Shining with the Sunrise Ocean Bender – Long Name, Great Label
| Dave Thompson
With so many new record labels springing up in recent years, many of whom are literally concerned with records, as opposed to coasters and computer files, it is way too easy to start allowing a few to slip past your radar. In a sea of unfamiliarity, what is one more or less purveyor of perfectly packaged platters? There’s sure to be another along in another few minutes.
Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Sunrise Ocean Bender should not have that problem. Distinctively named for a cut by the Tadpoles, from their album Whirlaway, Sunshine Ocean Blender started life as a much-loved show on Richmond’s WRIR, spotlighting new music of a proggy/psych.experimental bent; became a blog, too, packed with reviews; and last year, made the leap to a full fledged record label. It’s still only a handful of releases old, including the Evening Fires vinyl of recent renown, but there’s big plans for the future, and a great story too. Label head Kevin McFadin recalls the dawn of the Sunrise:
Spin Cycle: To start with, tell us about WRIR, and how your show became a label in the first place.
KM: “About six-plus years ago, I started volunteering at WRIR. That led to the show ‘Sunrise Ocean Bender’ (with Tadpole Todd Parker’s blessing to lift the moniker), a stint as Program Director at the station, and eventually a blog on the side where I reviewed music like the stuff played on the show… WRIR’s a fantastic place: volunteer run, community supported; and, through the show, I got to know bands, artists, assorted label bosses, etc.
“At the time I was working with a guy in town who suggested that taking Sunrise Ocean Bender to a record label was the next logical step. Whether or not that was, in fact, logical is yet to be seen, but it started the process rolling for us. I started sending out feelers, brain picking, talking to folks who ran their own thing, and the consensus seemed to be ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’ (My ‘partner’ [eventually] decided he wasn’t in it for the long haul and made his exit.)
“The Movements ended up being our first release, in summer 2014, followed by E GONE, Chef Menteur, and Evening Fires. That’s the extent of my background; just a big fan really that who realized he knew enough folks to get into trouble.
SC: What were your initial goals for the label – and how close are you to achieving them?
KM: “That’s a good question, though I don’t know if I have a cogent answer. The Evening Fires album was originally slated to be the first release, and since that recently came out, I guess the initial goal has finally been met.
“Distribution was certainly a goal, and that’s been secured overseas and in North America. So far, each release has been great to work on in its own ways. And that’s really what’s important to me outside of the music; to work with people who are interested in overcoming the external and internal obstacles for the bigger picture. So far so good, I’m happy to say.
“As frustrating as it can be, I do dig the process as much as the product. From the people I’ve gotten to know who are doing the same thing, I’ve learned that sustainability is always a good goal to keep striving for. Someone asked me recently what release I was working on next, and I said it was really nothing like the last one; they informed me that so far that’s been the case with all our releases. If so, then I’m happy to say that means there’s no finish line.”
SC: In a nutshell,sum up Sunrise Ocean Blender’s musical output.
KM: “The label and show are regarded as ‘psychedelic’ for the most part, whatever that means anymore. When I started the show, I never thought of it that way; I played whatever I wanted to, because that’s what WRIR is all about. For me, that could be anything from electronic, ambient, prog, space rock, psych rock and pop, to indulgences in ‘Rock’…
“The show has obviously grown over the years, and I hope the label does the same. I’m obviously a psych fan, in all its guises, but I’d hate that to become a limitation on the label if something came up that I wanted to be involved in.”
SC: Your vinyl releases are the most eye-catching, but the Chef Menteur set was a triple CD… I guess for obvious reasons. Goodness knows how any sides of vinyl it would have consumed. So, vinyl vs CD vs download – which side are you on (if any), and why?
KM: “I’m not on any side, really. I remember when there weren’t CDs, then they were king, then the digital flood, and now the ‘resurgence’ in vinyl. I exploit them all on a case-by-case basis, I suppose.
“If I had my druthers though, every time it would be vinyl. It’s what I started listening to, back in the day. I love the physicality, the history, how it makes me slow down to listen and enjoy. But that’s pretty idealistic, at least for me; one also has to consider spending funds, the availability of a release, shipping, etc… I’m happy that these days when I hear something I want, there’s always an option I can work with to keep hearing it. So I try to keep the enjoyment of the music as the top priority.
“It’s been fun watching the ‘rise’ of vinyl again for sure, but a lot of it unfortunately seems to be about format and fetish, and not about the music. That happened with the accessibility digital allowed, though that became all about acquisition. History of the world all over again.”
SC: How did you go about finding the things you’ve released so far? Let’s begin with the Movements.
KM: “They all stemmed from the show and the now defunct blog for the most part.
“I’d always been a fan of The Movements. I think their take on some psych rock/pop tropes have a slant that’s not in abundance in the US, so the chance to get behind that here was hard to step away from. I hear all sorts of ‘classicist’ elements in their songs, stretching from outfits like The Moodys, The Byrds, right up to the ‘now’… much like The Soundtrack of Our Lives.
“It was a great first learning experience that was essentially handed to me. As far as the music itself, Over time, I’d gotten to know Thomas Widholm from the band a little bit, and when SOB was getting ready to announce her intentions, he asked if I might know someone in the US [who would be] up for releasing their album Like Elephants 2.
“Well, that would be me. Thomas put me in touch with Crusher Records, who were releasing The Movements overseas, and things got rolling. Initially, SOB was just going to release LE2Stateside; individually, LE2 and its prior companion album, LE1, can stand on their own, although I also felt they were fundamentally tied together.
“Another label had the rights for LE1, but hadn’t moved on a vinyl release. At the eleventh hour we secured LE1, and so were able to present both albums in one package as I thought they should be heard.”
SC: Chef Menteur. Three CDs, including one previously unreleased set. It’s a fabulous set…
KM: “I cannot remember how I became aware of Chef Menteur, but when I did I was blown away. I wrote a review of their album East of the Sun & West of the Moon, worked them into the show… Alec Vance reached out and we started talking. Eventually we came around to putting out the 3-disc set III, which allowed us to combine East/West again, an unreleased companion album North of Tomorrow & South of Yesterday and their latest, Force Majeure. It’s a whopping serving of music, one I’m very proud of being involved with.
SC: I first came across the label through your hook up with Deep Water Acres, whose catalog includes CD versions of Evening Fires and E GONE. How did that come about?
KM: “Kevin Moist of Evening Fires had gotten in touch with the show when he released Dead Sea Apes’ Lupus on his own label Deep Water Acres a few years back. That opened the floodgates for me to Deep Water and of course Evening Fires. I had picked Kevin’s brain about heading into a label, and when he put Evening Fires on the table, it was a dream come true. Deep Water had also released a CD of E GONE’s All the Suns of the Earth, which knocked me out, and Kevin graciously put that on the table as well when I asked about doing a vinyl release.
“I think what we’ve released up ‘til now―and what’s coming up next―speak to the label’s intentions pretty well. Each release is vastly different from the next, or the previous. I don’t want the label to get so eclectic [that] it comes across as scatter-shot, but I don’t want to limit what can be done with it either. That’s essentially what the broadcast has been doing since the start, and since everything seems to have grown from that, I’m on track.
“E GONE just knocked me out when I heard that album. Daniel Westerlund, who is E GONE, somehow managed to retain what he began earlier with The Goner, and then either implode it or explode it, I’m still trying to figure out which.
“One review called it beguiling, and I can’t think of a better word. How he twists diversity into continuity is captivating. Maybe more than anything so far, that album as an example sums up SOB’s intentions the most concisely.
“That bleeds over to Chef Menteur as well. They cover a lot of ground, and they cover it effortlessly. When I heard East/West,I was in. Completely. Space rock, prog, drone, kosmische―all are parts of what psych is to me, so trying to work with them was really a given… when III was being realized, it felt like it was really that next logical step we talked about earlier.
“The very nature of Evening Fires is going to make it tough to nail down how they ‘fit in.’ Honestly, if I totally figured them out I’d be slashing the enjoyment of their music. Like Chef Menteur (though in a vastly different way), they have a scope that is staggering, and elusive. I called one of their earlier albums on Deep Water one of the most unlikely, and best, space rock records I’d ever heard. Where I’ve Been Is Places and What I’ve Seen Is Thingsleans quite a bit to the space rock, but to me it’s also extremely progressive. So in terms of intentions, you really couldn’t draw a straight line from The Movements through to Evening Fires, and I’m proud of that and that it’s worked.”
SC: And future plans?
“There’s four releases in the hopper now, probably all wrapping up by early 2016. The next one dropping this September is Dead Sea Apes, a co-release with Cardinal Fuzz. I’ve known Dead Sea Apes since Soy Dios in ’10, and that’s probably about the time I met Dave Cambridge of Cardinal Fuzz.
“Getting to know Dave first as someone who checked out the radio show, and then watching him take off with Optical Sounds Fanzine and Cardinal Fuzz, playing DSA on the show, the back and forth… it’s pretty heady company and oddly full circle. Toss in meeting Kevin of Deep Water around the time of Lupus makes for more overlapping full-circles. I love that… ‘the confluence of many rivers.’
“Coming up around January ‘16 we’ll have the debut LP from JuJu, the new project of Gioele Valenti of HERSELF and Lay Llamas. Running almost neck and neck with JuJu is Sons of the Void, a new outing from David Max, formerly of Tadpoles and Psychic TV. Both of those are moving headlong into the homestretch now.
“I’m also heading back to Deep Water Acres for a co-release of the next E GONE. I’m always game to get into trouble with Kevin and DWA, so to come round to another full circle with E GONE is a real kick.
“There’s more gestating and cogitating happening for later next year, but no hard targets to announce yet. I’ve really enjoyed the co-release process and would be happy to see that grow. Eventually I would love to steer the ship into re-releases; those could be of the ‘lost gems’ variety, or just making some great older albums more readily available.
“And of course there’s always the inevitable company plane to look forward to….”