By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Veterans on the Bay Area neo-psych scene for over a decade, San Francisco band Sleepy Sun celebrates the release of their new album Private Tales with two shows in Santa Cruz and SF this week.
First coming together in 2005 as a shaggy crew of UC Santa Cruz students in the blues-tinged garage-rock band Mania, singer Bret Constantino, guitarists Matt Holliman and Evan Reiss, bassist Hubert Guy, and drummer Brian Tice gradually shifted to a more hazy, riff-focused style of psychedelia. By 2007, they decided their sound had evolved so much that they may as well change their name.
It was at their first show as Sleepy Sun that the band met singer Rachel Fannan, vocalist for Santa Cruz indietronic act Birds Fled from Me. Williams was invited to sit in with the band at a show before they sprung a surprise question on her: would she travel with them to Vancouver for sessions to record their debut album?
Tracked with noted Vancouver-based producer Colin Stewart (who had worked with like-minded Vancouver psych band Black Mountain and indie-rock group Destroyer), Embrace ran the gamut from slowly unfolding, Sabbath-tinged grooves of “New Age” and “Sleepy Son” to the desert-baked cosmic country heard on “Duet for the Northern Sky” to the melancholy psych-gospel of “Lord.” Throughout, the intertwining vocal harmonies of Constantino and Williams tied the songs together.
The self-released 2008 album coincided with the band’s move to San Francisco, where they lived for a time in a communal house in the city’s Sunset District. The album was reissued by ATP Records (the label affiliated with the now defunct All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the UK) and led to invites to play at ATP and San Francisco’s own Noise Pop Festival as well as a spot opening for British rock outfit the Arctic Monkeys. The band would issue a follow-up effort Fever, also recorded in Vancouver with Stewart, that carried a similar vibe to the debut and garnered more glowing reviews.
Though Fannan would depart suddenly while touring to support that album, the group continued on as a a five piece. In 2012, the band released it’s next album Spine Hits, this time recorded in Joshua Tree with desert rock guitar great Dave Catching and Ethan Allen producing. Delving deeper into extended psychedelic guitar epics, that effort and their next — Maui Tears in 2014, the band’s first for indie imprint Dine Alone Records — found the band further refining its exploratory sound.
It has taken some time for Sleepy Sun to return with new material. The band initially announced the completion of their fifth album back in July of 2015, but reconsidered after further listening, deciding to reunite with Colin Stewart as producer to bring the recording to its full potential. The long and sometimes trying process was further complicated by Constantino’s relocation to Texas and the eventual departure of longtime bassist Jack Allen (though both Allen and Owen Kelley, a member of Reiss and Holliman other band Fine Points, recorded bass parts for the album).
The band finally gets to celebrate the pending release of Private Tapes in early June this week with a pair of local live performances. At times hearkening back to the dreamy sounds of early ’90s shoegaze — on the atmospheric opener “Prodigal Vampire” and “It’s Up To You” — the record offers up some of Sleepy Sun’s most accessible songs to date without leaving the band’s trademark fuzz-laden freakouts behind entirely.
Sleepy Sun returns to the band’s Santa Cruz origins with a Thursday night show at the Catalyst with support from Drevmers. On Friday, they play a headlining hometown gig at the Great American Music Hall where they will be joined by guitarist Isaiah Mitchell’s band Golden Void. Though he first came to wider fame as a third of the powerhouse mostly instrumental psych trio Earthless, since 2009 Mitchell has been working with the rhythm section of bassist Aaron Morgan and drummer Justin Pinkerton before eventually bringing his then girlfriend/now wife Camilla Mitchell-Saufley to play keyboards and sing. Offering a different kind of showcase for Mitchell’s vocal chops and songwriting than the stratospheric improvisation of Earthless, Golden Void has recorded two acclaimed albums for Thrill Jockey. On Friday, renowned guitarist Matt Baldwin opens the show with a solo electric set.
Thursday, May 25, 8:30 p.m. $15-$18
Friday, May 26, 8 p.m. $15-$17
Great American Music Hall