Ironically, losing half the band was what led The Sunny Era to radically expand its sound. When its original guitarist and bassist left to start families, the local trio realized that the remaining musicians also shared a love of world music. The result, last year’s This Darkness Of Love, was a seismic shift in the sound from the straight-up indie rock of its debut, adding Spanish, Middle Eastern, and particularly gypsy instrumentation. The band’s new disc, Gone Missing, pushes even further in that direction, cooking up a tasty indie-pop/gypsy fusion that should pique the interest of any DeVotchKa fans. The A.V. Club sat down with guitarist/vocalist Eric Stainbrook, multi-instrumentalist Laila Stainbrook, and percussionist Rob Foehl in advance of The Sunny Era’s CD release show on Saturday, April 16, at Loring Theater with Lucy Michelle & The Velvet Lapelles and Zoo Animal.
The A.V. Club: Both Stainbrooks are classically trained, and Laila plays clarinet in the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra. What’s it like to cross between the classical and pop worlds?
Laila Stainbrook: It is very different. I think at first, the learning curve was really steep. I had never played in a [rock] band together before, playing with Eric, and I was very hesitant and reluctant at first.
Eric Stainbrook: I dragged her into it. [Laughs.]
LS: It was very difficult at first to come up with my own parts and move away from the realm of being a classical musician. That was a different mindset. [Laughs.] Now it’s second nature, and I love it. But back then, to be in this band and have to take a whole new approach—
ES: And have nothing—you just bring your instrument and you.
LS: You just figure out what you’re going to play. One thing that’s interesting is that playing in a band has helped my confidence with playing classically, because playing classically, you always feel like you’re in a spotlight, and perfection is so important.
ES: You always feel like you’re behind the curve. You’ve got to be perfect.
LS: Playing live [with Sunny Era], people are so much more forgiving. People have a different attitude.
ES: Everybody’s there to have a good time, not sit in judgement. I think in classical music, you feel judged a little more than you would at the Triple Rock.
Rob Foehl: People [at the Triple Rock] might be judgmental about us as a band, but they’re not going, “Oh my gosh, you just missed that pitch.”
LS: “That note was flat,” or “You rushed the end of that 16th-note run,” or the conductor gives you a dirty look. [Laughs.]
ES: If you don’t make your entrance with us, you just keep going and have fun with it. The cool part is the change, and then you interact with that change. That’s what I find is the stimulating part about the whole thing, is things happen at shows, and once I accepted the fact that nothing’s going to go the way you think it’s going to go, ever, I just embraced it and it’s a blast.
RF: Every live performance is its own living organism.
ES: It’s exciting! In a classical setting, that exists as well, that’s what you strive for, but it’s difficult to achieve because you’ve got so much guideline and structure. That energy is easier to attain in a band.
AVC: Indie rockers can be judgmental, but they’re judgmental about completely different things.
ES: [Laughs.] Right.
AVC: Eric, besides Sunny Era you also have a day job as a musician.
ES: I teach orchestra in Moundsview, in middle school. It’s cool, because it’s kind of the opposite thing, they’re just learning. It gives me energy to watch them grow. It’s really exciting, and I get to act like a little kid. I think being in the band helps me keep in touch with what it’s like to be sitting in the orchestra. I can understand them a little bit better, as opposed to directing all day long and then just going home and sitting down.
AVC: Sunny Era’s music took a big turn into world music on your second record, This Darkness Of Love, which is still your defining sound.
ES: For sure. That was the big transition, [fusing] gypsy/Romanian/Eastern European indie rock.
RF: Sometimes, we get a little bit of a hard time for not picking sides. But for me, that’s awesome, because we’re trying to split the middle. We aren’t trying to be a legitimate world-music ensemble, but we aren’t trying to do straightforward guitar/bass/keyboard indie-rock either.
AVC: How would you say your approach evolved on Gone Missing?
LS: It’s more focused. There were still some tracks on This Darkness Of Love that had that indie-rock feel, like “The Wrong Way Home.”
RF: This Darkness Of Love was a bit of an experiment. And when you’re experimenting, there’s a certain amount of uncertainty and nervousness. You can box yourself in. We were a lot less restrained on Gone Missing because the experiment, for us, worked.
ES: We thought [This Darkness Of Love] might alienate some of the people who really liked our first stuff.
RF: We were pleasantly surprised.
ES: I think the first album is just totally an anomaly. These two are the tradition that we’ll take up. I would say as a full work of art, this album is much better than This Darkness Of Love, but I think it’s about halfway to where I want to be.
AVC: Where’s that?
ES: We have pieces now that are more simple and sparse, and I think the orchestration could be expanded [the way we did on Gone Missing’s] “Odessa.” I see that as a personal goal of mine.
RF: That’s the orchestra leader talking, right?
RF: My goal is more amorphous, which is that at the end of the day, whatever we do, that I just love it. That’s going to be good enough for me.
AVC: What’s it like being in a band with your spouse?
ES: It’s awesome. I think sometimes you [Laila] feel like I get mad—
ES: —but I never feel I’m angry or frustrated or anything. It’s always fun for me.
LS: We talked about having a business together someday even before we did the band, and now it’s like, “Oh! This is the business we always wanted to have together.”