Sunship Balloon – the side project from Daniel Haggis and Tord Øverland Knudsen of The Wombats – emerged on the scene last year with the release of their debut EP Intergalactic Teacup Travel Centre. Weaving in elements of psychedelia, electronica and alt-pop, their sound is distinctly different to the indie rock of their main gig with The Wombats. This Friday, September 18th, their debut album Everywhen will hit stores and streaming services. Featuring fourteen new songs, the band promise that the album will take listeners on a sonic journey.
The AU review was thrilled to talk to Sunship Balloon ahead of their album release to find out more about its creation.
Your work as Sunship Balloon has a distinct psych-pop feel – what was the motivation behind starting this project as opposed to weaving this sound into the next Wombats album?
Dan: After we made our 1st EP we felt that Sunship Balloon was asking for more from us so we carried on writing over the summer to see what would come out. We were thinking maybe another EP if things went well but we both hit a real creative flow and the songs just poured out of us, some days Tord would send over an idea and by the evening I’d have finished the song. Very early on in the process we decided we wanted to make the album a proper journey through the space-like expanse of the mind.
Tord: I guess having a new project means that you don’t have any “baggage” or any previous albums to compare to so we just had a new outlet to be creative in and explore slightly different roles to the ones we have in The Wombats.
Could you tell us a little background about the recording of the album – where was it recorded and who did you work with?
Dan: We were separated for most of the writing, I would record in my studio in London and Tord in his studio in Oslo. Tord’s studio is better than mine and actually has windows(!) so we recorded most of the final album in Oslo at his place – Stable Studios. We produced it ourselves. We’ve always been involved in the production of all The Wombats records (and our own solo stuff) and have been lucky enough to work with and learn from some amazing producers over the years so we kinda know our way around the studio now.
Tord: It was the quickest album we’ve ever made from the start of the writing to finishing the recording it took about 4 months. It added to the excitement that all the songs were so fresh when we were in the studio, sometimes you can record an album and some of the songs are literally years old.
Dan: We knew we wanted some fresh ears to mix it and when a good A&R friend of ours in San Francisco heard the album demos he suggested we see if the John Congleton was up for it as he has worked on such a plethora of genres and artists that he might be just the human for the job. He said yes and sure enough he absolutely blew us away with his mixes and made it all work sonically from start to finish.
Your recent music videos have all featured the character of Mushroom Bob, who in some ways has become a mascot for the album. Where did this idea come from?
Dan: As we were about to make the music videos we went into lockdown so realised that we needed to make animated videos. Last year we had made a video with director Marta Brodacka for “Up On The Moon” and we loved her imagination and direction so we reached out to her again and said we were keen on making a trilogy of videos with one long narrative throughout, split across 3 songs. We explained the “journey through mind-space” concept of the album and she quickly sent over a rough stop motion storyboard.
We went back and forth for a while until Mushroom Bob appeared and as soon as we saw him we all felt he was the perfect protagonist for the surreal adventure we wanted to tell. If you haven’t seen them, check out his 2 leaked audition tapes on YouTube, he’s such a legend. If there are any directors out there who need someone with the head of a mushroom and the body of a knight then we can highly recommend working with him. He’s not fussy at all, in his trailer on set he only wanted fallen leaves and compost on his rider so he keeps the budget down.
Were there any neat production tricks that you experimented with on the album?
Dan: Yeah loads, that was such a fun aspect of the recording process and in some ways that can inspire the songs to take a certain direction or another, depending on the soundscape you create. Tord recorded a lot of sounds (Washing machines/air conditioning units/the Vienna orchestra tuning up) on his phone whilst on tour and chopped them up and made samples.
I played my body as a percussion instrument on “1000 Conversations” then distorted it loads which gives the groove a unique feel. The DX7, prophet and Juno synths got used quite a bit on this album! One song has a piano badly recorded on my phone then we pitched it up and blended the 2 sounds together. We definitely embrace and love the DIY bedroom recording aspect, capturing the moment trumps “good technique” every time!
Tord: One of our mottos is just “slap everything through the Roland space echo and everything will turn out just fine!” haha. We try to make the recording process as playful as possible.
What music were you listening to for inspiration while you were in the studio?
Dan: We actually didn’t really listen to much music in the studio as we were so focused on recording but obviously there are tons of influences swimming around our heads but I always prefer not to clutter my head with any other music whilst recording in the hope that you end up making something more original. There were a few books I was reading around that time that definitely influenced the lyrics a bit, The Unihabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari and The Subtle Art of not Giving A Fuck by Mark Manson amongst others.
Tord: As Dan said, we didn’t listen to much but if you could hear what was playing in our heads then there’d probably be some Steve Reich for some of the loop based tracks, bits of Grandaddy and New Pornographers in “Hashtag World” maybe, I had something like the suspenseful music from an episode of Macyver for the middle 8 in “A4 Life” in my head, like when he’s making a weapon from a frog or something! Actually, some of the musical inspiration for “Halcyon Days” came from listening to Flock of Seagulls! I’d been listening to a lot of Lo-fi hip hop and electronica which influenced the production on a few bits, especially “Riding with Elephants”. I could go on and on but your readers would probably fall asleep!
Your album deals with dystopian themes – did the coronavirus pandemic influence this or had you already planned to explore these themes prior?
Dan: Not at all actually, the album was finished, mixed and mastered in January this year so a bit before Coronavirus reared its ugly head. Writing songs is often like your subconscious telling you what you’re feeling, so for me it all came out as a mixture of subjects I regularly overthink about, from mental health to consumerism, from the daily images we see of environmental destruction and the threat of climate change to being an eco-worrier, from our relationships with each other and the effect ever changing technology has on us all. As I mentioned before, we wanted the album to feel like a journey through ‘mind-space’ and I sometimes imagine the reason the space traveller has had to leave the planet behind is because of an A.I. led nuclear war or because climate change has rendered it uninhabitable. Almost as though we soundtracked a sci-fi film.
Your latest track “1000 Conversations” is about “trying to deal with the meteor shower of thoughts that batter the atmosphere of our minds each day” – do you have any advice for all the overthinkers out there?
Dan: As a pretty regular member of the ‘spinning thought brigade’ I’m probably not the best person to ask but personally, making and playing music has always been the best therapy. It somehow quietens down whatever’s shouting in my head and I generally relax and feel happy and carefree for at least that present moment, unless I have writer’s block! Yoga has also been massively beneficial for me and would highly recommend it to everyone. Also, although obvious, if you’re stressed about something, talk to someone about it. I still often keep things bottled up for way too long and tell myself I’ll figure it out on my own but actually once you let some of your thoughts out (through a song or a chat with someone) it really does help.
Aside from your work on this album, what has been keeping you busy or entertained in this otherwise chaotic year?
Tord: Mainly walking in the forest, picking berries and mushrooms and playing footy.
Dan: Being stuck at home for 3 months or so through lockdown I set up a little home recording studio and tried to set myself a routine which really helped and we actually pretty much wrote the whole 2nd Sunship album during that period. Apart from that I walked almost the same loop around Clapham Common everyday, cooked and read a lot and watched loads of films and series. I never bake but during lockdown I made some rhubarb and ginger cookies which were probably one of the lockdown highlights for me.
Once the coronavirus pandemic clears up, will you be planning a tour to promote the album?
Dan: Yeah definitely. Although by that time we may well be promoting a 2nd album as well! We had everything rehearsed and ready to go back in March for a tour just as lockdown happened so we’re ready to go once live music gets the thumbs up! For all the bands, crew, venues and fans out there the reopening can’t come soon enough although unfortunately the absolute arsewipe that is Corona really doesn’t seem to wanna play ball for the moment does it?!
Tord: Yeah as soon as we get the green light!
What does the remainder of 2020 (it’s hard to believe we’re already in September!) have in store for both of you?
Dan: It’s going to be a busy few months! We’re currently in Oslo about to start work on our 2nd Sunship album, which we wrote most of during lockdown, and we’re also mega excited to start recording The Wombats 5th album at the end of October!
Tord: Of course, you’ll all know that berry season is now over in Norway but there are plenty of mushrooms still to find till the end of October.