Q&A: White Suns On Brooklyn, Noise, and Baseball

| Image by Chester Given the sulfuric dissonance, clamor, and strife present in White Suns' noise-punk tumult, it's hardly shocking that the Brooklyn trio count Sightings among their favorite bands. Performing and recording together, Kevin Barry, Rick Visser, and Dana Matthiessen blaze with a gunfire-stipled, sunspot intensity that befits their handle and recalls, at times, that acerbic outfit. (To sample the face-melt of "Don Mattingly," "Exposible Income," and other tracks, visit the White Suns' last.fm page.) And while the band have yet to record a full-length record--self-released 2008 debut The First EP and last summer's split with Shearing Pinx (on Isolated Now Waves) is all they have available so far--they maintain a strong touring schedule and appear on the bill at Saturday's MT6 Fest. In a later October e-mail interview, Barry, Visser, and Matthiessen discussed Brooklyn's experimental bent, the meanings of their song titles, baseball, side projects, and the defection of an early member who aspired to become Smokey the Bear.

City Paper: How and when did White Suns form?
Kevin Barry: A vestigial "White Suns" formed in 2004, in the rural Connecticut town we grew up in, when it became brutally clear that for us to be have any kind of emotional stability, we had to be making this type of music. Dana and I began with another human named Derek on electronics, but after a handful of disappointing shows, he fled to Yakima, Washington, and was replaced by Rick.

Dana Matthiessen: Derek's private dream of impersonating Smokey the Bear trumped being in a rock band. I also want to add that Kevin and I started playing music while I was in high school. The catalyst was my booking a set, without a band, at a benefit concert for a local church. I had wanted to come up with something that would suitably scathe the Christian ears in the audience, and I knew Kevin was in some way a fellow fan of noisy music. In retrospect, it was a dumb premise. I had a piece of a guard rail that I was using for percussion; I miss it sometimes. Anyway, Kevin and I continued collaborating whenever he was in town. As for Rick, he and I had been fucking around in our garages with one failed project or another for a long while before he entered the band. With Derek gone, asking him to join was a no-brainer.

Rick Visser: We all grew up going to the same schools and ultimately hanging around with the same kids. There are not many people in our hometown to begin with, and the kids that are into music--more specifically, experimental music--were and are pretty thin in number. Consequently, the little scene is pretty incestuous and everyone plays in everyone else's bands and, like Dana mentioned, we had all been in one failed project or another and had kind of cut our milk teeth together in friends' garages and basements. It's kind of funny that years later after all of us moving around and living in different places White Suns would prevail as a band comprised of people from the same small town.

CP: What's the White Suns breakdown, as far as who plays what instruments?
DM: I have a bad habit of not breaking down. I pay for everything I break.

KB: I play a guitar through a single distortion pedal and therefore have the fastest set-up/breakdown time in the band. I write the words that are spoken in our songs and I also do the majority of the speaking.

RV: I play fragments of what everyone else plays: a little drums, a little guitar, a little electronics, and a lot of love.

CP: Does the name "White Suns" bear any particular significance? It always makes me think of a future where ozone alerts are a thing of the past because we're perpetually under alert, and people are afraid to go outside without sunscreen on.
DM: Honestly, the name doesn't mean much to me. We kind of randomly settled on it and are now in some limited sense beholden to it. I think of it like my own name: not something that bears any specific sense in itself, just a marker, a way for people to identify me. I like that White Suns is relatively vague.

CP: How did you come to be part of this year's MT6 Fest lineup?
DM: Jason Donnells--of the New Flesh and Pfisters--has been a Baltimore comrade for several years, and he helped us get on the bill. Our first show in Baltimore was with the New Flesh at skate-punk joint the Nerve Center, where I ended up replacing him on bass at some point during their set. Sincere apologies to whoever sat through my finger-slop. After that, he took us to New York Fried Chicken.

CP: What is "exposable income"?
KB: "Exposable income" is a steady stream of financial wealth that is kept hidden, but can be perceived by a discerning eye.

DM: Economic disenchantment.

CP: What's your songwriting process like?
DM: Sometimes one of us has an idea for a part. Sometimes we try to approach it holistically, but the real work comes from building connections between dispersed, barely related "shit that sounds cool." Jamming never really works out.

RV: Yeah, we don't jam--we improvise.

KB: Music is first, and comes about through a process that I imagine is analogous to metal sculpting. Words are second. They are dredged from notebooks and applied if they fit the nature of the song.

CP: Do any of you play in other bands or projects?
DM: I have a solo thing called Cancer Dance and another project, Jock Jams, that seems to be getting off the ground after a bit of a hiatus. The former has a release on Oddsmaker Records, the latter on Goaty Tapes. Both are generally noise/drone-oriented, but I've written some rock songs, too. Rick and I occasionally do a dual-drumming thing, Prayer Buddies. Kevin had a brief stint in punk outfit Cutter and Rick has a solo project-cum-band called Open Star Clusters that he can tell you more about.

RV: Open Star Clusters is my other main thing. It's kind of a rotating door of a project that has been through many incarnations. I also have a solo thing that is as of yet un-named, which is drums and pedals, or more recently, a hodgepodge of tapes, electro-acoustic stuff, and electronics. I also play guitar in a band called Bahh Black Box, but all the songs are written by someone else for that band. And of course there's Prayer Buddies, the old Dana and Rick stand-by.

CP: Do you have any plans for an album? If so, are you aiming to put it out on a label, or will you release it yourselves?
KB: No plans for a proper album; not many people are interested in blowing a lot of money by releasing our music. Twenty-minute cassette coming out this winter on Heavy Psych, though.

CP: "Don Mattingly"--one of the songs on your new split EP that's also been up as a free download on your last.fm page for a while--gnashes and thrashes with an almost possessed intensity. What's the story behind that song? Are you Mattingly fans? Is he an inspiration to you?
KB: The title is tangentially related to the lyrical content, which pertains to the loss of youth. It was one of our first songs. We found out later that it sounded a lot like a particular Arab on Radar song.

DM: I think Kevin played baseball when he was a youngster. I quit after they stopped letting you use a stand for the ball. I remember having a bat-throwing problem.

RV: Baseball umpire was my first job, and I played until high school. I still have anxiety about those days. Although I played stickball a lot over the past summer.

CP: What's it like being a noise-rock band in Brooklyn? Sometimes it seems, to outsiders, as though the borough of Brooklyn is comprised entirely of noise, freak-folk, and underground bands of various stripes. Is it a competitive environment, or does everybody pretty much get along?
KB: There is a lot of music in Brooklyn, but most of it is not as "weird" as the people making it think it is. Many people describe their work as "noisy" or "noise," but it isn't. The niche we inhabit is small and our cohabitants are supportive. Good Brooklyn bands include: Sightings, Zs, Drunkdriver, Twin Stumps, Vaz, Pygmy Shrews.

DM: There are contingents of people doing stuff that is more explicitly noise, but much of it lacks the kind of organization that would make it a full-blown community, per se. Like the stuff in Kevin's list, we generally end up teaming with bands that have more of a loud, distorted rock thing going for them. It's not so much an effect of necessity as it is the people we've ended up getting to know.

RV: It's competitive until you meet bands that you get along with and share some ethos or sound with. Like Dana and Kevin said, we fit in with the heavy crowd because of who we've come to make friends with. There are so many other little scenes and groups of bands that get along stylistically. It's a big, eclectic city, and I just moved here.

CP: Before you became musicians, was there a special show--or shows--that you caught that made you say to yourself, This is exactly what I should be doing?'
KB: For me it wasn't a show, but an album. A friend lent me Sonic Youth's Goo in 8th grade. I began taking the only available guitar lessons from an aging bluegrass enthusiast shortly thereafter.

DM: Not that I can remember. My weed friends in high school got me into music, and I eventually decided to get a drum kit with my bag-boy money since I'd never enjoyed playing the guitar.

RV: It's a long and winding trail that led to this point. From classic rock stars, to the local legends around coffee houses, to figuring out what "avant-garde" means, to learning about DIY. You get kind of swept away in it all. "You don't choose noise rock, noise rock chooses you!"

White Suns play MT6 Fest V Nov. 14 at the Hexagon. For more information visit hexagonspace.com

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