Search and Enjoy: The casual exploration of HD Sunrise

City Paper

Wilson Kemp and Peter Tran, aka the bucolic electronics duo HD Sunrise, are extremely chill—and not simply because it’s below freezing on the Saturday morning in January when Kemp opens the door to their Waverly abode. They’re just a pair of fuss-free artists rediscovering the pleasure of making music together, and that vibe is immediately apparent in their sound. HD Sunrise’s self-titled cassette, out on Player Press now, is equal parts the beat-tinted ambient shimmer of early Boards of Canada and the wide-eyed moments of Harmonia’s sunny 1975 krautrock album “Deluxe.” The pair says the band and its loose attitude is a natural response to the demise of Hume, the outfit they were previously in together.

That Washington, D.C. quartet conceptualized its indie prog as intricately maximalist sound architecture. HD Sunrise is much more inviting. “For us [HD Sunrise] had to happen because we had been a pent-up and frustrated DIY band for years,” Kemp says, seated at a table in their dining room next to Tran, who apologizes for being a bit reticent as he’s nursing a cold.

By the time Hume played its last show in early 2013, Kemp and Tran, who hail from northern Virginia and Rockville, respectively, had relocated to Baltimore. In 2011 they moved into the Coward Shoe, the erstwhile underground performance space on Howard Street. “HD Sunrise came out of us living together at the Coward Shoe after we threw all the shows that we threw there,” Kemp says.

“We’d been living together and playing really structural music for a long time that we had to focus on and practice a lot,” Kemp continues, adding that HD Sunrise came about when he and Tran started improvising together. “We’re both interested in electronic music, and having composed so many band works that we had to take on the road so many times, it was a huge release for us to get down to actually making sounds and seeing what happens and less of the constant practice and maniacal DIY touring.”

HD Sunrise’s warm and soothing music couldn’t be further removed from Hume’s density. On songs such as the undulating ‘Glass Music’ or the pastoral ‘Rolling Over Little Islands,’ it sounds like Tran (guitar, electronics) and Kemp (drums, electronics) take a few ideas—an electronic texture, an extremely subtle rhythmic rustle, a mere suggestion of a melody sketched by a few shifting tones—and add layers to it until they arrive at something that’s as welcome as a wool blanket. The entire debut is this earthily satisfying. You don’t expect swirling, abstract sounds to sate the ears as simply as comfort food pleases the palette, but it does.

Multiple times during this conversation both Tran and Kemp talk about HD Sunrise as a stripping-down process, explaining Hume could, at times, feel like grandiosity for its own sake. The results were impressive, but it required such a time-consuming, complexly coordinated effort to get there.

“It was just huge, a wall of sound,” Tran says of Hume, noting that its instrumentation was two drummers, one of whom also played samples, a bassist, processed vocals, and his giant pedal board, from which he also played samples. “I remember [our] last set, half the time I’d be on the floor just playing pedals. I actually went back and listen to [Hume] the other day and I realized that if I was not in the band and listening to it, I wouldn’t understand what was going on.

“It sounded great,” Tran continues. “And if you got to know the music, it would make sense. But it was really confusing. And that’s one big thing for me now, to make music people can easily attach to.”

They both quickly note that they’re not complaining about Hume or their experiences in it, merely admitting that everything that comes with maintaining a band’s sound and vision can be overwhelming. Hume was “beat-driven, vocal-driven, lots of decontextualized rock,” Kemp says. “We just had to intellectualize the shit out of everything we did and now it’s really nice to work with pure sound.”

It also helps that in Baltimore Kemp and Tran are surrounded by like-minded explorers. Even before moving here they’d done a few collaborations with local artists such as the Effervescent Collective, Andrew Bernstein (Horse Lords), and Rod Hamilton (ex-Avocado Happy Hour). Their debut release is out on Player Press, the impeccable cassette label co-run by artists/musicians Brent Holland Baker, Salvatore Farina, and Dope Body’s John Jones, that has put out left-field works from Cex, the aforementioned Hamilton, Jones’ Nerftoss, and Jason Willett.*

For HD Sunrise, having that kind of adventurous, supportive cadre of creative peers is a refreshing change of musical pace. “I’m not knocking being in a band because it’s worth the work, you just need to have your heart in it,” Kemp says. “That [makes] the best kind of music in my mind. When you talk to bands that are going through fights, you just think, Why are you doing that? Is it worth it? It kind of is. I totally appreciate sacrificing personal life and personal vision to create a collective sound or image, but at this point I’m just not interested in that unless I’m 100 percent into it. HD Sunrise, we’re both 100 percent into it. So it’s easy.” 

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly named Zachary Utz as one of the people who runs the Player Press label. City Paper regret the error.

Copyright © 2018, Baltimore City Paper, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Privacy Policy
48°