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When I called up a Sunny Day in Glasgow for an interview Tuesday, the Philadelphia-based band was having a bad day. The group played in Savannah, Ga., the night before, and spent Tuesday morning exploring the city’s historic Bonaventure Cemetary—a site whose spookiness is a pretty good fit for a Sunny Day in Glasgow’s excellent, haunting new record of deconstructed dream pop, Ashes Grammar. The band probably won’t be going back there soon: While walking around the cemetery, singer Annie Fredrickson was attacked and bit by a stray dog, and the sextet spent the rest of the morning in the hospital. (Fredrikson’s fine.)
Anyway, the band told me they had to pull over, switch drivers, and call me back, but I didn’t hear again from the group’s leader, multi-instrumentalist Ben Daniels, until yesterday. After getting off the phone with me Tuesday, Daniels told me, the band barely avoided a collision in their van. (A Sunny Day in Glasgow is no stranger to road accidents, apparently.)
Once I did have Daniels on the phone, he was in good spirits, and he discussed covering the Misfits, emulating a classic of avante-garde music, and recording Ashes Grammar in a dance studio in New Jersey and a house in West Philadelphia. The band performs tonight at the Red and the Black with Young Republic and the Torches. After the jump, my condensed interview:
Washington City Paper: I know you’ve been covering “Hybrid Moments” by the Misfits on tour. Why that song?
Ben Daniels: Last year, when we were recording the record out in this really quirky farmland town, any time we’d leave it’d be one in the morning, and there were no street lights or anything of that—just a bunch of farms, and like a pumpkin patch. It was really dark, and [band member] Josh [Meakim] and I would always try to put on the scariest music we had on our iPods. And one day we put the Misfits on, and we were like, “oh man.” We had forgot how awesome the Misfits are, and kept talking how we wanted to record a bunch of versions of Misfits songs. And it didn’t happen until the very last day in the recording studio. We did a couple and “Hybrid Moments” was the best.
WCP: What other songs did you do?
BD: We recorded a version of “Last Caress” and we did “Halloween” and I started a version of “American Nightmare” [editor’s note: awesome], but that never got done.
WCP: The Misfits are kind of unappreciated pop songwriters.
BD: Yeah, I agree. They’ll say the craziest shit you’ve ever heard and follow it with some beautiful, poetic line.
WCP: And “Hybrid Moments” sort of has beautiful lyrics.
BD: Oh yeah, yeah. “When you cry/your face is momentary.” That’s pretty fantastic [laughs].
WCP: How did you find that recording space?
BD: I guess in August last year, when we got back from a short tour in Europe and we we were like, “alright, we gotta find a space, get things set up, and then go back to Europe once more.” I called a bunch of spaces in Philly and they were all really expensive and we didn’t really have any money. I just saw on Craigslist this person advertising a space for artists or dancers or whatever. It was in this town called Lambertville, which is about an hour and a half from Philly, and it was part of this larger warehouse. They had studio space, and they had actually taken a longer lease than they realized, and they were just looking for people to do whatever they wanted in there on weekends, so they were happy to have us.
WCP: I read that during your sessions for Ashes Grammar, you experimented with recording and rerecording amplified sounds, kind of like Alvin Lucier.
BD: Yeah, definitely. In “West Philly Vocoder,” it’s me doing that thing. And we went into every room in the house I was house-sitting [in West Philly] and Josh was getting found sounds and mixing it all together. And we did that a lot in the recording space. The recording space is actually in the key of A, and a lot of the songs were recorded in the key of E. It’s weird.
WCP: Do recording spaces have keys?
BD: That’s what Lucier was doing—resonating the natural harmonics of the room. Whatever sound you start with, by rerecording and rerecording, it’s eventually just the room that’s kind of ringing.
WCP: I saw Alvin Lucier perform once, and he was making music with, um, brainwaves. He had these electrodes on his head which connected to kick drums and other instruments around the room.
BD: That’s kind of amazing. I have a friend who’s really into experimental music like that. We put out an EP called Tout New Age a couple years ago, and right after that came out, he came over to my house and said, “You have to hear this guy. It’s crazy.” And he played me that original recording of “I Am Sitting In a Room.” And I was like, “That’s so cool. I didn’t know that was possible to do.”
WCP: The band went through some pretty significant lineup changes around the recording of the album. What bearing did that have on the recording sessions and the final product?
BD: I think it had a huge bearing. We did this tour in Europe, and Josh and I came back and starting playing and doing that thing. And, honestly, all we talked about on that tour was, “Yeah, we’re gonna record and it’ll be great.” And so when we got back to Philly, it was a little hard to find a space, but when I found it I sent an e-mail out to everybody that said, “I got it. We can record on weekends. It’s going to be great.” And then [vocalist] Robin [Daniels], my sister, sent this e-mail back to me that was like, “Basically, I’m not around on any of those weekends. It’s going to be hard for me to do anything on this album.” That was an immediate punch to the gut. So we worked around that for a little while. And then Brice [Hickey], our bass player who’s Robin’s boyfriend, he was taking stuff out of the trunk of his car, and he slipped on some leaves or something—he’s not sure how he did it—and broke his leg and was confined to his bed for two months. And Robin had to take care of him, so they were out of the picture. That was a really stressful time. We were really fortunate to meet Annie [Fredrickson], because for a lot of it, everything felt like it was falling apart, and it was going to be the end of everything, and I think that mood is all over the album a lot.
WCP: That seems like it’s a theme in the lyrics.
BD: Yeah, I started out with a loose concept—I don’t want to say it’s a concept album—that I wanted to explore, and I did that to a certain extent. But by December, it kind of felt very meta. It was just gloomy, malevolent stuff.
A Sunny Day in Glasgow performs at the Red and the Black at 9 p.m. $8. Image courtesy of A Sunny in Glasgow’s MySpace page.