Sun Breaks

Down in the industrial bloom of Seattle’s SODO neighborhood resides Sailor’s Rest, a small private studio operated by James van Leuven and John Atkins. Like many of their musical peers from the fertile years of the ‘90s in the Northwest, Atkins and van Leuven transitioned from the tireless grind of endless local shows, econo tours, and dank rehearsal spaces to more carefully curated projects. For Atkins, this trajectory began with the turbulent, heart-on-sleeve trio Hush Harbor, segued into the landmark indie rock band 764-HERO, and eventually arrived at the adroit pop of The Magic Magicians and The Can’t See. For van Leuven, finding a creative space outside of dive bar stages and beer-soaked basements came more quickly, with the leap from serrated art-punk acts like The Sub Debs and Automaton Adventure Series leading directly to studio-centric projects like the beat-driven collages of his Plan B alias and scoring music for film and theater productions across the U.S. and Europe. These two trajectories finally crossed at Sailor’s Rest, where Atkins and van Leuven combine their skills under the name Sun Breaks.

“John and I were both in-between projects and decided to get together in the studio to blow off some steam and have some fun just playing music,” van Leuven says of Sun Breaks’ modest beginnings. “From there we fell down the rabbit hole. We found that we’re a good match because our strengths are opposite—John’s singing, piano and guitars and my drums, synths, engineering and production.” Their debut self-titled EP was a gleefully strange and off-kilter affair, with Ethio-jazz-inspired rhythms, dubby outboard treatments, and the pensive melodies of Northwest indie rock culminating in a kaleidoscope of percolating percussion and dizzying soundscapes. On their debut full-length All on Camera, Sun Breaks push their merger of live instrumentation and electronic manipulations even further. The title track is a perfect demonstration of this fusion of approaches, with Atkin’s hazy vocals and van Leuven’s cyclical drum patterns, undulating banks of synths, and psychotropic production techniques recreating heady surrealism of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

“We both wanted to make music that reflected our musical interests without repeating old habits,” Atkins says of Sun Breaks’ creative origins. “Sometimes the jump-off for a song is a loop that we later remove, sometimes it is a challenge or a restraint.” Every song becomes an entirely new template with a new battle plan. The tactics might yield the string pad hooks and dreamy vocals of “A Common Wave” or the big Bonham drum sounds and psychedelic instrumentation of “Moments”. A song might start in one direction and end somewhere completely different, and a detour or experiment from one track can often open a whole new door. Halfway through the album the band tucks in the nine-second backwards track “skaerB nuS”, which serves to posit the whole album as a mirror image, where ideas from one half of the album resurface in an alternate form later on. The askew funk pattern of “Extra Heart” reappears as a steady groove in the dream pop of “Heart”. The opening title track reemerges towards the end of the album as “A Wall” with reimagined vocals by Seattle-by-way-of-SoCal rapper DoNormaal. All on Camera closes with the fittingly named woozy instrumental “Mirrors”, which emphasizes Sun Breaks’ ongoing playful modulations. “We discuss process a lot, but not in a stuffy way,” Atkins says. “For me, that’s part of the fun—pushing ourselves to try to make pop perfection and enjoying the art damage that emerges even more.”

The restless angst that prompts many a young adult to pick up a guitar and recruit a few friends to bang out ragged tunes in a dark corner of an unfinished basement isn’t entirely absent from Sun Breaks’ current creative vision, but the nihilistic clamor and brutish instrumentation of punk has been replaced by the search for the light in the dark. “I think somehow all the weird prejudice and misinformation going on in the U.S. right now snuck its way into John’s lyrics,” van Leuven says. Atkins confirms this, but takes a new approach with his songwriting contributions. “One of the constraints I’ve tried to work within lyrically is to not be too negative,” he explains. “A lot of it is derived from the first stream of conscious vocal takes, a lot of the stuff deals with digital angst, pyschedellic surveillance and suburban childhood memories.” The result is lysergic, with both the positive and negative energy swirling in a cosmic tapestry of sound.

Suicide Squeeze Records is proud to offer Sun Breaks’ All on Camera to the world on October 26, 2018 on digital platforms and as a one-time pressing on translucent electric blue vinyl. This pressing is limited to 500 copies and includes a download card.

Sun Breaks photo by Chona Kasinger

IMAGES: To download, click above. Press photo credit to Chona Kasinger.


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