Interview: Sun Airway

Sun Airway - Photo courtesy of Sun Airway

Sun Airway - Photo courtesy of Sun Airway

Electronic dreampop band Sun Airway is set to play Berlin tonight.

The two-man partnership, made up of Jon Barthmus and Patrick Marsceil, touched down in Europe earlier this week for the start of its first tour on this continent.

“We’ve never played in Europe at all before, so I’m just excited to be over there, have some new scenery and get to play music and see places I’ve never been,” Barthmus said.

Sun Airway’s first full-length, “Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandelier,” caused a positive stir in select music circles when it came out last October. Barthmus admitted that he didn’t set out with a specified direction when writing those songs, but that they evolved a certain way on their own.

“I kind of made it up as I went along,” he said. “I wrote a few songs that had similar themes, so I decided to take that further and make an album that is one big piece.”

With the album having been out for almost a year, he shared that the next one is on its way, and its approach is consciously more methodical. And just as it’s a natural reaction for many artists to switch gears after an album is released, Barthmus said that with Sun Airway, it’s no different.

“This time I put together more loose ideas in advance, certain elements that I want to include or exclude, and a certain feeling I want the whole album to have,” he said of the follow-up that is in the works. “For me, everything I do has to be different from what came before; I need to keep pushing myself to try new things.”

As for “Wild Palms,” a seven-inch released in July, Barthmus said the two songs on it serve as stepping stones for the forthcoming album.

“The songs…will probably show up on the next album,” he said. “So it will have a similar feel: very grand, big, string arrangements.”

And although Barthmus generally writes in a particular way, he said he has been more open to switching things up, or allowing them to transpire differently than normal, in order to produce a different kind of sound.

“Things usually go better for me if I start with lyrics, but I don’t really have any specific order that I write. Lately I’ve been making a lot of the music first, just because I’ve been experimenting a lot with sounds and textures, so I end up coming up with a lot of pieces of music that I ultimately want to put words to,” he said. “And lyrically, I’ve been writing a lot of really long pieces where a lot of it is garbage but I’ll salvage one or two lines and then base a whole song on it.”

Despite the electronic nature of Sun Airway tunes, Barthmus admitted he rarely worries about how studio versions of songs will translate in the live format. Instead, he focuses his energies on how to make the most of a recording session, which is ultimately what it’s about for him.

“Writing and recording are my absolute favorite things in the world. Rehearsing and touring are fun but they’re more a means to an end,” he said. “I try to keep the recording and live separate. Usually if it works on record for us, it will work live. But the recorded music lives forever and the live show can only go on so long, so the recordings are always the most important for me.”

In the past, Barthmus spoke about the particular things that inspired him in writing the full-length, notably Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy and George Harrison, among others.

“Usually I become obsessed with a few artists at a time and they have a heavy influence on whatever I’m working on at the moment,” he said. “For this one, it’s more abstract, thinking a lot about palaces and castles and orchestras, anything dense and maximalist, but also listening to a lot of more minimal electronic music. Trying to find a balance for it all.”

While this paradoxical approach of wavering between extreme poles and settling somewhere in the middle is admittedly far from concrete, Barthmus said that it’s ultimately what works for him, because it keeps him guessing.

“I’ve always tried to make the best music that I can imagine, and I guess my idea of what that is constantly shifts, so I end up somewhere completely different than I thought I’d be,” he said. “Sometimes the changes are deliberate…but a lot of times, the intention is to startle or surprise yourself, and that’s the whole point of doing this for me.”

Sun Airway plays tonight at Lido in Berlin with Architecture in Helsinki. The show begins at 21.00.

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