Cameron Stallones of Sun Araw: "I think most of our experiences are very hard to talk about."
Courtesy of Cameron Stallones
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Sun Araw (due tonight at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art for the final night of Communikey) started off as a kind of solo project from Magic Lantern guitarist Cameron Stallones. As Sun Araw, Stallones has been prolific in exploring numerous methods of expressing the ideas that emerge organically from his own imagination as he's creating the music. His work is often lumped in with modern psychedelia, but his songs often branch well beyond any narrow definition of that sort of music.
Sun Araw's 2011 album, Ancient Romans is a hauntingly hypnotic set of drones, atmospheres and outright soundtrack score weirdness that wouldn't be out of place as accompaniments to experimental films of the '60s, '70s and today. Stallones's work does not fit easily into a specific time period, and that is certainly part of the appeal. We recently spoke with the affable and creatively curious Stallones at a stop at Austin Psych fest before making his way to Colorado for an appearance at the Communikey Festival this evening.
Westword: You put out a double album called Ancient Romans last year. What is the significance of the title, and why did that subject matter speak to you?
Cameron Stallones: That zone for me comes out of the jams. I start to make the record and sort of start to try to feel what it sounds like. It's hard to explain what connections are made but those connections are made pretty quickly. Usually it's imagery or specific colors. There's just some sort of space created that has a vibe, and for some reason, it was just perfect. It was thought out in that way. But once that idea becomes clear and I can see the vibe and give maybe a name to it, like Ancient Romans, and see something about what the record cover might look like and the palette, and you can start to develop it ,and the whole thing kind of draws a map on itself.
You make the music and certain imagery suggests itself to you in the process of making the music.
Yeah, yeah. Then at some point, you're like, "Oh, this is ancient Romans. I get it." It just occurs to you.
What first sparked your interest in ancient history and cultures, and why do you think it's relevant for us today?
Oh, man, yeah, I mean, I definitely went to school in kind a weird Classics program for a brief time, so I read a lot of that stuff. Not because I was particularly interested in it, but because of where I was. I don't know; I've always been interested in consciousness and the history of consciousness, the development of thought and us as species -- which is perpetually manifesting the same things and finding stranger and stranger and more and more contemporary permutations of these same ideas.
My dad is actually a history teacher. I've always kind of been around history. It's funny because I never thought I was interested in history, but I think it just kind of comes out. My sister teacher became a history teacher as well and went to grad school for history.
The music for Ancient Romans sounds like an alternative soundtrack to the novel Satyricon by Petronius and Fellini's film of the same name, which is to say it sounds like music from a '70s utopian science fiction film. Which makes sense, as some consider Satyricon the first science fiction novel. What inspired those kinds of sounds?
You know, it's really trippy you say that, man, because I kind of refrain from actually mentioning it. I don't know why, but I made the first track, "Lucretius," that was the only track on the record that was a jam with my friend William, and that's just a one take with no overdubs. That's just straight to tape. We just jammed that together. That's sort of the one that really unlocked it for me.
When we played that, I was just seeing Satyricon. And I love Satyricon, but I hadn't watched it in like five years. But all of a sudden I could just see the minotaur sequence when he comes out of the cave and there's a huge light that's pointed directly into the camera that's supposed to be the sun, you know, I think.
It's kind of behind this building, and it's obscuring your vision and the color of the sky -- something about that image popped into my head, and I went and watched Satyricon again. That was like a real key to me to unlocking the sounds of the album. So yeah, there's a huge intimate connection with Satyricon.
I finished tracking the record and mixing it but then I left on tour and we played a lot of those songs even though record hadn't come out yet. On that tour we did a re-score of Satyricon in Bristol, of all places. I did a live score. Which was really terrifying because that's what I wanted to do but that film has one of the best scores ever. The original score of that film is mind blowing. So I was like, "Oh, man, I don't know what we're going to do." I ended up sampling or making loops out of pieces of the score and improvising over them. It went really well. It was fun.
With your background in Classics, did you ever have to read Satyricon?
You know, I never did, actually. My only knowledge of it is through the film.
The video for "At Delphi" looks like it was shot on old stock 16mm. How did you film or create the kind of look, and why did you want to go for that kind of feel for the video?
It was actually Super 8. I really dig film. Actually, I was a film major in college. I used to have a full time job where I worked at a film archive -- just up until November. It's like music and film in my life always have this sort of seesaw thing. In the last couple of years, it's been music, and I haven't done a lot of film stuff. But I'm always trying to find reasons to make stuff. So that was fun.
I shot a video for "On Patrol" that was on 16 [mm], and then somebody shot on Super 8; that's why it looks like that. We did a really cheap telecine job because I like the way those things look sometimes. The guy who directed that video, Daniel Brantley, edited it and as you can see in the video, the editing is what it is. We talked about it and it was the execution of an idea we had. He helped me edit the other one [for "Impluvium"] as well.