Q&A: Sunshine Riot know ‘Everything’s Going To Be Alright’
Boston alt-rock band’s new EP ‘Electrical Tape’, recorded with Steve Albini at Chicago’s Electrical Audio, out everywhere April 23
EP includes brand new single and opening track ‘Everything’s Going To Be Alright’
“...melancholic alternative rock, brimming with '90s nostalgia.” -- Middle Eight (UK)
Look, sometimes you just need to round up your friends, head to Chicago, and rock the fuck out. So that’s exactly what Sunshine Riot did.
With a rare break from touring and playing extensively around New England and the Northeast afforded by the pandemic, the Boston alt-rock band -- negative COVID tests in hand -- flew out to Chicago last summer to record with Steve Albini at the legendary Electrical Audio studio. The result is the apply-named Electrical Tape EP, which is unleashed Friday, April 23, alongside a new single titled “Everything’s Going To Be Alright.”
publi*sist sat down with Sunshine Riot singer and guitarist Jonny Orton to discuss the new single, recording with Albini, and how the track reflects the new EP as a whole.
publi*sist: What is “Everything’s Going To Be Alright” about lyrically?
Jonny Orton: I guess it's a bit tongue in cheek -- it's a song about writing songs, I think. Can you still write good rock and roll songs when you're happy? Are you ever happy? Have you ever written a good rock and roll song? This song was written, musically and lyrically, before everything. Before Covid. Before George Floyd was murdered in bright, cold daylight. So, the title, which was initially some sardonic nod to the practical realities of being 4 dudes in their 30's playing guitar driven rock, kind of became something else entirely. America is a violent ocean, sure, but she's a beautiful crash of foam at that, and she's home, and, if we remember we're all neighbors and need to stop hurting one another, I do think everything is going to be alright.
What was the writing process like?
I think this one came together pretty fast. It's a straight rock/roll song for sure. Sometimes you have a verse and chorus and you labor pretty relentlessly over the bridge or the outro, or the solo etc...then again, sometimes that verse/chorus feels good enough and you play through a few times as a band and you're done. I'm really not sure why that happens. We did rearrange it after we played it live a few times - the first time at The Bitter End in the lower east side, off tour. Guy Clark had this great saying about a song not being done until you play it for people. That was definitely the case for this song.
What inspired the track's sound?
Why, the relentless AM radio-static-headache of livin', of course.
How does this song fit into Electrical Tape?
Well, I think it's a pretty good example of the kinds of guitar and drum sounds you can get in Electrical Audio. Also, vocally, there is this thing that happens in that room - if you sing loud enough, you kind of break the membrane of the space, and the vocal notes start splashing off the brick. I think that shines through a bit on this song.
How does this track represent and' reflect Electrical Tape as a whole?
I think this song, more than any other on this EP, reflects the heat, and the physical space, and the sensation of that studio, on that July weekend in Chicago. I'm not sure it's the best song on the EP, candidly (though, it is my favorite to play live). But, I think it is a mirror for that moment as a band. And, I think maybe, it was a reflection of what was going on around us. It was a moment of terrific pain, and in some cases death, for lots of folks in America. People found different ways to scream that Summer, this was ours.
How was Steve Albini's influence felt on this track?
Well, I think we knew this would be a sensible song to cut with him -- it's a track built almost purely on a loud/quiet dynamic, and he's pretty famous for that sort of thing. But, this is actually a hard question to answer. My impression of Steve is that he actually doesn't want to influence the artists he records a whole heck of a lot. He is sort of a scientist (or more specifically, an engineer), and he's really interested in capturing sounds as they are played live. If you're in his room, I suppose you're influenced a bit by Steve's own expectation of excellence (both of himself and of the band), and that can shake out a lot different ways on wax.
What else ya got as we ready the release of Electrical Tape?
I can't believe we're still making music together. I feel awfully lucky we're still doing that and I think these are pretty good songs.
‘Electrical Tape’ artwork:
Sunshine Riot bio:
Gritty times call for gritty sounds. And Sunshine Riot are answering the bell.
For the past 10 years or so, the veteran Boston rock band ran with a variety of genres, swirling around a cocktail of guitar-rock that boasted dalliances with soul, Americana, punk, blues, and grunge. But as darkness fell upon society at the start of the pandemic age, the quartet hopped on a plane (safely, of course) to record a new EP in Chicago with acclaimed engineer Steve Albini at Electrical Audio.
The end result, April 23’s Electrical Tape EP, became something as startling as it is authentic: A raw, damn near primal alternative rock record that packs the introspection and dedication one must possess to survive in this day in age. Leading the charge is the EP’s opening track and lead single, the fiery “Fast Train,” which hit digital streams in January and quickly became a Boston local radio favorite, gaining airplay on several independent stations and shows and landing the #1 spot in the Boston Emissions Song of the Week poll.
“‘Fast Train’ is kind of a funky song lyrically -- it probably gives The Stone Roses a pretty good run for their money in terms of sparseness,” says singer/guitarist Jonny Orton. “What is there, though, is a collection of images that I find compelling, something like photographs of youth. The lyrical phrase ‘do not take the fast train’ roughly translates into an anti-suicide euphemism; I think it was a line that popped into my head after hearing about Anthony Bourdain's passing and I'd been trying to park it in a song for a few years. Elsewhere, ‘Maybe we're all just waiting out a storm’ seemed fitting to me in that context and perhaps doubly so in the age of covid… and other associated apocalyptic mania.”
Electrical Tape may come off like an evolution in sound for Sunshine Riot, but after more than a decade in the game, what emits from the speakers is a band finally comfortable in their own skin, playing this damned game of rock and roll on their own terms, propped up by their own merits and fueled by their own creativity. In the end, despite what dressing coats the core of whatever genre label someone on the outside may apply, the foundation remains a rock and roll ethos as timeless as the music itself.
“Sometimes we joke that giving up was the best thing that ever happened to this band, and I think that's true,” Orton says. “When Sunshine Riot started, 10-plus years ago, we were all 20 years old, and not only believed we would be a massive commercial success, but were young and dumb enough to think it not only possible but inevitable. After a few years, the hard realities of the music business, and guitar music in particular, set in. For a lot of bands and artists, that lack of commercial success is heartbreaking and they stop making art. I'm not sure what other folks' experience is, but for us, giving up on commercial success and just focusing on making the best music we can, touring for the sake of touring, and recording without expectation, has been incredibly liberating.”
Like most bands, the arrival of COVID-19 wreaked havoc on Sunshine Riot’s 2020 plans. A national tour was canned, ambitions dashed, and venues here in Boston and across the country closed up shop. The year was looking like a lost cause, so the band sucked it up and went to work: “We wrote some songs, and hopped a plane to Chicago and recorded with Steve Albini… We approached Electrical Tape the same way we approach every session -- we showed up prepared, didn't overthink it once they hit ‘record’, and tried to put out the best songs we had in us at that particular moment in time.”
Sunshine Riot is:
Jonny Orton - Guitars, Vocals
Jeff Sullivan - Bass
Mark Tetreault - Guitar
Steven Shepherd - Drums, Percussion
‘Electrical Tape’ credits:
All songs written and performed by Sunshine Riot
Engineered and mixed by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio, Chicago, IL
Mastered by Mark Stephenson at Clean Analog Mastering
EP artwork by Steven Shepherd