People can’t frame or categorize the music of Sonnymoon, and producer Dane Orr and vocalist Anna Wise like it that way just fine. Anna and Dane are writing music for people 100 years from now, so pushing your buttons and making you second guess what you know – or think you know – about the duo comes second nature.
Sonnymoon speaks candidly on growing up in music families, a creative process that involves forests of medicinal marijuana and painting with watercolors, and collaborating with West Coast rapper Kendrick Lamar and the Teams’ upcoming self-titled sophomore record.
Paperclip Society had the opportunity to sit down with Anna and Dane before their performance at Live at the Pagoda on 3 March 2012. Here’s how it went down.
Photo credit: Iriko Gunabe
Sonnymoon on Sonnymoon
PCLP: Could you give our audience a brief background on yourself and how the band was formed?
Dane: I grew up in Schenectady, New York, which is a small city, two-and-half to three hours north of New York City. I grew up playing horn and playing in church a little bit. My parents were singing around the house all the time, having jam sessions with their friends, just drinking beer and playing music – that’s the best way to do it, really.
I met Anna at Berklee College of Music and things kind of started forming. Anna was my roommate in college and we didn’t know each other before that. I first heard her amazing voice when she was singing next door to me. I thought to myself I’d be stupid not to reach out, so we started writing together.
Anna: We were in the same apartment but like accidentally.
Dane: I was playing jazz sessions with her boyfriend at the time and didn’t even know it.
Anna: I was hiding it. I don’t know why but I wasn’t really singing at the time.
Dane: I remember being like you just have to be weird! Just be weirder. Don’t be afraid to be weird and just freak everyone out. Now, look at her.
Anna: He made me.
PCLP: How did you get started, Anna?
Anna: I grew up in the North Bay in Novato, California. You can say San Francisco because it sounds cooler…
Anna: Yeah! I’ve been doing all the singing stuff since an early age. My family always called me Tweety Bird because I wouldn’t shut-up. I was always talking and I was always singing. I guess I would pick up on different songs immediately and the words really quickly. The Sound of Music and Singin’ in the Rain were my jams, just singing and running around the house being crazy.
Dane: My friends and I used to rent musicals in the library. I remember not being sure if it was a cool thing or not so I wouldn’t tell anyone.
PCLP: How did you decide on the name Sonnymoon?
Dane: The whole Jazz background thing was a huge influence for both of us with Sonny Rollins. He had a song called “Sonnymoon for Two” that we’re both into. Obviously, we smoke a lot of weed. So we’re both into the kind of zodiac, whatever you want to call it, new age-ism, which is terrible word for it, but we’re sort of into that whole thing. Sonnymoon is kind of like a cool space, imaginary planet, as well as Sonnymoon for two. It has multiple meanings.
Sonnymoon on Making Music
PCLP: Have either of you dabbled in Electronica before linking up with each other?
Dane: I feel like every kid who gets an Apple computer from post-2000 finds Garage Band and starts messing around with that. There was just that, a little bit. But, I never took it seriously until I realized it was a viable thing.
Sonnymoon started because we realized the technology was there for us to make all this music with two people and perform it with two people and just streamline everything, so it was purely our ideas. We kind of fit together like puzzle pieces. She’s from the West and I’m from the East, there’s all this opposite things – male and female – like so…
PCLP: How would you define yourself?
Anna: We just don’t. We let other people do it.
Dane: Yeah, it’s our favorite part to hear what other people have to say about us.
Dane: We try to write music and not think about it at all. Our vehicle – the electronics and stuff- kind of defines us down for a lot of people. But, we’re not really thinking about it at all. One of my personal philosophies is to not put us in a box because if you hear it from the horse’s mouth then that’s what everyone is going to think. If we avoid that, then we do get this awesome thing where everyone has different opinion. That’s awesome.
PCLP: When you sit down in the studio, what’s the process that goes into making each song?
Anna: We fight; and we smoke weed; and we drink wine; and we VOX our friends; we draw and we paint watercolors. Then, sometimes, we give up. Sometimes, something really cool happens and five-days later we’re like, ‘remember when that cool thing we did?’ And then, we do some more with it.
Dane: Very slow but surely. Or, sometimes not too…
Anna: Yeah. The single we just put out happened in a day. It’s a very slow song and that was something that happened in an exactly 24-hours cycle. We just put out a single for our new (self titled) record coming out May 22 called, “Just Before Dawn”. We got together and made a point to jam on this with this synth thing that Dane has been creating. I sang on top of it and recorded it on my Garage Band. That night I listened through it, chopped it up and picked out my favorite parts. The next day, we worked together and made the song. But, it doesn’t usually happen like that … it was a special case.
PCLP: Usually, a lot more weed has to be smoked?
Anna: Yes. I feel like we’ve mentioned weed a lot. (Anna starts yelling weed into the recorder)
Dane: It’s Cali.
Anna: It is Cali, yeah.
Anna: The process is kind of more like when you were saying people are trying to define our music. We don’t want to be describable. And we don’t want to be able to describe it. Because it is like we’re going to Sonnymoon – We’re going to another planet.
PCLP: Speaking of not putting yourself in a box, what (artist) do you admire and do you think is pushing the envelope?
Dane: (whispers to Anna: what is it?)
Anna: (whispers to Dane: what’s the perfect answer?)
Dane: Out there right now? Doing it right now? Or just…
PCLP: Anyone you can think of…
Anna: I feel someone like Mozart. Everyone would be like, ‘we can’t play these parts because they’re too hard.’ He would say, ‘I’m not writing it for you. It’s for people a hundred years from now!’
PCLP: That was the perfect answer. (Laughs) Mozart. All right, cool.
PCLP: So what’s going to make the next record different?
Anna: We’re just different people. Older.
Dane: It’s kind of the next step in our sound overall. More exploration of human condition…
Dane: It draws on a lot of different subject matter. It’s a complete day. The beginning of the album is waking up in the morning and the last track is going to bed. It’s still all over the place but has that flow.
Anna: You look at the sky – all the colors and shit – the birds and fucking clouds and it always look different. But, it’s still the sky. It’s like that throughout the album; it’s still us but different shades of us.
Dane: On a technical side, we tried to use a lot of original source material. Instead of sampling, we make our own sounds. Like, from our iPhones we would throw rocks at trees and record the sound that makes. Like, you would not even notice unless I pointed it out in the record and said, ‘that right there’! But it’s still the process for us.
Anna: And we both wrote songs on the guitar and put them through the Electronica filter.
PCLP: Is all your music 100% original with no sampling, then, or do you just try to steer away from sampling?
Dane: I mean we sample. We’re not going to loop something, although I have a lot of respect for that too.
PCLP: Hip Hop and Electronica have a muted love affair…
Anna: That’s true
PCLP: What makes these genres work so well together in your opinion?
Anna: The sampling aspect?
Dane: Yeah, the dudes behind it are really doing the same things even though they may not realize it because of, like, probably cultural …
Anna: Like, everything is blending together on all accords and all fronts.
Dane: I definitely think they use similar methods. You know, Electro dudes are checking out Hip Hop and Hip Hop dudes are doing the same.
PCLP: Is there any artist you would kill to work with?
Anna: Yeah, anybody from Animal Collective is my dream. Or Radiohead…
Dane: Yeah, Radiohead would be a big one.
Anna: I would’ve said Kendrick Lamar but…
PCLP: Shit, already made that happen. Check that off the list!
Dane: Brian Eno is another guy that’s pretty high on my list.
Anna: Oh! That juggled for me – (between Eno and) Philip Glass.
Dane: And if we get into people we can raise from the dead…
Sonnymoon on Being Signed to an Indie Label
PCLP: Last time I saw you on a SXSW interview, you hadn’t been signed yet. And now you’re signed to Plug Research. Can you talk a little on that?
Anna: Plug Research – we lived on their couch for two months in LA and they pretty much are… not conduits…what are they called? Like, linkers between things…
Anna: Catalysts! Yes.
PCLP: I got you. I’m a wordsmith. No, just kidding.
Anna: They (Plug Research) are catalysts for our art. They are never, at any time, like, ‘You guys should make a song about this’. They don’t really impose; they more so enable.
Dane: For instance, the record we’re working on they were like, ‘take your time; take your time’. Many times in the process we were like, ‘we want to be done!’ They say, ‘Take your time and sit on it’; we’re like, ‘no, it’s going out’. They are really cool about it.
PCLP: Do you feel lucky to sign to an indie label instead of, maybe, a major?
Anna: I think indie, major, unsigned – everything in between – it all depends whether or not you have hot fire shit.
PCLP: It does. It’s all about the product, isn’t it?
Dane: Yeah, especially today because a label is such an ambiguous term.
Anna: Someone like Frank Ocean was signed to Def Jam for mad years under a different name. They didn’t even know who [sic] he was when he came out with a new record by himself. He was so frustrated because he was put on the back burner.
Dane: I’m definitely glad to be with an indie over a major. We had, not really talks with major record labels, but people would tell us so-and-so from Universal was at your set and really liked it. We both gasp, but, then, it would be like well that’s not what we really want.
Anna: Labels are like college. It doesn’t change your life. Well actually everything changes your life that you choose to pursue but it’s not the be-all, end-all savior. Like, now a label signed us and we’re going to be okay.
Dane: That’s crazy because we actually thought they were going to be like, ‘do this, do this, do this.’ We realized they were waiting for us to be like, ‘what do we need to do’.
Anna: Well, it’s more like us being this is what we want to do. They just enable us.
Sonnymoon on Kendrick Lamar
PCLP: Comment on working with Kendrick Lamar, please.
Anna: I just talked to him on the phone today and it’s crazy because I just had a dream about him too. I haven’t talked to him in almost two weeks before that, and he called me and he told me the album… actually, I probably shouldn’t speak for him on his stuff. I don’t know… no one has ever asked me.
Dane: She’s worked more with him than I did.
Anna: He (Lamar) is a sweet heart and so pure, I feel like. I know that’s a weird word to use.
Dane: He’s overly dedicated …
Anna: He is overly dedicated. He sleeps in the studio; he lives and breaths it.
Anna: We didn’t know how it was going to be when we got to his studio, but the first time working together it was like us (she points to Dane). It just made perfect sense. He just put out the single “Cartoons and Cereal” and I didn’t even know he was going to put that out. And I’m like doubling the hook with him on it and I think our voices fit really well together.
PCLP: I’m really excited to hear that actually.
Anna: You can, it’s up right now. It’s called “Cartoons and Cereal”. It was a leak, though, so not a lot of people…
Anna: Him (Lamar) and I, our voices just go together. His phrasing, I can just hone in on it in my headphones. We’ll be in the studio like 7 hours at a time and get so in the zone that it’ll feel like we’ve only been there for 15 minutes. I’m really picky and I really respect him and enjoy him as an artist. Separate from working with him, I think he’s phenomenal in all ways after meeting him.
Dane: I think Top Dawg Entertainment in general has the right idea for right now, as far as 2012 and their business model. It’s a very tight knit group of dudes. They got Soundwave and Ali on the production and mixing and it’s like… it’s a good look.
(Note: Top Dawg signs to Interscope, Aftermath 12 March 2012, according to Twitter)
Anna: CEO Anthony, I believe his name is, the ‘Top Dawg’, has a few houses in this culdesac and they just stay there and work 24/7.
PCLP: For our audience who may not know, can you tell us about what Top Dawg Entertainment is?
Anna: Top Dawg Entertainment is the company that is the parent group of Kendrick Lamar, School Boy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Rock or they call themselves the Black Hippies. It’s a really cool family style.
PCLP: We have a lot of Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar fans in San Jose.
Anna: Yeah? I’m on an Ab Soul song too. I did one with him while I was in the studio with Kendrick.
PCLP: Cool, what’s the song called?
Anna: It’s not out yet.
PCLP: It’s not out yet? Okay, we’ll look forward to it.
PCLP: We’ll wrap it up because you have a show coming up. What’s the biggest challenge for up and coming musicians? Any tips from your experience?
Dane: I think being patient and trying to remove your ego from the situation.
Anna: You’re stealing my thoughts!
Dane: Especially going to Berklee and seeing so many talented bands that don’t make it for personal reasons. Not even for content but they just can’t stand each other. It’s really sad to see. Like, Fleetwood Mac hated each other for their last record. That’s the funny thing, though. People that hate each other make great music together. It always happens that way but they can’t keep doing it.
Anna: I was going to say what he said. Keep your fucking ego in check. Don’t be a fucking asshole. People are so up their own ass like we’re the be-all, end-all. Like we’re a fucking band. We live in America. We’re wearing clothes, we just got fed an amazing dinner. The world does not live and breath off of whether we can continue making music. I want to contribute to the world and make people happier but I’m not like…I just think people need to realize why they’re doing it. A lot of bands are getting too caught up with the image and how they’re perceived, as opposed to how they make their audience feel with their music. I just wish people would lighten up and not take it too seriously.
Life is so much bigger than what we’re doing right now.
You can find more information on Sonnymoon, listen to the group’s music or download their first album Golden Age below. The first stop on their continental tour is the Georgia Theatre on March 22.
Band camp: http://music.sonnymoonmusic.com/
Charles works in Sales & Marketing at PQ Labs Inc. His interests are in men’s fashion, technology and society. He graduated from San Francisco State University and lives in San Jose, CA. You can subscribe to him on Facebook (facebook.com/charlesbecker) for frequents of his current obsessions.