols and Brian Jones Town Massacre. But for Sunny it was different. Anton Newcombe’s half-crazed example gave permission. Maybe he too could someday make records which stood beside The Fab Four’s. Or better still, he could take it further. Steering his mind to music he found company with a group of like minded individuals. They called themselves The Citradels.
Nine albums later we’ve gotten to here, Fuck The the Hits: Vol. 1. It’s a sprawling body of work. A 1,000 hours of studio time compressed into 13 tacks and delivered with time distorting effect. It’s the music those who created it wanted to hear and you might just dig it too. Catching up with Sunny alongside bandmate Curtis prior to release of the record this is what they had to say.
RABBIT: Your music draws from this broad tradition of past music but in particular I’d like to talk about the influence of psychedelia. What does that word mean to you? Is it a feeling? A style?
CURTIS: I find ‘psychedelia’ a term that gets thrown around a lot and is rather hard to define. I think the influence, for us, comes from our love of bands like The 13th Floor Elevators, Love and the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. I think those bands were trying to communicate a higher feeling than the simple love song narrative. I am not opposed to our music being called psychedelic, but I also think that it’s fairly non-descriptive.
SUNNY: To me, psychedelia is less about a sound and more about an approach to colouring a song. I don’t really think it has a sound. A lot of people would say it does, but I think if you look at when the word was first used to describe music it’s clear it is much bigger than a few pedals and tambourines. Rubber Soul (one of my favourite records) is a great example with the sitar on ‘Norwegian Wood’, country twang on ‘I’m Looking Through You’ and soft ballads like ‘Michelle’. I like to think of it as a way not to pigeonhole exactly what you sound like. However, now it seems to be used to do exactly that.
R: Was there a band, image, album, moment or song which first captured your imagination, that brought you into this world of music?
C: I was classically trained on woodwind as a kid so most of my early experiences of music revolve around that. My grandmother was a very keen piano player and always played whenever I was around and took me to orchestral concerts. But first discovering The Beatles, The Animals and The Rolling Stones was also fairly important.
S: The first album that really spoke to me was Rubber Soul. I bought it because it was the cheapest Beatles record I could find. After that I played it every day I got home from school for about a month. I thought I would never be able to make anything near as good as Rubber Soul until I watched ‘Dig!’ and saw Anton [Newcombe] working his ass off to make records. After that, I wanted to try and do it myself, which was pretty hard because I was 18 and I really only had basic drumming skills! So as you can imagine it took a lot of time to get anything going.
R: I hear a lot of Brian Wilson in your sound, especially tracks like ‘Do You Wonder?’ and ‘Blue Light’. What is it about his approach to music that makes it so potent?
C: I think that Brian’s genius comes down to the fact that he was solely focused on making music and was very uncompromising in his vision. His songwriting and arrangements were revolutionary.
S: For me, I think he has to be the single most talented musician of the last 70 years. He wrote and arranged these masterpieces all from inside his own head. Not to mention at the start he was doing three albums a year while touring and improving not only as a songwriter but as a producer. He was more than happy to experiment with studio and use it as an instrument unto itself.
R: In the press release that accompanies the new album you’ve also expressed an affinity with Panda Bear and MGMT. How do you see them fitting into this? Are they part of some broader tradition of music?
C: I think that these bands just went about writing extremely well-constructed pop songs in an innovative way through incorporating new sounds and ideas but still referencing traditions. I think in a sense that is very similar to what we are trying to achieve on Fuck The Hits.
S: They both are very capable songwriters and obviously listen to a lot of music, which comes across when you listen to their albums and how they have progressed over the years. I think they fit together by being able to have a vast collection of influence but never seem to sound like a revivalist band.
R: Is it weird to be feeling nostalgic about that era of music already?
C: I don’t know if I personally feel nostalgic about their music yet because both bands are still making interesting and relevant music. But I think those early albums definitely have a sound that is very linked with the time they were made within.
S: As Curt has said I don’t feel nostalgic about this era of music because. They are still creating and doing things that I find interesting. Also. I wasn’t really into either of them until about four years ago, so I’m still sort of new to them!
R: Is there an element of what you do which comes from a disconnect with modern music or, more broadly, culture?
C: I guess it depends how deeply you want to view it. As a band, we are fairly insular and socially removed people so that may come across in our music. But really, it’s just an attempt to write interesting, well-constructed music. We write the music we want to hear and don’t try to please or appeal to anything else.
S: A little bit. I don’t think the disconnection is 100% on purpose though. It just sort of happens that way. We enjoy spending time recording as opposed to playing live. There is heaps of music always being made and played, but I’d much prefer to listen to records then see bands live.
R: Australia has this rich history of psychedelia too. I think about bands from the ‘80s like The Church, labels like Citadel Records and everything that’s come out of the psych rock movement too. What is it which keeps drawing people to this past period of music? Any thoughts there?
C: Our musical influence and listening habits are fairly broad. We listen to such a wide range of music and each member brings their own influence to it. I think what really draws me to music from the psychedelic era is that so much of that music made then was so diverse. Record companies were taking risks and weren’t as afraid to put out things that were experimental or different. That creates an environment where interesting ideas are allowed to grow.
S: As Curt has said, a lot of interesting music was being funded by major labels. All the label bosses felt so out of place that they just kept taking risks! A lot of them didn’t pay off financially, but creatively they were amazing. I’m unsure what is that keeps people in Australia drawn to it but there was a big boom when Tame Impala took off.
R: I feel we’ve got to talk about this new record. You spent 1,000 hours in the studio. That’s a lot of material to cut down to a single record!
C: A lot of that material stayed on the record. It’s a super dense album in terms of parts with most songs maxing out the number of tracks you can run on Pro Tools. ‘Blue Light’ alone has 30 different vocal tracks on it. We were super ruthless in reworking songs, arrangements and parts. We really wanted an album where there was no fat. Most songs come in around the two-minute mark but sound a lot longer because of the way they were constructed. We really were aiming to push the songwriting, arranging and sounds to the forefront. The album is also a little bit of a “Fuck you!” to all the people who said we can’t write a song or a melody.
S: A lot of the songs were reworked and re-recorded. I think we dropped about six songs, some were super close to completion and others never really got off the ground. Some songs were done quite early but then as the album evolved they need to be strengthened as they weren’t cutting the mustard. We had four songwriters and multi-instrumentalists (five for some of the record) in the band, which meant that we could sometimes have four or five different ideas about any one thing like a particular horn line or a harmony. It was great because you may only realise you’ve chosen the wrong idea when all the other pieces are put in place at which point you can go back and try out those other ideas.
R: Which song came easiest and which was the most challenging?
C: No song on the album really came easy. Some songs came together fairly quick. For example, all the vocal parts for ‘Blue Light’ were written by me and Sunny in one night and then recorded the next day. But that was after weeks of listening to Beach Boys acapella tracks. ‘In Each Other’s Arms’ was particularly difficult and almost didn’t make it onto the album. It started out as more of an early Beatles-Everly Brothers style tune, however we struggled to get it to work and sound right. We had to strip everything back and start from scratch multiple times to get it to feel right and for all the parts to work. The song’s Spector style drums and orchestration ended up being one of my favourite moments on the album.
S: I’d say ‘Do You Wonder?’ was the easiest. It came together super quick. I sort of had the idea of how I wanted it to sound as soon as we started to record it. ‘Little Angel’ and ‘In Each Other’s Arms’ took the longest. Both went through quite a few changes to get to the point where they were as strong as the others.
R: What else is on the cards for you guys moving forward? Is there anything else you’d like to throw out there before we close off?
C: We are currently rehearsing material for our next album which has more of a country style vibe, fairly stripped back close harmonies kind of thing. Some members are moving overseas and joining communes so for the moment we aren’t going to focus on playing live, just working on producing albums which is where we think we work best.
S: As we finished up the record we said goodbye Rhys Young our keyboard player for the last few years, so we are down a keyboard player and vocalist! And Sam, our low frequency modulator, will be living abroad next year. But in a few weeks we are laying down the bed tracks for Number 10, which is a bit different from Fuck The Hits. If we will play live again, I’m unsure, but we will keep making records. With Number 10 well underway we have already set our sights on the sounds for Number 11. I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone who has supported us through the years, helped us, came and watched us, put up with our shit and bought any of our stuff. Also thank you Rabbit for the support!
You can purchase and stream The Citadels’ Fuck The Hits: Vol. 1 here.
Words by Riley Fitzgerald
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