Interview: a candid chat with Sunbeam Sound Machine

Thursday, May 9, 2019
Photo by Sophie Treloar

Sunbeam Sound Machine (the moniker of Nick Sowersby) last week shared his new album Goodness Gracious. Written, recorded and mixed himself, the album features a series of personal words and reflections that document a period of change. We had the chance to chat with Nick about the process of working on it, working in solitude, and remaining patient.

Congrats on the release of Goodness Gracious. How long did it take to work on it?

It's sort of hard to say exactly. I started working on an album probably late 2015, after we'd sort of done a bit of touring off the back of the last one. But then a lot of those recordings got scrapped. I'd say it was probably like mid-2016 to mid-2018 that this album took shape. So it was two to three years.

Was there an initial moment that spurred you to start working on it?

Not really, as soon as one thing comes out, I'm always keen to get onto the next. So there's no real moment that spurred me to want to make it necessarily. I think it was about mid-2016 there was a moment where I was like, I gotta start this again. I was really dissatisfied with what I'd made so far. So I just decided to start again, just to record a record, instead of trying to force it to happen.

So would you say that the process of working Goodness Gracious was much more organic than the last one?

Yeah, I think so. Once I'd sort of said that it doesn't matter when it comes out, and to just wait until I was actually happy with it, it was easier. Sometimes, you're like oh my god, this is taking forever. 

Did you encounter any patches where the creative juices weren't flowing like you wanted them to?

Nothing too bad. I guess it's more patches where you've been working on stuff for a while and then you sort of go is this any good? (laughs). Especially when you've been working on it so long, you really sort of lose track of that, you're so deep in it you're like I don't even know if this is good anymore. So it was more of that sort of stuff than writer's block or anything like that.

And how do you deal with feeling impatient when you're working on something and you just want to do it, but you have those patches where you have to leave it for a while?

It's pretty frustrating. If I go a while where I can't do any recordings for a bit, I just try to do some writing or something when I get the chance, or something like that. But yeah, it's pretty frustrating. You just gotta kinda get through it.

Especially for the new album, how important is the physical space around you when you're writing?

I think it's really important. I recorded this one mainly in my garage at home. I had a studio set up in there, and it wasn't a beautiful space by any means, but it was just a really good workspace. It's got everything set up in it, plugged in, ready to go, and that's more of what I need. Just like when ideas come fast, you got everything within reach and you don't have to wait around to do anything.

And how much of it was done in solitude?

Pretty much all of it. So I recorded it all, played all the instruments, and mixed it all. And it was only the mastering that I got someone else in to do it. So it was a very solitary album, which I liked doing, but I think after a couple of years of doing that in a solitary way, I'm ready to let a few friends maybe get involved in the next one.

Can it be challenging when you're working on something that's your own art by yourself majority of the time and you're fully invested in it?

Yeah, a little bit. You can get pretty deep into it. I mean there's always friends that I can show the music to, but I also like waiting until things are finished before I show people. That way, I can just show them the finished product and gauge their reaction to the whole song, and not the work in progress. But yeah, there are times where it's really challenging, but I also really like it. I sort of enjoy working in solitude because I have ideas of what I want the songs to be and enjoy developing them.

I read that the album's artwork is one of your dad's photos. Did you come across that before working on the album?

I was starting to work on it and he just e-mailed it to me one day. I'm not sure why. He was just going through some old photos and scanning them into his computer, and just sent it across, and I had a pretty strong feeling about it straight away and that it was going to be the album cover. I hadn't written or recorded a lot of the music then, but I knew what I was going for and that that was really going to suit it, so that was really cool to have the photo to look at from time to time.

Did the photo have any impact on any particular songs on the album?

Yeah, I think a lot of them, none in particular. I don't know really whether I can say exactly how, but just kind of the feeling that that photo gave me influenced me, not in a concrete way, but it just really helped. The sort of feeling I got from that photo was the feeling I wanted to get from the songs.

Outside of musical influences, was there anything else, like the photo, that inspired you when working on it?

Yeah, I'm always inspired by things I'm reading and watching and that sort of thing. None that I can think of right now, but books are always a big influence as well. But yeah, it was over a few years so I read a lot so it's hard to pick just one or two.

To finish up, what do you hope listeners get out of their listening experience of Goodness Gracious?

It's hard to say. I hope they get their own thing out of it. I've been living with it for so long that I've got really concrete ideas of what it is, and that's kind of the most enjoyable part of putting it out, is that people hear it and find their own meaning in it, or their own enjoyment in it.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

Listen to Goodness Gracious by Sunbeam Sound Machine below:

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