It’s been 25 years since the birth of Music Television, the inevitable blending of images with sound that really only lasted for about ten years when The Real World began the station’s eventual shift to everything but its original intent. 1997 saw the release of the first DVD players and discs in the United States, and even that now popular format will probably be extinct within the next few years. So why would Ohio band the Sun decide to make an entire DVD album of music videos, a format not even shown on the one channel that previously exhibited nothing but? My conversation with members of the Sun after their Seattle show with Sweden’s Shout Out Louds and North Carolina’s the Rosebuds covered this question and more. I spoke with Chris Burney, Brad Forsblom (who went by Bobby during the interview as there were two Brads) and Brad Caulkins after their own set, and admittedly, after the Rosebuds had enraptured them.
The Sun’s set (no pun intended) started with Burney making noises through an echo-y microphone, making himself giggle, and then ensued with Chris and Brad F. joking between blistering takes on the songs from Blame it On the Youth, arguably the world’s first DVD album. As it is with most of my conversations, the discussion with the band starts off with a Simpsons reference. The strange thing is, I’m not the one who brings it up. Brad F./Bobby is showing off his new temporary tattoo snagged from the merch table, and then references the “Moth” tattoo Bart gets, ripped out of the artist’s chair before he can add the final `er’ to the piece. While I could have talked about that show for hours on end, I decided to begin with some insightful (read: obvious) observations. I note that they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously.
“It can be problematic at times,” Burney remarks, adding that a previous interview got them in some trouble with their label, “usually when you make jokes that other people don’t find funny.”
Brad F. jumps in, “But there are those bands that take themselves too seriously by not taking themselves too seriously. There was an interview I read a while ago with…some band, I think they’re on our label so I’m not going to say their name, but the guy’s like `Yeah man, you know, kids want their bands to look like their cartoons, so that’s what we give `em.’ So, if you look like a dipshit and you don’t care, then that’s taking yourself seriously by not taking yourself seriously?”
Radiohead famously boasted that they would try to make a video for every song on OK Computer, a boast which would never pan out as touring and exposure eventually overwhelmed the band. Only three videos ended up in the can, the animated “Paranoid Android,” the slow car chase gone wrong “Karma Police,” and the near-impossible breath-holding event of “No Surprises.” But the Sun produced fourteen videos for their album. Sure, they might not have the technical merit of the Radiohead triad, but they’re also not just playing in a room. (The only video that comes close to that actually puts a twist on the cliché by having a pit crew dress and equip the underpants clad band as they play). (Writer’s Note: another Simpsons reference in that the show’s writers claim that the word `underpants’ is 20% funnier than `underwear’).
The album itself, aside from the video aspect, is a diverse accomplishment in and of itself. I asked the band whether the diversity was planned. “Not at all,” says Brad F., “although Sam (Brown, the drummer) said as we were beginning to record that he wanted the album to sound like a mixtape.”
This description is perfect as songs from Blame it On the Youth can vary from Pixies-esque Latin flavored punk to funky dance number at the touch of a remote. Brad F. explained further, “Not that it’s a dis to any band but I get really bummed out when a band basically has a song that they’ve mastered, done really well, then written thirteen more songs based around that same one song.” Chris chimes in, “There’s a few people who can pull it off, but it’s rare though.”
They name drop New Order and the genre of punk in general as specific examples before Brad gets back to his point, first mentioning that the difference in songs helped the band keep their sanity, but also said “It wasn’t intentional or unintentional. It’s funny because we kind of found our own sound by not having one. This is an album for nobody, but at least everybody’s going to like at least one song on it, right?”
At this point Chris interrupts me to ask if I read the free Seattle newspaper, The Stranger. He wonders just who the hell this “Son of Nostradamus” guy is who has taken out full page ads comparing the city of Seattle with Babylon and telling us we’re all going to hell (In a nutshell). At the time I didn’t know, but Chris, if you’re reading this, it’s apparently some guy who started the Essential Baking Co. in Seattle, amassed a lot of money and is now paying for adspace and filling it with his off the wall religious rantings. The kicker? He went to college in Oberlin, Ohio, so I place the blame back in your laps! After a brief aside on how we’re all sick of hearing about “The End Times,” where I am surprised by a mention of “environmentalist claptrap (?)” we get back to the album.
So where did the idea of a DVD album come from?
“I was sitting around one night, playing video games,” Brad F. begins, “and I was thinking about CDs. I thought, why couldn’t I have a CD that’s more like my video games? And then I thought to myself, dude, CDs are over! DVDs are the wave of the future!” Granted, he says all this with a dramatic acting voice, which directly prompts his bandmates to wonder whether he was under the influence of particular substances. “Oh God, I just ran out of Band of Brothers episodes, what the fuck am I gonna do now? I’m gonna make a DVD album!”
The band has since been receiving letters from various parties including the Super Furry Animals trying to debunk their claim of the `world’s first’ DVD album, but Brad continues, “It’s kind of a retarded idea, but we thought of it first.”
The night before they appeared in Seattle, an episode of MTV’s Subterranean, their show of `alternative’ videos, had aired featuring members of the Sun.
“Eh,” says Burney about the experience, “I got to watch TRL live. Lindsay Lohan was on, Avenged Sevenfold, Good Charlotte, and that kid who plays Harry Potter….it was awkward.”
The MTV experience says a lot about the band. Seeing the train wreck that was the publicity fueled media monolith, complete with handlers and trucked in screaming kids, seemed to enforce the idea of not taking oneself too seriously. Although the band can touch on serious issues, they will be the first ones to assert that these are merely `songs’ and not to be taken as scripture or hard-hitting journalism. Each song and video is performed with tongue firmly in cheek, which is rare in bands on major labels.
We shift the conversation by talking about Seattle and what it means to them to play here. Burney threatens to leave Ohio for Bellingham, WA if he makes enough money on the record, effectively ditching the band for more pleasant climes. This leads to a general discussion of why Ohio is a difficult place to live, being cooped up in an apartment bedroom playing video games while roads are impassable, and walking to the closest watering hole because natural gas prices are just way too high to turn up the heat in your own place, and more importantly, “you have to drink a lot.” After tales of power outages and freezing cold I feel compelled to ask about Ohio’s more charming aspects.
“There’s lots of good things about Ohio,” says Burney, “inexpensive to live in if you find work. There’s a great small town vibe. There’s a great music scene in Columbus, a college, an art school. Serious rock and roll bands going back to the ’60s, like if you find the right people they’ll give you the whole rundown of who begat who, what club begat what club.” Burney’s statement is somewhat self-reflexive as he started out playing with Tim Easton, Brad joined from previous band the Flotation Walls, and Sam Brown was in the New Bomb Turks.
The band is quick to point out the up-and-coming stars of Columbus rock including Times New Viking, Necropolis, the Healers, the Squares, Motormouth, RJD2, Early Man, Church of the Red Museum (at which I mentally note such a cool band name, taken from an X-Files episode). Both Brad and Chris agree that being in a band in Columbus can easily be just an excuse for hanging out with your friends to “party your balls off.” Brad/Bobby even made up bands just to play and party. The names for these on-the-spot acts? Beach Dudes and Powerful Aggression. He sets a scene for a Powerful Aggression show with the entire band wearing tunics while a friend who has never played drums gets behind the kit, and the singer lays down on stage lounge-singer style doing spoken word. “Do people actually come to these shows?” I ask incredulously. “YES,” replies Burney without a hint of sarcasm.
The Sun’s album title is taken from a line in the song “Pavement Jive,” a song that is a parody of rap-related violence. One other song on the album can be interpreted as being somewhat topical in “2B4,” a song about the lessons not learned in previous wars. Despite this, the band has claimed in other interviews that they are not a `political band.’ If anything, they claim that they are an American band making music and writing about what they see in everyday American life. Because of the visual imagery in “2B4” of a head being sent back in a package from the war, people tend to associate it with images from the current gulf war. But the truth is, the song was written before these images hit the airwaves. Burney cuts the tension mounting in the discussion with a little humor, “We just want to be on the winning side. We don’t know which way it’s going to go yet. We’ve got a red, white and blue flag. We’ve got a crescent moon flag, all waiting! We’ll drape it over Sam’s bass drum.” And that humor, of course, reminds me of a Simpsons vignette.
“We’ll serve our ant overlords in the underground sugar caves,” I say. With nods of recognition, a final decree is made. “Oh God, we’ve come full circle.”