INTERVIEW: Going to the Sun

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hey VENTS! It’s a pleasure. We’re hanging in there.  We haven’t been in the same room together for over 2 months, and it’s an odd time for sure.  But all things considered, we’re doing pretty well – even in crisis there’s so much to be thankful for. We’re excited to be releasing new music!

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Hopeful Song”? Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

My friend’s 8-year old son recently asked if we wrote this song for the pandemic. The answer was YES of course…but I just didn’t realize it at the time (when we wrote this song a couple years ago).  I wrote this song during a time when I was feeling a lot of uncertainty, feeling like my life was at a bit of a crossroads.  We all need reminders from time to time of the perennial power of hope.  I was thinking about this in the back of my mind and went out to mow the lawn and this song started coming to me in pieces – I had to keep running back inside to write bits of verses down.  This song almost didn’t make it onto this album, which seems crazy to me now.  I was planning for it to be the opening track of the NEXT album, but I had a friend tell me “I think you’re making a mistake – this needs to come out NOW”.  I’m thankful for that good advice.

Any plans to release any sort of video for the track?

YES!  Actually we JUST released a video for this tune. In fact this was the first video we’ve ever made.  The idea of making a video felt so daunting over the years…but it was surprisingly fun!  I think a well-made video can help a listener to hear the song better, when you find the moments of visual poetry that support the musical movement.  We were of course limited by the quarantine, so we asked all the musicians involved in this project to record a take of themselves in their own space. The thing I was moved by in the end was how much JOY was represented by everybody. Even in dark times, there are plenty of silver linings.

The single comes off your new album Love Letters From The Western Gate – what’s the story behind the title?

I came across the concept of the Western Gate a few years ago – there’s a place called “Point Conception” also knows as The Western Gate that has long been held as a sacred place by the native Chumash people in present-day California.  It’s believed to be a doorway where souls exit this life and enter the next realm. I’ve been really taken with the idea of a physical place where this transition takes place.  A lot of the content of this album is centered around this concept.  Having lost some dear people in my life, I naturally have spent a lot of time trying to find the Western Gate, throwing messages across it, listening for voices from the other side.

How was the recording and writing process?

It’s been a joy.  Zach and I have a fun creative relationship…half of our time is spent catching up and lending friend therapy to one another, and the other half is spent on music. A lot of times I’ll bring in a song, and we work together to arrange a demo…just a quick working skeleton. We try to not overthink things – how far can we get in one session together? Once we have a song skeleton in place, it’s on to fleshing it out.  I take the songs into my home studio and demo pretty extensively, working to find the song’s textures and layers.  My wife is a visual artist with a strong musical ear and she plays the executive producer role, encouraging but also pushing and challenging me.  We spend a lot of time talking about musical composition as it relates to visual art…the importance of shades of color, of balance, of not filling every bit of canvas but instead leaving some negative space, of not connecting every line, etc.  Eventually we go into the studio and record “real” drums, and bass, but many of the tracks from the original demos end up making it onto the final songs. So in a way we’re really working on the final recordings from day one.

What role does Minneapolis play in your music?

While Zach and I grew up in the mountains of Montana, Minneapolis has been our home for over twenty years. There’s so much to be inspired by here. I’m inspired by people who create for art’s sake, who have an idea and act on it just because it’s possible. I don’t know if it’s a function of being here for so long or a function of getting older and broadening my horizons, but I definitely have much more of a feeling of freedom in music than I did when I was younger. Minneapolis supports that – you can find almost any genre of music at a really high level, and if you spend long enough in that eclectic mix it’s bound to rub off on you.  I’ve found that as I’ve played in other projects with other musicians, it influences the way I sing, the way I play, the way I approach music.  We have such a wealth of talented people in this city.

How has Beach Boys and Arcade Fire influenced your writing?

Ah! I may not be a musician if not for the Beach Boys. My mom was in barbershop quartets as I grew up, and I absorbed the whole harmony thing as a young kid. I’ve always loved the way harmony feels.  When I discovered Beach Boys that was my entry point into wanting to be in a band. My first band, at 10 years old, was a barbershop quartet called The Wind Chimes. The feeling of performing in front of my school at that age was pretty intoxicating. From there music pulled me in all kinds of directions, but I’ve never lost my love of harmony. Arcade Fire is wonderful and their “Funeral” album came along at a really good time for me…I would say they are one of scores of bands that represent our modern array of influences, including Glen Hansard, Bon Iver, The Ting Tings, Modest Mouse, Yacht, Kishi Bashi, Bahamas, The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, Cloud Cult…I could go on and on.

What aspect of love did you get to explore on this record?

That is such a good question. There are so many different kinds of love. It’s definitely not “yacht-rock” love. And not “ooh girl” love…although I’m down with all kinds of love! This album explores the kind of love that’s deep, that is everlasting.  The kind of love that makes you feel like you belong, like you’re home, that inspires hard work and sacrifice.  The kind of love where you recognize your own heart in someone else’s.  The kind of love that tears you apart and breaks you open when it’s taken away.  And an even deeper-still kind of love that endures, and even grows in the shadow of loss, that says “everything is OK” and “the universe is unfolding as it should”, even when it’s crushingly painful.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

An unlikely inspiration has been watching Ken Burns documentaries. I swear I could write an album dedicated entirely to Ken!  That’s where I ran across the concept of The Western Gate – I believe it’s in his Dustbowl documentary – an under the radar must-watch!  Is it a coincidence that we have a song on the album called Dustbowl?  My dad grew up in Oklahoma in the shadow of the Dustbowl.  This entire album is really about the most precious and limited resource we have.  It’s written from a place of healthy morbidity, of resilient optimism, of faith in connection, even in the midst of disconnection…and ultimately an uplifting place of celebrating the time we’ve been given.

Any plans to hit the road?

We’d love to. Let’s talk again in 2021!

What else is happening next in Going To The Sun’s world?

We had an album release planned locally at the Hook & Ladder in Minneapolis, but our plans, as with everyone else’s, were interrupted.  Priority number one is that we need to make sure we’re not endangering anyone by playing live shows. Every pandemic in history has ended, and this will end as well. We’re happy to be getting this album out, even if it means no live show to celebrate at the moment.  We can’t wait to record another video!  AND we have nearly another album’s worth of material ready to record.  It shouldn’t take us nearly so long for our next release.  And of course, when the time comes, we can’t WAIT to start playing shows again.  I’m thankful that we can do this virtual stuff, but it doesn’t compare to being in the same room together, engaging in an authentic energy exchange.  There are so many things we have taken for granted that will be a gift to return to.


About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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