Sun Airway is an indie pop outfit from Philadelphia. Their EP "Oh, Naoko" is available for free here.

How did Sun Airway get started?

Jon: Patrick and I had been playing together for five or six years in a band called “The A-sides.” We got back from a tour and were starting to think about what was next and the rest of the band quit. The two of us still wanted to make music but didn't want to find replacements and keep that band going. I had also had been wanting to do more electronic and sample-based stuff and was really bored with the guitar so I thought this would be a good chance to do something completely different. So we bought some recording gear and started Sun Airway.

Who are your major musical influences?

This is always a tough question because there was a time when I was writing music and wanted to sound exactly like the '63 Beatles or wanted to remake (The Beach Boys) Pet Sounds and I could've said exactly what my influences were. I think those kinds of influences were so strong that they shaped a lot of my approach to a sort of pop songwriting but at this point influences come from everywhere. It's interesting working with samples because you can use the things that you love in your music, even if it's more textural. Now I feel influences more in production values, or the actual sound quality, whether it's a certain organ sound that I can sample and loop a half a second of, or a bass drum sound that I want to recreate and re-contextualize. There is no shortage of that sort of inspiration. I have to shut myself off to it when I'm in the middle of a project and reopen myself up to it when I'm ready to work on something new.

What do you look for when you are compiling a sound or a texture? With such unlimited things to draw from, how do you know where to start?

This is true, it is completely unlimited...a lot of times I'll have to just note something when I hear it and keep it in mind for when I'm looking for that sort of thing. But what I really enjoy about it is that most of it is coincidence. A lot of what I use are old vinyl rips that I download and will just go through them and highlight things that I think I can use and just start building loops out of them. So a lot of a song will depend on what I have found at a certain point in time and a number of those things mixed and matched. And often if I can't find what I'm looking for I will create it myself and sample myself and break it up into loops the same way that I work with something prerecorded. Then mix these elements, change tones, speeds, add effects, sequence, etc. until the song takes shape. Hope that makes sense.

There has been a lot of buzz about the Philadelphia music scene the last few years, what do you think makes it so unique?

Philadelphia is an amazing place to be a musician. It has a very rare combination of being cheap and interesting. Every time I tell someone in NYC or LA how much we pay for our practice space and how enormous it is, their heads explode a little bit. The city is also small enough that you really feel a sense of community in the music scene. The environment here is just very nurturing and supportive of creative projects. It's an exciting thing to be part of and it's great to see people working so hard and finally getting some recognition.

Your EP is available for a free download on your website, something that is starting to become more common with bands, what pushed you to do this?

Part of why we made the EP a free download is because for once, it didn't cost us anything to make. We had been in the studio system before, where you scrape together all the cash you can and go into a studio for weeks and work on an album. Then there is all this pressure to find someone to put it out and pay for it and you're just trying to break even. Then if you do find a record label, there is all the prep time on their end and it can take what seems like an eternity to get your record out. This is just us, being excited to have matters in our own hands, recording our own music and being able to get it out there as soon as it is finished and then move forward. Also, we just wanted to get something out there to buy us some time while we work on a full-length and try to put together a live band of some sort.

Are you currently trying to find a label, or are you guys trying to stay fully independent?

Once we finish recording a full-length, we will probably shop it around to labels just to see if there's interest and what might be out there. There's definitely no pressure for something like that though, so if we're not finding anything, we will probably just release it ourselves.

What is the next step for Sun Airway?

I guess I kind of answered that with the last question. We are trying to finish up a full-length album at the moment. Probably most of the EP stuff will be on it and then another seven songs or so. I'm thinking it will probably be done by January or February. Also, we're just starting to practice and put together a live band, which is kind of new and difficult for us since a lot of it is computer-based but we still want the live show to be engaging. So a bit of work to do there, but hopefully we'll have an album to show for it and we'll be ready to start playing some shows around the same time.

How do you translate your electronic music into a live band?

This is the question we're trying to answer right now. A lot of the samples and loops will have to be played as they are, so there will be a prerecorded element, but I think we're going to try to double some of the beats with real drums and percussion, and we'll probably have someone playing all the low-end stuff on a bass and/or synth. Then possibly some more synths or keyboards to fill it out. I think that the more people we add to create real live sounds will help make it more of an engaging live experience as opposed to just a couple guys standing behind computers.

When you start bringing in new musicians do you find it helpful to have a new perspective on your songs?

I've always enjoyed a new perspective from other musicians in the past, but with this since a lot of it is already recorded, I've kind of had to play all those roles already. So now it will be more about how to make it sound its best in a live setting. I am excited about getting some different perspectives on that and I guess that could possibly make me want to go back into the recordings and edit accordingly if we find something that is working better than what we already have.

Visit Sun Airway's website.

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© 2009

Sun Airway Interview

Marshall Rake