Interview: Sarah Sykes from Sunscreen on Growth and Finding Their Sound

Friday, August 23, 2019
Photo Aiden Stone

Sydney-based four-piece Sunscreen are one of Australia’s hidden gems, and with their sophomore EP Falling In An Elevator, they are ready to step outside the shadows. Their new EP, released via Spunk! Records, is their most polished and refined body of work yet and shows an immense amount of growth from their 2017 EP Just A Drop. Before the EP was released, I spoke to Sarah Sykes from Sunscreen about the EP, the band’s growth, and how she’s evolved as a songwriter.

Their debut EP Just A Drop was made when the band were beginning to find their feet and weren’t too sure of the direction they wanted to take with their music. “We were still figuring out what we sounded like and wanted to sound like. When we made Just A Drop, we kind of just started out as a band.” Through experimentation of different styles, the band have found their sound and the direction that they want to take with their music.

“I think this EP is a lot more reflective of what we'd like to sound like as a band. We've had a lot more years together now and a lot more years writing together, and just showing each other music, discovering what we like and what we want to do,” says Sykes.

For Falling In An Elevator, they took the daring risk of recording to analogue tape, and it pays off — resulting in a sound that’s raw and authentic. “Everything sounds warmer on tape,'' said Sykes, “Recording digitally doesn’t have that same degree of warmth. We felt so lucky to work with Simon Berckelman and do it that way.”

Recording on tape didn’t only lead to an organic sound, it also meant the band got to work more closely together whilst recording — with all four members live tracking together in a room instead of recording their sections separately. Because they recorded in the same room as one another, they were able to soak in each other’s energy and create a body of work that came from a place of pure and collective excitement.

Sykes also admits that the pressure of having a limited amount of tape to record meant that they would give their all to each second of the recording stages of Falling In An Elevator. “It’s cool to capture the live energy of the songs when recording on tape. I guess you've just got to do it, and you've just got to do your best. And it's a limited amount of tape you've got on the reel, and I think that really brought out the best in us.”

She went on to compare the process of recording to tape as similar to working with film in photography. “You could compare it to shooting a roll of film on-camera versus having a digital camera, and you can go forever with a digital camera and it probably won't be that special because you can look at them straight away, you don't have to rewind and develop anything.”

As you listen to the EP, there’s a clear consideration of each track’s placing. Though it only spans five tracks, its cohesiveness as a body of work is impressive. Sykes agreed that for her and the band, cohesiveness is important. The EP’s opening track ‘Own Two Feet’ is particularly special for Sykes. “We’ve never written a song like that before,” she said on ‘Own Two Feet’, “It’s a special song to me. We really wanted to put that at the front, and thought it was exactly how we wanted to open the EP.”

Along with flowing exquisitely, Falling In An Elevator is home to an absorbing narrative and storylike quality, whilst also weaving in the experiences and feelings of Sykes and the rest of the band. “The songs deal with notions of independence and freedom in relationships, and uncertainty in relationships — as well as ideas of autonomy and freedom and love and confusion.”

‘High Over Love’ reflects on an unhealthy dependence within a relationship. On the song, Syke sings words such as, “It should hurt to tell you / That I’m not thinking of you,” and “I’m running out from words that used to ring true / Light go out / But I don’t wanna hurt you”. On ‘Think About You’, they channel a different feeling of infatuation and all the excitement of falling for someone.

Sykes didn’t exactly go into the process of writing the EP wanting to discuss those things, but it happened naturally and instinctively for her. “I definitely didn't mean to write about those things, I think they're just what comes out when you put down your emotions and where you are mentally in a song. It just happened to be those topics.” For Sykes, it’s important to not force it and let songs happen naturally. She notes that there are times where she doesn’t write at all.

“Sometimes I won’t write for ages. There are times when I feel like I’ve got nothing to say. But then there are times it all hits me at once, and I’ll have to reach for my phone and start writing lyrics in my notes at inconvenient hours. I'm a big fan of just making something naturally because it's always going to be more authentic than when you try to set out to create something.”

Across the process of being in Sunscreen, she notes that she has evolved as a songwriter, much of this has come from life experiences and growing as a person. She can feel the difference between the material that she has written between both EPs. “I look back at songs off Just A Drop that I wrote when I was 20 years old, and the lyrics just seem like they're coming from a younger person because they are. They're probably a bit more melodramatic. I would say that now my lyrics are less naïve for sure.”

Touring and playing live gives Sunscreen and Sykes a different kind of thrill. She enjoys not only the fun that comes along with playing live but also the collective experience everyone has at the show. “It's just fun to be able to create something with people watching and to play music on the spot. It's not just playing live that I love, but I guess it's creating an experience for everyone involved.”

Falling In An Elevator takes listeners on an unforgettable journey and is brimming with magic — Sunscreen continues to prove why they are one of a kind, and their new EP is a testament to this.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

Listen to Falling In An Elevator:

Tour dates:
September 29th - North Gong Hotel, Wollongong 
October 4th - The Vanguard, Sydney 
October 18th - Worker's Club, Melbourne 
October 19th - Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
More information is available here

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