When Sunna first threw themselves head first into rock’s thriving scene in the early noughties they blew a hole through the established sound of alternative with their mesmerising blend of metal and electronica. After achieving much commercial success with the massive hit ‘Power Struggle’ and putting out a debut album in 2000 that would see them cement their status as one of the UK’s defining acts, things went quiet for the band after numerous label and personal issues. Now, nine years after their first ground-breaking album Sunna have returned with a new record and some big ideas. We chat to the group’s vocalist Jon Harris about just what exactly has been going on…
“F*ck fame and fortune do music because you love it”
S] Can you explain to us how you have grown since the release of ‘One Minute Science’ until now and ‘Two Minute Terror’?
JH] Although eight years is a drop in the ocean of time, it has been a real test for me, and a challenge in the sense that I have had to come to terms with a lot of self-realisation, change; and learn how to be in control of my emotion rather than be controlled by them. Spiritual awareness has never been an issue, but I have definitely had a process of evolution in my spiritual maturity. By no means am I saying that I’ve grown up, because in a lot of ways I’m still very immature, and what’s being grown up anyway?
S] Can you talk us through the personal inspiration behind the tunes; ‘One Of A Twin’ and ‘Empty’ both seem to contrast greatly both sonically and thematically?
JH] ‘One Of A Twin’ I came up within a few hours, the bass-line was very immediate, as was the ambience. My brother recorded the drums in the studio, and Ian came up with the guitar at the mix sometime after. I wrote the lyrics in the same amount of time it takes to sing them – but the experience took years. It is acknowledgement and tribute to the reality of the reality in our lives whilst we sleep. Man, the times I’ve woken up and felt gutted that it was only a dream. Then there are the deeper sides to our dreams where we can receive spiritual information, can actually learn how to control them, and even experience ESP (extrasensory perception) and visit places and return with actual memories that in our daily lives are real as well. I feel the sonics of this song bring you to a deeper place, and the mood is meditative, but at the same time is on the edge of the unknown.
‘Empty’ are my feelings – I have emptied my soul for her, my heart is, and at this moment always will be empty. I have tried and tried, but still the fight comes. Sometimes the bass runs smooth, but shrill is like guitars. Consider what I’ve been. Explaining this song would be to write another song the same, as lyrically it is just observation of the energy battle (‘Power Struggle’) between two people.
S] Is there a constant theme running through the new album?
JH] There are many themes running through ‘Two Minute Terror’, some are more obvious than others, and other themes rely on the beautiful concept that is interpretation – you know, your theme?
S] What track from the new record most readily defines Sunna right now?
JH] ‘One Of A Twin’, but having said that our tempos have picked up slightly for this album, so I think tracks like, ‘Spider’ and ‘Rebirth’ show a glimpse of the future. But being in rehearsals, anything can change.
S] In a recent interview you said that you son was inspirational to your coming off of drugs and that you set up a studio in his room – does he think the album is worth it?
JH] S*it man of course he does, he’s already a better guitarist than I am, and my experience with drugs have given me the tools I need to educate him with the truth, and after all I’m still here. He can at least make up his own mind when inevitably he is offered them. I’ve just read the question again, and my answer is more how I feel about it. So I’ll ask him, but he’s not here right now. He has quizzed me about some things he’s read from previous interviews, and given that it’s there in black and white, I’ve had to be honest with him about it, but I’ve always felt that to be the best policy. Also the studio that I set up in Sid’s bedroom was before he was born, so that didn’t affect him too much.
S] Your passion for electronic sounds is still identifiable on this record – where does this come from?
JH] I love to draw, I love graphics, and I love the age of computers and I love movies! And over the past 15 years cinema has really been moving into the future with huge believable landscapes, and extraterrestrial and space scenes. I’ve always had a very vivid imagination, so when I first got my hands on the Akai MPC2000 back in the day, it gave me a new platform to express what goes on in this twisted head of mine. I feel happy with a tune when I can lie back in a chair, turn up the Genelecs; close my eyes and really see what I’m listening to.
S] Can you tell us what the darkest period of your life over the last few years, and also elaborate upon the moment where you overcame it?
JH] Dreams – from a very young age I have experienced semi-conscious nightmares. I would be what I felt was awake, my eyes would be open, but I couldn’t move or scream out, I would try but it just wouldn’t come out. Every time this would happen, there would be a very dark figure in the room with me. It would move towards me, and its face would come down over my face, but it was always to dark to see or make out. It wouldn’t ever make physical contact with me.
That was until about two years ago, when I was stuck in the middle of one of these experiences, my face was stuck to one side…to the left, when this very heavy and bleak figure came passing through the bed at me. It seemed so much more powerful than all my previous nightmares, and this time when its face came down at mine it just kept going, and with tremendous force, pushed my head down into my pillow. I have no idea how long an individual dream would last, but it seemed like a few seconds of this tremendous force, and not being able to breathe or shout out before it came to an abrupt end. But this time when I was fully awake and able to move and speak, I rolled over onto my back, staring out to the ceiling, and I could feel the whole bed vibrating at high velocity, and as I was definitely awake it was a little freaky. So, and this may sound a bit crazy, around this time in my life I had been involved with a church, you know, asking questions and all that, looking into spiritual things, learning as much as I could about yet another belief system.
So, the next morning I called my now good friend and the pastor from this church, and explained my nightmare to him, and within the hour I had him chanting and reading scripture out all around the house. I remember thinking how it was just like the movie ‘Exorcist’ – mad! Anyway, that was it! I’ve not had one of these nightmares since. Oh, and I’ve not been to church since either.
S] You and Ian have always been very creative, and for creatives it’s very difficult to just do nothing, so individually, what have you been spending time on over the last nine years other than writing?
JH] I always used to say to Ian [MacLaren, lead guitar] that after touring we should go and spend a month on a building site to bring ourselves back down to earth, but I had no idea that after our last tour for ‘One Minute Science’, I would spend the next five fuc*ing years on one. This was probably one of the hardest times in my entire life, but I got fit and was clean. Prior to that I spent a year, as you’ve read already, in a bit of a mess. Then after a couple of cars were wrecked, a smashed in shoulder and a rather large insurance payout, I spent some time snowboarding, but that came to an end when I fell from a balcony drunk, and broke four ribs and my left wrist.
Having spent some time spoiling myself, smashing my body up, I then went to Kenya and helped the poor and suffering for a short time with the pastor of the aforementioned church – what an eye opener that was. Then I came home and opened a bar. That lasted about a year; I made some superb friends and drunk more than I should of. Then, with the rest of the money I had left, I got myself a banjo, started to have lessons, and then wrote an album, played it to my teacher Leon, who then called me within a few days saying we should put a band together, so we did. It’s called Aeroplane and the album will come out sometime in 2010 – it’s acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion, bass and drums. We do versions of Sunna stuff like ‘O.D.’ ‘Weather Controller’ and ’7%’ but there’s also a lot of new stuff too.
S] What are your biggest plans regarding touring – we know some Bristol dates are in the works, but what about dates up North?
JH] Touring is paramount to this project! As we’ve been out of the picture for so long I am quite prepared for the fact that we have to step back as far as the size of venues we might be playing in. As for big plans, we are not going to disappear this time! We will keep writing, recording and doing what we love most, getting out there and playing.
S] You have released this album digitally and as a special edition physical edition – what prompted this idea and is it a reflection on the band’s distaste for the modern music industry?
JH] It’s all changed so much hasn’t it? One of the beautiful things about the internet is that you can get your stuff out there without a record company. It’s still really hard, but at least you’re not some puppet, and you can create what you want how you want without being crushed by some A&R executive. It’s been said a million times before by other artists and its true, the business side of the industry sucks, but I’m sure there is part of this machine out there that would say the same about me, so f*ck it. You know the way I see it, these horrible people that run these ridiculous TV programs and basically cash in on the fact that there are vulnerable people out there that have dreams of fame and fortune whether talented or not, will eventually choke the entire industry. They will squeeze and milk it for all they can, and then leave it in ruins.
Do you know that the people who audition for one show in particular, that we will call show ‘X’, don’t go before that square-headed, frizzy centre-parted, “high waster”, fu*k-stick, unless the behind the scenes people think he can mock them and humiliate them in front of millions, or they have talent, and he can make a sh*t-load of money out of them for a short time, to then fuck ‘em off when some other poor sod gets his attention for their five minutes of fame? F*ck fame and fortune, do it because you love it, and do it for yourselves!
S] What new plans are you most excited about as we end 2009 and head into ‘10?
JH] Everything this album is leading towards tours, travelling, meeting new people and working with them. We’ve just finished the ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video, and everyone involved is an everyday person like you and me, yet when you see it, I think you will agree that something very special has taken place. I don’t say this to big myself up, it was everyone else involved that made it happen. We are building something, and I love it that it’s just people who are prepared to put their creativity into it, and get involved with a project even though there is no major label financing it. It’s just people working together. And when people work together good things happen.
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Watch the video for ‘One Of A Twin’ below: