Back in the early ’90s, the only bands being called emo were hardcore outfits with screaming singers; that all changed when Sunny Day Real Estate issued Diary in 1994. Suddenly the emotion was being channeled through powerful rock songs teeming with melody, and when layered with Jeremy Enigk’s otherworldly vocals—which, yes, he sometimes screamed—the songs on the Seattle band’s debut helped launch the second wave of emo. But things soon went awry in the Sunny Day camp, and the band split prior to the release of its second album, commonly referred to as LP2. Since then, the four members—Enigk, guitarist Dan Hoerner, bassist Nate Mendel, and drummer William Goldsmith—have gone on to do things like play with the Foo Fighters, release solo albums, farm in the sticks, and, oh yeah, get back together twice (the first time without Mendel) and start an entirely new project called The Fire Theft (without Hoerner). The current reunion is accompanied by reissues of the first two discs and a monthlong North American tour, which includes a date Sept. 23 at First Avenue. The A.V. Club spoke with Hoerner and e-mailed with Enigk about the band’s tumultuous past, having all four original members back together for the first time since 1995, and how they feel about the current state of the genre they helped shape.
The A.V. Club: Jeremy, much was made about your conversion to Christianity, which you announced on the Internet in a letter that included lines like, “I want it to be what Sunny Day Real Estate is about, so that others out there will hear. But there are mixed feelings about what we could do about me wanting to sing about Christ.” So was it the religion that originally got in the way of the band?
Jeremy Enigk: It wasn’t the reason the band broke up, but it did influence my final decision in leaving the band. We were having some internal tensions and were on the verge of falling apart. Sadly, all the joy was sucked out of playing due to numerous reasons, and that made playing an arduous task. Having a spiritual awakening gave me the courage and strength to move on and create a new path in my life.
AVC: So what was it that broke you up?
Dan Hoerner: I think it was a problem of four young men still trying to figure out how to be in the world and how to relate. You know, it’s four young men being married to each other, and breaking up. Bands break up because it’s hard for dudes to live together and to spend every waking moment together and go through the grind of touring and recording and all that stuff. It’s the really rare U2, Aerosmith, Who bands that manage to make it through and persist over a long period of time. Most bands break up because dudes are unstable, especially young, not even fully formed personalities. It was just four dudes and internal tensions and yadda-yadda-yadda starts to happen, and you break up. I mean, that’s just the story of rock.
AVC: What brought you guys back together this time?
JE: Nate approached us about it in late 2007, but I was in the middle of writing and recording a new album and William was in pre-production with his band Brawley Banks, so we put it on the back burner. The fact that Nate wanted and had time to do it was the most exciting thing for me. It was a difficult thing when we reunited without him for How It Feels To Be Something On and The Rising Tide. It never felt whole or complete. So the fact that we could unite again with all four of us was a no-brainer.
AVC: What’s the future of Sunny Day Real Estate?
DH: I think right now the plan is to take it one step at a time. Nate is still in the Foo Fighters and that’s his main priority, and that’s a huge commitment and a huge priority, and Jeremy, he’s got his solo thing, which is cruising along—I thought OK Bear was really good. I think the public priority, the thing that we want to do that we’re talking about doing, is the tour and potentially doing a European tour and a Southeast Asian/Australia or New Zealand tour. Since we’re in the business of making my dreams come true, I’ll go ahead and wish that we could record another record. I can’t even imagine that happening, but it would be so amazing to be able to record with Nate again. But right now the mandate is: Just get ready for the shows, get ready for the tour, and do the best we can do. But I would love to play new music.
AVC: Whether you like it or not, Diary and LP2 helped create the template for the second wave of emo. Do you share the opinion of the guitarist of The Get Up Kids, who recently apologized to the world for influencing the current state of emo?
DH: [Laughs.] Fuck no. First of all, if Sunny Day’s music had a positive influence on even one person to play music or to express themselves in a different way, then I think that we won the war. To look down on people who are currently making music because they have influences—are you kidding me? [Laughs.] I was trying to be The Edge, I just sucked at playing guitar, so I was not able to be The Edge. But if I could have been in a U2 cover band and played The Edge’s music perfectly, that’s probably the career path I would have taken. So I love the fact that people consider Sunny Day an influence—I don’t give a shit what kind of music they play. The fact that they’re trying to express themselves, that they’re gonna be these monkeys and get up onstage and bang on their noisemakers and try and say something about what they’re feeling—to me, that’s like the greatest compliment in the world. Not dissing the other guy—I forget who you said—because everyone’s got their own feelings, but for me, it’s like the height of arrogance to say that what people are doing now is wrong or bad. They’re just trying to express themselves in whatever way they can. I hope that people continue to enjoy Sunny Day.