October 10, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
In the toilet it’s pretty normal to see a newspaper, toilet roll, shampoo, maybe even a razor. But not quite so normal to have a Harp and recording equipment. “That’s where Kat goes to make the harp sound lovely!”
But then again Sunday Driver aren’t your normal group of people. And the Harp is one piece of the jigsaw that is preproduction for their sophomore album. “It’s been an awesome experience – recording for pre-production is totally different to recording for release” says Sitar player Joel. “There’s less pressure to be excellent and as a result the takes are more fun and easier. It gives you chance to mess about with different tempos and a chance to sit back and realise where songs need cutting back, which songs are going to be easy to record and which songs are going to be very hard.”
The pre-production demos are being recorded at Rainbow Joe’s studio/house Milkybombstudios. “It’s a very relaxing experience – you get to immerse yourself utterly in what you are doing, no phones, no email, no Facebook, just you and the people you trust getting the most out of your performance.” Joel explains that this demoing faze was Bassist Mel’s idea, “he’s really talented at finding the best way to make the best song.” Rainbow Joe seemed like the obvious choice. “He’s been our sound tech for the last couple of years so understands how we should sound.” From the sound of things it seems like a great place to record.”People bring you tea, biscuits, bacon! – it’s the best place you can be if you’re in Sunday Driver.”
Recording proper starts in April at Jigsaw studio with the owner Tom, Mel and Rainbow Joe all jointly handing production duties. All being well the as yet untitled album should have an Autumn release. But for now the focus is still on making the best songs possible. “Chandy is really going to town on knitting the song concepts together, she’s exploring The Mutiny of 1857 in India, Tipu Sultan , even fallen dictators.” The irony of singing about fallen dictators with the events of North Africa and the Middle east. “It’s interesting the way she’s knit- ting history together with current affairs – almost unconsciously.”
Aesthetics are a big part of Steampunk and for a band and this extends to album art for bands.”We had a long chat with our artist Claudia Drake last night and she has a wonderful feel for taking the concepts from the songs and turning them into surreal art.” While he doesn’t give any hints to what the cover will look like, the anticipation is tangible. “We’re very excited about what she’s going to create for us!”
It’s been a hectic couple years for Sunday Driver. Since the release of 2008’s In The City Of Dreadful Night the band have gained more and more recognition. Although it took a while to get the ball rolling “Initially it was met with some confused reviews complaining it was ‘too original’ or ‘not as good as The Beatles’.” The band won the Fatea award for innovation in 2009 and people started really taking notice. Reviews became more and more positive and people across the pond started taking notice, and recently the band won the Steampunk Facebook award for best band. “We’re aware that we made a really good album, better than we thought at the time even. But there were mistakes in the process, to be honest we’re hoping for more acclaim this time!”
So the pressure must be mounting to create a second album that’s original, and maybe this time better than The Beatles. Joel replies cooly. “We’re just laying down the best songs we have, to create the best tapestry of music we can. [The] main thing is that we’re proud of it, can’t worry about the internet too much, it can be fickle.”
The line up has had a bit of a shake-up since the debut and Joel feels it’s a good thing. “We’re exploring percussion and different rhythms this time around as we have recruited a drummer (Scott ‘Jaz- zwrists’ Jowett), [and] Amit Jogia our tabla player has a much more frenetic style to (previous Tabla player) M Sarkar.” Amit’s musical roots lies in temples and family gatherings and has a different style to Sarkar’s classical style. Joel says, “We’ve just come out the most creative period of our time, we’ve written 15 odd songs in about eight months. That’s quick for us.”
Things do seem to be happening quicker for the band these days. They formed in 2000 but most of the band have known each other for longer. Joel and Mel met in 1997 at college and formed a band, Chemise and Scott both knew from other bands she had played in, Goshi joined in 2002 after a chance meeting in a Weatherspoons and a joint interest in Indian music and Kat found an old ad on the web.
Chandy’s stories is a bit more unusual though. While working on her PHD she started writing songs as a foil to relieve the stress of quantum mechanics. After writing some songs while monitoring ice flows in Antarctica she decided put an ad back home and as luck would have it Joel was look- ing for a singer.
All the band have music in their veins. “Mel’s parents are musicians, Kat’s dad is a music teacher and she learned the harp in Church, Chandy’s entire family on her mother’s side are made up of brilliant singers, musicians and dancers, her granddad was an amazing man. Amit completely breathes music, he’s always singing and tapping, his family love signing budgens (devotional songs) late into the night,” Joel seems to be the rock dude of the band. “I have two older brothers who introduced me to the Sex Pistols at the age of seven. I remember getting the Joshua Tree and Appetite for Destruction on my first walkman when I was like 9 or 10 and I got obsessed with music really early on.” Not all the band have quite the same musical heritage though, “ Scott took up drums only about 5 years ago, to impress a girl I believe. His talent is blossoming at an incredible rate.” And some members of the band remain a mystery. “Chemise you can never tell, he has musical eyebrows.”
The Indian look and sound of the band is a big feature and one of the reasons they’ve caused such a stir. Joel doesn’t think that Indian music is underused or undervalued in the UK. “I’m pissed that the BBC are cutting the Asian Network, ask me that question in a years time and I may have a different response,” Joel says. And the rest of the band seem to agree. Drummer Scott pipes up “I’d say it’s not really accessible
to people outside the Indian community. My understanding is that Indian music tends to accompany a social situation/ celebration or a prayer. Unless your involved in that community it would be harder to experience Indian music as a genre.” “It’s really trendy these days, Chady says, “every schoolkids seems to be into Bollywood and bhangra!” But she admits it’s not trendy across the board. “There is a huge amount more to Indian music than those two popular genres. Classical genres like Karnatic music, Hindustani music, etc, are a very long way from penetrating the mainstream music scene.”
While not being a massive touring band (“We go for quality over quantity, vans and cider are an indie band’s game!”), the live show is going to be a big focus over the next year or so. Using funding from the Arts Council (which has paid for both albums) the band have some special plans. “This was a big part of the grant application” Joel explains, “We’ll be incorporating Khatak dance and spoke word into the live shows.”
And if you haven’t yet or don’t get to see enjoy the spectacle in the flesh there’s plenty of Sunday Driver visual companions out there with more planned. The first was Exceedingly Good Steam and You Only Steam Twice followed. The DVDs aren’t as well planned as you think. “It was all conceived the night before in a Weatherspoons in Holborn with Dan from Hold That Productions.” Sunday Driver have thought a little bit further ahead with this year. Two singles are due before the album in May and June, and performances in the U.S. and Germany are also planned.
Looking back on their accomplishments so far Chandy and Joel have very different highlights. For Joel it was when “A composer I will always be in awe of came to watch us play last year, afterwards he told me to keep doing what I am doing, that my style on the sitar is my own and not to worry about imitating or emulating more advanced players. He was very inspiring.” Chandy’s highlight is more internal than meeting a hero, it’s “the amazement that I get from seeing how the tiny seeds of a musical idea that pops into my head at random times can become a full-blown song that you can share with thousands of other people.” “The General was conceived in a massage parlour in Uganda in 2008, gestated during our travels through Chile, and was finally born almost a year later at Clapham Junction station, but Musicbox popped out fully formed while I was cleaning out our loft.” From the toilet to Weatherspoons and into the loft, Sunday Driver’s music gets everywhere.