That rock-solid Sunny Day Real Estate is still standing today after eight years isn’t so surprising for guitarist Dan Hoerner. It’s what they had to go through to get here that’s so amazing.
Formed in Seattle in 1992 in grunge’s heyday, the indie-rock group – Hoerner, bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith – cut an imposing figure once they hooked up with lead singer Jeremy Enigk.
Their debut Sub Pop album, “Diary” (in 1994), sold more than 136,000 copies – not bad for an indie release – but with the newfound fame came notoriety: They did few media interviews; many of their songs didn’t have titles, they were issued numbers; Enigk’s conversion to Christianity prompted speculation that tension was building within the band; after their second album, “LP2” (in 1995), they broke up, with Mendel and Goldsmith moving on to Foo Fighters and Hoerner retreating to his 60-acre farm in Washington state, and Enigk then released a full-orchestra pop solo album.
With all that behind them, the group reunited in 1998, minus Mendel. But a nasty fallout with Sub Pop followed.
“The bottom line was money, as always,” Hoerner said recently. “If Sunny Day was going to continue to be a band, Sub Pop believed, even though we faithfully delivered the last record of our contract with them (‘How It Feels To Be Something On’), that we needed to be on Sub Pop if we were going to be a band. And believe me, man, they tried every trick in the book, everything to pull us through the ringer and stop us from doing it, but they failed.
“We’ve been together longer this time around than the first time. People talk about the breakup still and about the hiatus, which everybody in the band desperately needed, and which served to make the band a tighter entity than we’ve ever been. But for me, and for everybody in the band, we’ve been doing this band for a long time, and we have suffered through amazing shit to continue to do Sunny Day, fought crazy fights and legal battles and totally clawed and scratched so that we could continue to be Sunny Day.”
None worse for the wear, they return in a big way with “The Rising Tide,” out June 20 on Time Bomb Recordings. Produced by Lou Giordano (Sugar, Belly), the album is the group’s most focused, experimental and accessible to date. There’s still plenty of raw emotion and power evident in such tracks as “Killed By an Angel” and the title cut, while a softer, more textural side is explored on “Rain Song” and “The Ocean.”
“We wanted to try and make the best record we could make, and to take time making a record like we’d never taken before, and really give ourselves the chance to explore all options and sounds,” Hoerner said. “We took tons of time making this record, lots of preproduction time, and lots of care crafting the songs, and I think it all paid off really well.
“I think it’s the rising tide, man. I really think that Sunny Day’s going to break with this one. I mean, the record’s so fucking good. We’ve got a fantastic label behind it working it super hard, and we’re going to hit it super hard and do everything we can do to get the consciousness happening around the record, and I just can’t help but think that this one’s going to do it.”
All this talk from a band that supposedly didn’t want to talk to the press? Hoerner says much of the early mystery surrounding them was beyond their control.
“You know, it’s just kind of another part of the process of learning and growing up,” he said. “The same reasons that broke up the band and caused us to take time off were the reasons that were behind us not wanting to talk to anybody about it. We’ve been doing interviews now for more years than we’ve been in the band in the first place. To me, doing interviews is no new thing.
“It’s just that Sub Pop ditched ‘How It Feels.’ They didn’t do any work on press or publicity for it, so if it seemed like we didn’t do any interviews for ‘How It Feels,’ it was because they never got us any. We got tons of interviews. We even hired our own publicity people, to try and get us interviews. It was a series of missteps around ‘How It Feels’ that kind of caused people to think that we weren’t really doing much in the way of press, when to us we were like, ‘Where are our interviews? How are people going to find out about this record?’
“I think to this day it’s probably only sold 70,000 copies, but I think it’s good enough to sell more. I’m sure it will pick up once ‘The Rising Tide’ starts to sell. I definitely admit to doing press. You’ve got to break your band.”
As for his 60-acre farm, Hoerner relishes his slice of sunny real estate.
“Buying it was like a dream come true,” he said, “because I’d spent quite a bit of time on the land. My friend had a piece of property adjoining it and I’d walked it a million times. I always dreamed of having it and now I’m walking around with a grin on my face all day. It’s been five years and I still go outside and walk around and I’m blown away by it.
“We just bought it because we wanted to preserve the trees that were on it. It’s got fantastic mature pine and fir forest on there, and the people who owned it were going to log it, which is the reason why I tried to buy it from them. I wanted to save the trees. Where I live, trees are just a commodity, and people are wondering why there are less and less of these big old mature trees. It’s like, well, you cut them down! They don’t grow on trees. Trees don’t grow on trees.
“I’m still working on it. Hopefully, knock on wood, Sunny Day will help me pay it off.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: ” ‘The Clash’ by The Clash. I actually just listened to it the other day. It fuckin’ rocks! It’s the raddest band. I think that anybody who is interested in lyrics and what somebody’s talking about is going to be blown away by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones. Those guys were very clever and very motivated and very emotional. I think The Clash is one of the greatest bands of all time. They totally deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “Wow, that is a tough one. I’ll say the first concert that I remember as having a real impact on me was seeing Fugazi at a little place in Spokane called 1-2-3 Arts. That totally changed my life. It made me want to be in a punk rock band. I had no idea who they were. I just knew I liked to play punk rock. I liked punk rock music and I liked hardcore stuff, but I was new to the punk scene when they played at this little club and they were so unbelievably amazing and aggressive and passionate and smart and hilarious and into it. The crowd went nuts, but the funny thing was, they got everyone to come up onstage. There were these two skinheads at the show who were doing that kick-everybody skinhead dance they do, and they still do to this day, and they got everybody to come up onstage while they played except for these two idiots. I had never seen anything like that before. I never knew you could do that. I have great respect for them to this day.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s ‘The Last Prophet.’ … There’s like a whole place on the other side of the globe that is a much bigger democracy than America, with many more people in it, and in that place, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is considered a fucking god. Britney Spears is probably considered to be a piece of shit. He’s a super-mega, ungodly huge star in countries that are way bigger than America, and all over the world but in America he’s just pretty popular. Well, I can deal with that. I can deal with Pakistani businessmen coming up onstage while I’m playing and throwing $100 bills on me constantly. Did you ever see him play, or hear about that? It’s this amazing ritual. They worship him. I saw him in Seattle and they go absolutely apeshit. These guys are all in thousand-dollar suits and wearing thousand-dollar shoes, but they’re clawing at themselves and going crazy. They’re crowding around him and throwing money on him and throwing money onstage. Nusrat just brushes them off and keeps singing. He just ignores it. It’s beautiful. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. “(Though he died in 1997), he was a voice that I think inspired so many people. I am just an ignorant person in America, I don’t know shit about anything, and I don’t know about his religious beliefs or where he’s coming from or any of that. I don’t presume to have any knowledge, but at the same time I totally understood the message in his voice so clearly that it moved me and inspired me. I wanted to be like that.”
BWF (before we forget): Sunny Day Real Estate is back on the block on the Web @ www.sunnydayrealestate.com. … The Sunny Day Real Estate album discography – “Diary” (Sub Pop, 1994); “LP2” (1995); “How It Feels To Be Something On” (1998); “Live” (1999); “The Rising Tide” (Time Bomb, 2000).
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