Jerry Lucky: Hi Chris…thanks for taking the time to chat (by email)…first off…with the new CD Damage Done released…what’s the response been so far?
Christopher Scott Cooper: Response has been good, but as with any release right now, it's hard to be heard above the background noise floor. Reviews are coming slow and all but one have been very favorable. Our fan base has been steadily growing over the last 6 months and we’ve met some interesting people and very interesting other Prog bands.
JL: This is only your fourth studio release since the mid-nineties…New Sun is not what you might call a “prolific band” when it comes to recordings…is there anything to that?
CSC: Since I am the producer/recording engineer/guitarist most of the "get the CD done" responsibilities fall on my shoulders. When we started I had to fit in the recording/studio time between my regular sessions. That meant long days and long times to get the albums done. Anywhere from 8-12 months. After the release of Expectations in 2001 and subsequent West Coast tour we took a break. My career as a producer and engineer was taking off and Alex (bass) had started a new job in the tech industries and before we knew it 6 years had passed. Tru (Chris Trujillo - drums) and I began working on material in 2007 and Alex rejoined us in 2008. What was to be a 5 song EP got interrupted by the entrance of Chris Elio (vocals) and the whole thing took on a new life and meaning. Took 3 years to get DD finished!
JL: Let’s go back to the beginning…tell us how the band came together…and what was the motivation to make progressive music?
CSC: My fellow founder and guitarist DL Erickson and I were introduced through a mutual friend in 1990. We began jamming and writing, working on music we felt was both challenging and not the mainstream cookie cutter crap that was on the radio in those days. We placed an ad in BAM magazine (local music rag) looking for Prog musicians. Alex Kley and Scott Landucci (drums) answered the ad as a duo and we began rehearsing and played a series of shows in the SF Bay Area for about 14 months. Scott decided he wasn't a good fit, departed and Alex brought in Chris Trujillo. Tru brought the name New Sun and a level of energy we were missing. We recorded our debut Fractured in 1995.
We all felt that the music should challenge us as players, challenge the listener as we all had grown up with the classic prog of the 70s. I'm the only member old enough to have actually seen many of the classic 70's prog bands as that was my high school years. I wanted to make big grand music a la Rush, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Floyd. the other 3 were late comers to the prog world, but avid fans and eager listeners, always pushing for something better and more interesting.
DL left the band in 1998 after our 2nd album Affects. Tru, Alex and myself continued on from there with Expectations in 2001
JL: What was your sense of the prog music scene at the time?
CSC: In the mid-90s Prog was making somewhat of a comeback, but with a darker edge (Tool, Soundgarden, Porcupine Tree). We rode that small wave to a degree, mostly by being one of the first prog bands to utilize the web. Who was creating the web? Nerds and geeks. Who was heavily into Prog? . . . need I say more? We developed a following worldwide by mining the early internet. I'm happy to say that some of those fans are still with us 20 years later.
JL: How has that changed these many years later?
CSC: Prog has definitely gotten a new lease on life as the 3rd generation discover it again and because there are folks out there like us who have worked at it for 20+ years making their names known. And because I think the miasma of digital-computer-drum machine created "pop" is driving smart folks to look for more challenging music to listen to. The 1st generation proggers are also looking for reminders of their youth in the 70s, when the music was new and exciting.
JL: I know musicians hate to “describe” their music, but if you had to…what would you say about it?
CSC: We are a very dynamic, odd rhythm oriented band. We like it heavy, but we also like to get ambient and acoustic as well. It's about the emotive feeling of telling a story. If Rush, Tool and Porcupine Tree had a black sheep brother, we'd be it.
JL: I see some describe your music as “heavy prog”…and to my ears there’s a hint of truth in that…the keyboards tend take a backseat to the guitars…how intentional is that?
CSC: Mostly because I compose on the guitar and we generally hammer out the basics as a bass-drum-guitar trio. Plus I'm not that good of a keys player. For me keyboards are support or color for the trio. As I said we can be heavy, but we also like acoustic material and like to throw in ambient jams now and then. And I enjoy doing creative sound design, especially with my guitar.
JL: Most of the compositions tend to have what I call “breathing space”…so you have really intense moments up against more introspective moments…it creates a nice dynamic range.
CSC: We have developed a "less is more" approach to writing over the years. As an engineer one of the rules of thumb is that the more dense the material, the smaller the overall sound because room must be made in the mix for all that density. One of the aspects of Rush that makes their music so big and grand are the spaces in between. Space is as import, if not more so, as the notes themselves. On DD there was a conscientious intent to make it big and grand as that is how we sound live. This album was to be a representation of us on stage with a nicer sound quality.
JL: Is there a typical approach you guys take when it comes to writing?
CSC: Generally I write either the basics of a concept, or a whole tune and present to Tru and Alex who take it beyond where I started rhythmically and dynamically. Sometimes a song is born of a simple concept we are playing around with in rehearsal and it expands each time we pull it out and play with it. Some basic ideas of the songs on DD were written 10 years ago and only came together while recording other tunes for the album.
JL: What has been the impact of Chris, your “relatively” new vocalist on the music?
CSC: As a FOH engineer in various venues around the SF Bay Area, I get to see bands play all the time. Elio made an impression on me with stage presence and his rough raw vocal abilities. He is much younger than we are and we thought it might be nice to have someone else handle vocal duties, since Tru and I love to sing, but aren't the most diverse singers. Plus playing some of this stuff and singing at the same time is a bit intense on stage. We've been keeping an eye out for a vocalist for many years, but no one seemed to fit nicely.
JL: With 3 guys all named Chris…should Alex be watching his back?
CSC: We threatened to have him change his name, but he is the quiet stubborn one of the 4 knot headed individuals in this band, and not to be trifled with.
JL: Since you guys first came on the scene, the internet has really come into its own…I’m always interested in musician’s views on how the world-wide-web is working out for them?
As I noted earlier, we built our fan base on the internet in the 90s. We are doing the same now, but the ocean is much bigger now and much more full. It is hard for any band, regardless of ability or quality, to be heard above the din. This is the good and the bad happening all at once and the horizon is shifting constantly making the journey much more difficult. There is still no defined approach to "making it" as a band now, it's a free for all.
While there are many more opportunities, there is less income to be made. We do this because we love to and because we feel compelled to. What happens to the music out there in the big wide web is a complete unknown and you learn to live with that and make the most of it.
JL: What about any live gigs…are you guys planning to hit any festivals…or is New Sun more restricted to the studio? Do day-jobs get in the way of the live trail?
Touring has become much more difficult and expensive with no guarantee of just breaking even. New Sun did very well in this regard in the 90s. Now . . . I have to really give that due consideration before even getting serious about touring. We did a whole year's worth of local gigs to promote the CD and hone our chops and we are always up for festivals and short tours on the West Coast. We'd love to play Europe again, but the incentive to not go broke must be in place first before that can happen.
That said, we will be out again this summer playing clubs and looking for opening slots, 2 festivals have talked with us about 2014.
JL: Lastly then…the desert island disc question…if you were stuck on an island with only 5 CDs…which ones would they be and why those ones in particular.
Jethro Tull- Stormwatch: Holds a special place in my life and is a very unique Tull album
Rush - Moving Pictures: First album I heard that sounded perfect to me in every way and the first I learned to play every song on
Ian Anderson - Secret Language of Birds: My piece of mind album. keeps me calm and sane and some of Ian's best acoustic work
Porcupine Tree - In Absentia: Just great song writing
Tool – Aenima: Heavy, powerful, makes me want to play guitar and getting f'ing loud.
JL: Thanks for taking the time Chris. All the best.