The recent release of its third album, ‘After The Third Pin’, has followed an often-turbulent technological – and emotional – journey by the creative core of the band, Jon Harris. He speaks frankly to Soundspheremag.
“I can’t even have the TV on in my house ‘cos it makes my blood boil…”
S] Live and touring Sunna – what’s happening with that?
J] “Touring! When we put ‘Two Minute Terror’ out, we were positive to raise enough money to put the band together in rehearsals, but that just wasn’t the case. Sure, we pulled in a fair amount, but we used the money to make videos, websites, and general sh**, that in hindsight we could have done without.
Since ‘Two Minute Terror’, I’ve been fighting to get this machine on its wheels. To start with, I had to try and track down all the backline for ‘One Minute Science’ – acetates, MPC triggers; but this proved to be impossible. I have the entire album backed up on a program called Retrospect, but that’s obsolete now, so I couldn’t get hold of the hardware for it. Thing is, Sunna is not just a guitar band, we have a lot of sounds that are not conventional instruments, and I refused to play along to Adat, or Dat machines, it just seemed wrong! By not playing to a click, and using the pulses of our samples to create the tempo map we managed to make the music breath. It took time to nail it down, but when we got it right, it rocked! Anyway, I’ve not been able to get hold of a lot of ‘One Minute Science’, so I’ve painstakingly had to rebuild the tunes. So far so good! ‘Two Minute Terror’ is almost ready to go, and we will stream ‘After The Third Pin’ later this month. As far as actually getting out there, I’m determined to, and the more impossible it gets, the more fuelled I become… this will happen! Sunna will tour again… does anyone know where Ian is? I put him somewhere, I know it, but I just can’t seem to remember where!”
S] What are your thoughts on modern forms of electronic music like dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass and the like?
J] “I have to say I’m not a big fan of drum ‘n’ bass, but every now and then, something comes out that catches my ear, can’t think of anything right now, but I appreciate any artist that breaks the mould, and comes up with something new. Any music that is created with passion and real conviction, I will like and identify with it. Technology is wicked man, anyone that crosses over organic and synthetic has a wining combination for me – if it’s done well. It’s like the difference between science and religion, why fight each other? Embrace one another! Science explains how, and religion explains why, but it’s all part of the same entity, and if we use both in synchronicity, I believe the path will be true”
S] With a whole host of bands now offering electronic rock and crossover music in whatever form, why should people pay attention to Sunna?
J] “I’ll answer this with what I look for in a band. First is lyrical content; even if the music is good, if the lyrics don’t speak to me, and the singer is lacking passion, or the song is either badly delivered or too perfect, then I can’t listen to it, or lose myself. If the song is to obviously trying to be a hit with commercial cliché, again it can f**k off. Paying attention to Sunna? It’s not that people should, or even a competition with other bands, more like what I do is real, I do it because if I didn’t I would have no life! I’m pissed off with the way society treats us all, I hate the way we are all expected to be happy with this, ‘you are free to do what we tell you to do’ mentality. I feel so lied to by the system, I cant even have the TV on in my house ‘cos it makes my blood boil with all the repetitive, manufactured shit that poisons our brains!
I don’t know why you should pay attention to Sunna over any other band, or acquire our music? I created Sunna to escape. Maybe this a question is more for the fans, rather than me sitting her telling you how wonderful my band is. If I’d invented Macintosh it would be easy to tell you why you should choose it over PC – Hey! Maybe it’s for the same reasons…. iSunna!”
S] What have been the biggest challenges in getting ‘After The Third Pin’ together following the last record?
J] “First of all, I was having major problems with my Pro-tools rig. Before I could start recording, I had to somehow upgrade my entire studio. I’d done a couple of songs, but my computer was crashing all the time, and I kept losing audio. It was around this time that I received a call from Eds, a friend of mine from the early Chillum days. I was asking him what he thought I should do about my fast-dying computer. Eds was like, ‘Right bring it all to Brighton and we’ll sort the lot out, we can put my entire system on your computer, stick some new hard drives in it and see what happens’. Eds then went on to offer to work with me on the record, and without his input, this album wouldn’t sound as good as it does.
Once Eds had sorted my computer, everything ran smooth, and for the first time in years, my studio was my friend again, and with a whole bunch of new plug-ins I’d never used before, I quickly completed the initial writing of ‘After The Third Pin’. I also made Sunna a limited company; this was a whole bag of worms. I’ve never been one for the admin side of business, and that was probably the best thing about being signed. Support has come from a lot of my friends and family, but the one person that made all of this happen is Anda! I don’t think I would have put anymore Sunna records out without her shoving me into the studio, and quite literally putting a guitar in my hands.”
S] On a similar note, what have been the biggest challenges for you personally over the last year?
J] “There were a few of us pulling together for the release of ‘Two Minute Terror’, and though money was tight, we did what we could, and made it happen. Then, when we realised we didn’t have enough money to tour, people started getting cold feet, and one by one they started ducking out – we all need to earn a living, eh? Then I was hit with the death of my best friend Henry; I still struggle with that one… shortly after Henry’s funeral, I had to move out of my home due to stolen downloading leaving me broke, and found myself in debt with council tax arrears, water rates, and electricity bills, I didn’t really know where to turn.
Then, a mate from school, Lizzie and her man Clem invited me to their home on the dark side of the hill just down from weather-top where I use to live in the woods just outside Bristol, with my mates Henry and Matt back in the ‘One Minute Science’ days. Liz and Clem had the perfect converted barn that was ideal to put a studio in, and that’s where I wrote and recorded ‘After The Third Pin’. I didn’t care about not having a home, as long as I could write and record! So, Liz and Clem encouraged me to get working and put ‘After The Third Pin’ together.
Henry was a big part of my life from the age of four. He was the funniest person I’d ever known, and whenever either of us were in trouble or down on our luck, or drugs and booze had got the better of us, we’d always be there to help pick each other up! We have been through a huge amount through our lives. So when he was taken, my world changed forever, and for what happened to him I feel somewhat responsible, and no matter how other friends and family try to tell me otherwise, I know what I know.
During the lead up to the first anniversary of Hen’s death, I started to hit a low. The first obstacle was my birthday; I didn’t want it, and I just needed to escape reality, so I did. But I just kept on going, using downers to fuzz out Christmas; New Year, and then the countdown to February 13. By the time it came I was fully submerged in a cocktail of around a hundred milligrams of Diazepam a day, topped with two hundred milligrams of Tramadol, and drinking constantly. This was a relapse, and at the time, I didn’t care to come back from it. Come February 13, all of Henry’s friends and family met at his stone, I didn’t go… the next day I made the decision to see a doctor, who then put me in touch with ARA, and so now I’m in recovery again. I don’t know why I damage myself the way I do, I guess it means I’m weak.”
S] You had your son perform on this record, alongside a host of drummers – was getting all of those people involved an enjoyable process?
J] “Hmm! Drummers… they’re so bloody loud and annoying! It was great recording Sid, he’s already such a talent, and his feel is so natural. Mark Richardson [Feeder, Skunk Anansie] is just amazing, he hears the tune through a couple of times, and then seems to nail the song in one take, one in a million! Josh Clark runs the studio over in Bath Spa University. I would write a tune using programmed drums, and then send it to him via the interweb; he would do his thing and send it on back, and always nails down some solid beats. He’s a wicked bloke, and plays drums for my other project, Areoplane. My brother, Tim Harris, and I recorded the drum take on ‘Forced Attrition’ sixteen years ago, so I lifted them from the song we did back then, and wrote a new one for it. To be honest, every time I work with anyone one on a tune we always have a laugh doing so, unless I think about some of the darker times making ‘One Minute Science’.”
S] After the reception you got for ‘One Of A Twin’ and ‘Ashes To Ashes’, will there be any videos?
J] “Yeah man, it would be smart to make more videos. I love the whole process, and if I could, I’d make a video for every song I write. Although ‘One Of A Twin’ and ‘Ashes…’ seemed to do the job, I would like to work with some better cameras next time. This was my first go at making a film and it was great to do. Also, I’d like to treat video as a deeper insight into the song, rather than just a tool to promote a single. If I can, instead of releasing just an album, I’d like to do it as a DVD so one can choose to listen, or watch and listen to the whole thing, but at the moment, I have to concentrate on and prioritise putting the band together.”
S] Talk us through the inspiration on heavier tracks like ‘Feel The Blade’ and ‘Suffer The Pain’ in contrast to say, ‘Stutter’?
J] “‘Feel The Blade’ – lying is obviously the theme of this song, but this covers more than just a simple lie from one to another. The way we lie accidently through misinterpretation… if you think about it, if I were to say something to someone, what I say travels to their ears, they absorb it, then their brain interprets what I’ve said, and then they say something back to me, and I do the same. Then, the conversation develops either to a place where we think we understand each other, or we end up in conflict. Once in a while you come across people that lie to inflate themselves, this one baffles me, ‘cos this kind of person always gets caught out! You’d have to have an amazing memory to keep it up. Then, if you confront some one with their lie, they have one of two choices, either to laugh with embarrassment and own up, or to go wide-eyed, and try to keep up the lie. F**king weird man!
‘Suffer The Pain’ – I pulled on biblical principles and the concept of a saviour. The hypocrisy that dwells deep in human nature, the behaviour of people that preach then acts the opposite. Bacteria, viruses and disease eats away at society every day. When I used to hang out in drug dens, I would see all walks of people coming in to score; even policemen, doctors and lawyers. I even sold “skunk” to a judge once, so who’s that to judge me? I’ve been arrested, fined, and locked in cells countless times, and generally for pathetic sh** that I have fought against in court without a “liar”, and still lost because it’s a magistrates, and the police can’t be seen to be in the wrong… Can you suffer the pain? I can’t.
‘Stutter’ – we are all creatures of habit and ritual. Even if some of us are a “Steady Eddy”, I believe we all take chances and risks in life, some more than others, but I think there is an undeniable concept that every morning when we wake up, we don’t know what’s going to come our way to change the path we are on, and so as with anything, when I thought I’d got everything I wanted in life, suddenly it all changes. When this happens to me, and it’s happened a lot, my defence mechanism kicks in, and I lock myself down, cutting myself off from everyone so I can revaluate my emotions; whether it takes five or ten years. Then something always comes along to turn everything around again.”
S] Would you say the aggression from the first two albums is still there?
J] “It’s been a hard couple of years again, and when I decided to put myself back into Sunna, I knew it came with baggage. I felt that I was ready to do it, and I believe it will work, but I want the tour so badly now. I can taste it, I can see it, but it’s just out of reach, and I’m stretching out to grab it, but there’s always some obstacle preventing my efforts. So, a big yes to this question! And when I do get out there, you will see how in your face Sunna will be!”
S] Is there a more concrete theme to this new record, or, is it open for interpretation as with ‘Two Minute Terror’?
J] “Everything is open to interpretation, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! As far as it being more concrete, I’m not sure, being as I’m so unstable myself… sometimes I write a song and have to sit and make sense of it after, I know the general direction I’m heading within a song, and then it runs off and leaves me behind. Then I surprise myself with how I’ve written something, and then find another reason behind it. The third pin, at times, comes from the three nails they use for spiking Christ to his cross, and what comes with that – but I won’t be building my house on a bed of sand again.”
S] You’ve said that you’ve been hit by illegal downloading on this album, and with ‘Two Minute Terror’ as well. As an artist who has been supported by a major label before, what are your thoughts on this?
J] “Nothing to do with the major label bit, but I think it a shame that the very people that love music are the same people who are killing it. I think it’s sh** that torrent sites are getting away with putting up free downloads, and I think it a waste of time and money trying to catch them. Wouldn’t it be better to make it the responsibility of the search engines – shouldn’t they have to do something about it? You were clever enough to come up with these search engines in the first place, so be clever again and redesign your f**king search engines please.”
S] Is there anyone musically at the moment that you would like to collaborate with?
J] “The rest of Sunna would be a good start! But Eds is a talented all rounder, his production skills are second to none, and he’s a good musician with a keen ear, and when we made this album, I would put a song together at mine and then take it to him and he would bring it to life. We have a total understanding of how we worked best together, and I will keep going to him for co-production and mixes from now on! As far as writing with others, I’m not sure? Kind of like what Gary Numan is doing these days, also love early Infected Mushroom, and they could do with being pulled back in line. Mastodon!”
S] As Jon Harris in 2011, how would you advise Jon Harris in 2000?
J] “I’d be lying if I said there were things I’d done which I wished I hadn’t, but I’m glad I did them all. Back when I was signed, my label and Virgin kind of liked the wild reckless side to me, and it seemed the more outrageous I was, the more rock ‘n’ roll they thought I was, and I was soon labelled the real deal – until I was dropped, then it became the reason why. Out in the field, that’s exactly how it was, but I had Sid back home, he was a small toddler, and I guess no matter how crazy it all was out on tour, I’d always come home and spend time with my son, and that was a good leveller. Okay, I didn’t live with Sid all the time as his mum and I had split, but it does change you having kids. I was living a double life one minute, smashing it in on tour, and the next taking Sid to Bristol Zoo and eating ice cream. I was never quite sure where I fitted in. I think if I were to see myself out on tour back then, I would have just smashed my face in, but if I’d seen myself out with my son, I would have probably just wondered what my story was…
So, advice – I think I would tell me that it’s all okay, and to just allow things to evolve, and to be myself rather than what I was told to be. At the end of the day, if you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, then don’t do it; but if you like what you’re doing, don’t concern yourself with being the best, that’s setting yourself up for disappointment as there is always someone better. Just do what you do with everything you’ve got, and believe in what you do.”
S] Realistically, what’s the future for Sunna, and the evolution?
J] “I believe if people don’t start paying for music again, evolution will inevitably come to a holt! For Sunna this will be with touring, and this is already happening, but the light at the end of the tunnel is sponsorship. I’m not fused for fame and fortune, never have been, I’d just like to make a living out of Sunna, and to keep releasing albums and tour them. When I toured ‘One Minute Science’, it was bloody expensive to set up, and though I can’t see the wood for the trees right now, touring is still where Sunna will shine best, and so I simply must fight to get this band on the road, and if anyone out there wants help get this band rolling? About ten grand should do it. But the definite future is, more albums, I have a very loyal fan base out there, and I will never let that go again…”
For more information visit the official Sunna website.