Interview: Rory James of Sunset Sons
The new edition of The University Paper, Glasgow is now online! You can view the digital version: here.
One of my favourites pieces from this edition is my interview with Rory James of Sunset Sons who are supporting Imagine Dragons on their tour next month. You can read the interview in The University Paper here, or read my extended version below…
Buff surfer dudes turned rockers Sunset Sons are set to take the UK by storm this winter after being snatched up as the support band to open for Imagine Dragons on their Smoke + Mirrors tour.
With their new EP ‘The Fall Line’ out now and being scheduled to play Glasgow at the SSE Hydro in November, I caught up with Sunset Sons lead singer Rory James to talk about what he thinks of the band’s success, Scottish crowds, those Kings of Leon comparisons and what’s next for the band in the New Year:
SOPHIE: So, Sunset Sons are supporting Imagine Dragons on their latest tour. How did this collaboration come about?
RORY: ‘I didn’t really hear much about it until we got it. Obviously, being quite a new band we weren’t expecting to even get close to being selected. We got into the top 15 which meant that the guys in Imagine Dragons were actually going to listen to us themselves and then they’d actually decide which I thought was really cool because then the band are choosing a band they really want. So, our manager got a phone call and he got all excited and I just remember thinking “Either something really amazing has happened or something bad has happened”.
Yeah, it was nice, it’s a pretty organic way to do it because the band actually chose us which is awesome. We knew they weren’t doing it as a favour or something like that but because they actually liked us. It’s always nice to know that you’re wanted. We haven’t actually met the guys yet but everyone who has met them have told us good things so I’m looking forward to it. I mean, if you don’t get on with someone, being on the road with them for two months would cause problems but everyone says they’re great guys so it’s exciting. I can’t wait!’
As part of the tour, you’re going to be playing at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow this November. Have you played in Scotland before and are you looking forward to this show?
‘Aw, words can describe. First of all, we’ve played maybe three or four shows in Scotland on our little tour before things really kicked off and it was amazing. I’ve got Scottish blood in me so going up there reminded me of my childhood.
The crowds are just unreal, that’s what Scotland is renowned for. I suppose if they didn’t like us, we’d definitely know about it.
We sold out King Tuts back in March and it’s such an iconic place to play, we were honoured to just be there in the first place. If you sell out, you get a bottle of whisky and your name or your set list or something written up on the wall which was a great feeling. Honestly, I love Scotland.
We went to T in the Park this year which I was really excited about. It was raining and stuff but we were playing in one of the tents and there’s this chant they do in Scotland that goes: “Here we, here we, here we fuckin’ go!” And we thought they were telling us to get off the stage because we couldn’t understand it. We figured it out half way through the set and they were going along with the beat and the rhythm of the song we were playing so I started shouting it into the mic and trying to amp the crowd up. And eventually, they were doing the chant along to every song, and honestly, it was such a moment in our festival season this year and I won’t forget that – it was brilliant.’
Throughout the whole process of making music, would you say you prefer song-writing, recording in the studio, or touring and playing music live?
‘Definitely getting on the road. I do enjoy being in the studio but, for me, it’s a rollercoaster of emotions. It can be the smallest thing that goes right, like when you’re getting your vocals down or the guitar track or something and then suddenly something just clicks and you come up with something new and that is really exciting. But on the hand, it can be the smallest thing that goes wrong, like say someone spills a cup of coffee or something and just because you’re in such an intense environment, and say there are maybe five or six of you in the studio for like five weeks at a time, and you can imagine what it’s like – it’s really intense. I do love that process but, for me, it’s all about being on the road.
To do the live stuff is great. It gets the adrenaline pumping and it’s the whole reason I do it. It’s amazing being able to interact with people. Sometimes you’ll get a cold crowd and you’ll need to warm them up or you’ll go on stage and everyone is already pissed up and super excited and start jumping about and it’s so much fun. Every gig is different, you really never know what you’re going to get and obviously now that the crowds are getting bigger, that is a bonus.’
What would you say is your favourite song to play live?
‘That’s a tough one. Well, okay, I’ll give you a little exclusive here. We’ve only played this song I think just once at the moment, we played it at Reading. We’d only just finished writing it. It’s a song called Tick Tock. It’s a brand new song and at the moment that’s my favourite one to play live. It’s really different. It starts off with me on drums for one thing which is unusual since I mostly play the piano so that’s cool. And new songs are always exciting so I can’t wait to play it more.’
When Sunset Sons were just starting out as a cover band, what were your favourite covers to play live?
‘There’s a couple. We used to play ‘TV on the Radio’ – Wolf Like Me. It’s just a crazy fun song to play live. ‘Stay With Me’ – Faces was another favourite. We used to play a bit of Queens of the Stone Age as well. The great thing was back then, we kind of went against everything that we were supposed to play. We steered away from what ‘people like’ and just played what we liked. We just thought that if we were having fun, people would either join in or they’d leave and then you’ll know where you stand. One time, we were in the car and ‘Bubbles’ – Biffy Clyro came on the radio and I was like “Aw man, I love this song!” We played ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Who’s Got a Match?’ They’re great songs.’
Many people have compared Sunset Sons to Kings of Leon and similar bands. Are you flattered by these comparisons or does it bother you?
‘Well, if you’re getting compared to people you don’t like and we have had those comparisons when someone said we were similar to Maroon 5 and I’m not a fan of them. I mean, people say “music is subjective” and people will say what they want, you can’t stop them.
As for the Kings of Leon comparisons, I’m a massive fan and I’ve listened to those guys for years, especially their early stuff. I don’t play the guitar, I’m learning at the moment, but their music made me want to pick up a guitar. That comparison does come up a lot, I’m not going to lie, but it’s not a bad comparison, it’s meant as a compliment. Another one, which I won’t agree or disagree with, is Tom Petty and the dude is a legend and if you’re getting compared to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, you’re doing something right. Growing up, I used to listen to a lot of Motown Gold, Ray Charles and Smokey Robinson and I always wanted to play and sing like those guys but obviously I don’t sound like that but, in my head, I’m trying.
People have been trying to pigeonhole us for a while and music is so confusing nowadays. Like years ago, pop used to mean whatever music was popular but now nobody wants to be called ‘pop’ anymore. But it means popular music so if you’re in that genre, I see it as a good thing. We listen to a lot of rock music and a lot of influences come from that style so I guess we could call ourselves a rock band. And then there’s indie. Indie just confuses me, I have no idea what’s what. I just kind of forget about all that and just focus on playing and making the kind of music that we enjoy. I don’t really know which ‘genre’ we are – that’s what you guys do, you call us whatever you want to call us.’
If you could collaborate with any artist or band in the world, past or present, who would you pick?
‘I’ll throw two out there. Present: I’d say Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. That’d be cool. I listen to all their records and stuff and I love what he does. He’s an extremely talented musician. Past: I’m gonna chuck a weird one in there and say Biggie Smalls. I listen to a lot of his stuff. It would be probably the worst sounding music ever but he’s someone who I think was pretty special when he was about.’
After the tour with Imagine Dragons this winter, what’s next for Sunset Sons in the New Year?
‘So, we finish the tour and then we get Christmas off, I think. We were told in January that we wouldn’t get any time off until Christmas so we’ve obviously been looking forward to that. A bit of time off will be nice. In the New Year, I think we’re booked up until March. We haven’t done a headline tour in a while which we obviously want to do. So, after the New Year, I think we’ll be straight back on the road. We might be in the studio a little bit as well because we can’t seem to get enough of the studio. This year just gone kind of surpassed anything I was expecting and next year, if everything goes to plan with the record and stuff, it should be even more intense and a lot more fun to be had.’
Sunset Sons are supporting Imagine Dragons at the SSE Hyrdo in Glasgow on November 15. Tickets are available to buy from Ticketmaster.