Sunset Rubdown talks strange songwriting
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Until recently, the complex arrangements and experimental bent of Sunset Rubdown had the band pegged as a side project, a front for frontman Spencer Krug to go wild when he wasn’t writing taut tracks for his other band, Wolf Parade. But Sunset Rubdown buried that notion this summer with Dragonslayer, its fourth album. Dragonslayer delivers eight gorgeous songs that appear to have emerged from a haunted forest, dripping with melody, atmosphere, and a pastoral sensibility that’s far from Wolf Parade’s nervous new-wave. In advance of a performance at Sonar in Baltimore on Saturday, October 17, Sunset Rubdown vocalist, keyboardist, and jack-of-all-trades Camilla Wynne Ingr spoke with The A.V. Club about tangled song structures and drunken performances.
The A.V. Club: A lot of people think of Sunset Rubdown as a Spencer Krug project. To what extent do you and the rest of the band contribute to the songwriting?
Camilla Wynne Ingr: Spencer’s the songwriter. He brings in the chord progressions and the lyrics. Well, he doesn’t always bring the lyrics, but he comes in with a structure. For the most part, everyone works out their own parts, and everyone has a say in developing the structures. It can change pretty vastly from what he brings in to what it becomes on the record or live. But ultimately Spencer’s the songwriter, and I assume everyone’s in the band because he’s an amazing songwriter. It’s a pleasure to be able to work on the music that he writes.
AVC: What about Spencer’s songs intrigue you?
CWI: I didn’t know Spencer when he asked me to join the band. A few months before, someone had put some of his solo stuff on a tape for me and I remember walking around listening to it and I fell in love with it. He has a really amazing, distinctive voice that I think is one of my favorite things. And his lyrics. And his structures. I think with this last record, we tried to be poppier—we tried to make pop songs. But even then, it’s not chorus-verse-chorus-bridge, you know? He writes really meandering but focused music. Challenging. At the same time, I feel like you can appreciate it for pop music, which it is, and just nod your head to it—drive to the store with it on. Or you can find something a little more challenging in there.
AVC: There aren’t many songs on the album, and many seem interlaced with one another. To what extent is Dragonslayer a concept album, if at all?
CWI: I’d say that if it is in any way, it’s not conscious. I think there’s a lot of lyrical tie-ins between a lot of songs, but I think that’s pretty unconscious. I think a lot of it just had to do with the fact that they’re written in the same period. I think our last album [2007's Random Spirit Lover] was way more deliberate than this one was.
AVC: What do you mean by deliberate?
CWI: We spent like three weeks in the studio building each song on Random Spirit Lover. We had a whole way that we were creating it, and we wrote a lot in the studio. This one, we toured three weeks into Chicago, where we recorded it for a week. We just tried to capture the live sound this time. I feel like it was a little bit less contrived in a way.
AVC: Live performances of the songs on Dragonslayer have been very faithful to the album.
CWI: That makes sense, because we recorded them live off the floor and we didn’t really change anything from when we made the record. I think if I went back and listened to the album now I’d realize that we have changed—that we don’t play the same as we did then.
AVC: Do you ever intentionally change or re-work songs for live performance?
CWI: Well we’ve done that with almost all our old songs. Rarely do they sound anything like they do on the album. But all the songs off Dragonslayer, for the most part, we play those songs about how we do on the record. Live, it’s always different. It’s always faster or slower depending on how drunk we are. It’s more live. It’s more immediate. There are a few we were working on playing differently, like “Anna Anna.” [“Apollo And The Buffalo And Anna Anna Anna Oh!”] We don’t play it anymore because we just couldn’t get it right.
AVC: That’s a shame. It’s a great song.
CWI: People ask for it a lot. We just suck at playing it.
AVC: Does the band drink fancy cocktails now?
CWI: Yeah, that’s pretty much how it goes!
AVC: Do you see a lot of crossover from Wolf Parade fans, and maybe fans of Wolf Parade member Dan Boeckner’s project Handsome Furs as well?
CWI: It’s hard to know. I think we have a lot of crossover. People at shows will come up and be like “We just saw the Handsome Furs last week.” I think everyone shares a lot of fans even though I think our music and theirs are very different. In a sense, Handsome Furs and Sunset Rubdown kind of meet at Wolf Parade. I assume we have fans that are Wolf Parade fans. I don’t see why you wouldn’t be fans of both bands, if you’re interested in Spencer’s songwriting. I think we’re very different, but actually not all that different.