Bring Back That Sunny Day

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This situation came to a head only a week before the date on which Sunny Day Real Estate was scheduled to enter a Seattle studio to cut How It Feels to Be Something On. Goldsmith and company responded by going into full scramble mode, and within days bassist Jeff Palmer, best known for his work in San Francisco's Mommyheads, was made a partner in the firm. But that job didn't last long. Between the recording of the disc and its release, the three longtimers realized that the logistics of having a bassist living in another city were too much to overcome. "Jeff was having a hard time with the practice schedule we wanted to keep," Goldsmith explains. "And he couldn't move up here, because he had some things he had to do in San Francisco. So we needed to find someone from here who could do it."

Today Seattle resident Joe Skyward is handling bass chores for Sunny Day Real Estate, but at least Palmer can look with pride at his contributions to the group's catalogue. The new disc is filled with idiosyncratic melodies and structures that refuse to head in predictable directions. "Roses in Water," for instance, begins with a serpentine guitar line that contrasts nicely with a rugged beat and an odd vocal chant that introduces Enigk, who enters atop an Eastern-flavored verse that will hit home with Zeppelin fans. "Pillars," meanwhile, includes a ghostly undertone, deliberate guitar picking, and passionate crooning that rises and falls on a sea of sound that's equally impressive whether it's sedate or squalling.

The band delivers everything from the sideways pop rock of "Two Promises" to the quasi-symphonic pomp of "The Shark's Own Private Fuck" with equal skill. Simpletons may regard such high-flown eclecticism as pretentious, and perhaps it is; at times, it's closer to the work of the late Jeff Buckley than it is to the played-out efforts of the band's early-Nineties Seattle peers. But the album is also consistently inventive and heartfelt in all the ways that too much of today's music isn't.

"We're definitely not a hit factory," Goldsmith says. "We don't write songs for the radio. We write songs that become whatever they're going to become. Usually the songs write themselves. We get together in a room and play one part or one piece over and over again until it becomes hypnotic. And then the next thing pops up."

"That's what happened on 'The Prophet,'" says Hoerner, referencing another song on How It Feels. "My part of that song is something that I've played forever, a little acoustic meditation. I brought it in to Enigk, and we sat down together with acoustics and I started playing the riff, and the entire rest of the song played itself out in one session. It took as long to play it as the song is on the record right now. We just played, and it was the most amazing thing to watch Enigk sing it the first time through. All of the lyrics were totally improvised right there -- everything. It was very inspired, very beautiful. I felt like I was at a show watching, even though I was playing. I was a one-person audience watching this crazy kid channel the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. That's how it feels when it's good. It's effortless."

Because little else is easy for the men of Sunny Day Real Estate, it makes sense that they've dedicated themselves to the band for the long haul. "I just don't think any of us were really ready to be in this band before," Goldsmith says. "We really needed to have the last four years to appreciate what we have together and to be able to make this new record. And all of us plan on staying involved in this as long as we can."

Could this be a happy ending? Given that the musicians have loosened up enough to participate in articles like this one, it's possible. But with these guys, don't count on it. Fortunately, though, the latest chapter is a good one, and odds are strong that the next one will be worth reading too -- no matter how it turns out.

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Michael Roberts
Contact: Michael Roberts