A Chat With: Native Sun
NYC’s Native Sun promises to play every show like it’s their last. A weighted promise, especially for a band who signed on to play more than seven shows over the course of a few days at this year’s SXSW, but one that they not only live up to, but exceed. If you’ve ever seen Danny Gomez, Jake Pflum, Alexis Castro and Mauricio Martinez play a show together, then you’ve undoubtedly felt the surge of energy that they release each and every time they get on a stage, and you’ve walked away knowing that they just poured everything they had into that performance. At least, that was my experience when I saw Native Sun play to a packed house at Cheer Up Charlie’s indoor venue on the final Saturday night of SXSW. It was a performance that inspired a crowd surfer (despite the venue’s low ceilings) and ended with Gomez on the floor of the stage.
Despite the exertion of Saturday night’s show and all those prior, when I met up with Native Sun the following afternoon, the band seemed anything but worn down as they got ready to play their final show of the festival. Perhaps it was the spiritual awakening of Austin, Texas that Pflum experienced that kept their spirits high (more on that later), but when talking to Native Sun, I got an immediate sense of their gratitude and appreciation for being able to create, play, and share their music. If you’re not yet familiar with Native Sun, get to know them more as we discuss their favorite musical discoveries of SXSW, their place in the NYC arts scene, a wild night in Nashville, and more!
Now that we’re on the final day of SXSW, and it’s been a long week with lots of shows, what has been a personal favorite memory or highlight from one of your shows this week?
Danny: We played Spider House yesterday after this ridiculous band called The Sloths. They had a lot of moves. They covered “Gloria” at the end. But after the show, we stole a Link Wray poster that they had from the venue. We thought that was kind of very part of our DNA to do that. I don’t regret it. We did it for the love of rock’n’roll.
Alexis: Yesterday we played at Cheer Up Charlie’s and there was someone in the crowd that knew lyrics to a song that we haven’t put out yet. We’ve only played it live maybe four times. They were singing along and I was confused.
That’s amazing. They came to all the shows this week so they know it now!
Mauricio: I feel like that’s the same [highlight] for me. I was confused—I don’t even know those lyrics! Someone was singing them. So that was different and cool.
Jake: Hi I’m Jake—
And you’re watching the Disney Channel?
Jake: And you’re watching the Disney Channel! I’m a huge fan of Fugazi and their refusal to use a setlist and how they just kind of call it based on feel every time that they play. That’s something that I had hoped to get to with this band some day, and we had just been playing so much leading up to SXSW and during SXSW, and the last couple shows we didn’t have enough time to write a set list. So finally we were just locked in and sharing the heart beat. Calling songs out during the show. We all look at each other like “what are we doing?” and we just launch into it. That was a personal victory.
Nice! Were there any new bands that you discovered this week?
Danny: Yeah, I liked the Fontaines D.C. guys. We got to hang out with them and play pool and see some of their shows. They were really nice.
Jake: We’re gonna have a shared answer [himself and Mauricio].
Mauricio: We saw Haiku Hands. They were so fire.
Jake: I’ve never seen a band that loud. Ever.
Mauricio: They’re like Beastie Boys meets Missy Elliott.
Jake: It was a really great experience. I loved their performance. Not to mention that every bass hit was like shaking my entire skeleton.
Mauricio: Black Midi was super interesting also.
Alexis: I didn’t even have time to focus on any other sets. We were just running around for our shows.
Danny: Those were the main ones.
Your stage presence was really great at the Cheer Up Charlie’s show I got to see yesterday. People were vibing and crowd surfing—
Danny: People really react at our shows, which is something we’re thankful for. Cause you never know, sometimes where you’re doing something more intense, it doesn’t get the same reaction.
So as far as stage presence, is there anyone you look up to or really admire in that sense? Or anyone that inspires you when you’re performing?
Jake: I love Jimmy Page. I don’t think I’m as sexy, but that’s definitely maybe a starting point. I think for my own personal stage presence, the inspiration comes more from outside of music. Just life in general and what it’s like to live and how it can be frustrating and emotional and there’s a lot of pent up feelings: positive, negative, neutral, that go from when you wake up to before you can play. It’s definitely…I’ve said once before, that when I play, it’s like my body is trying to jump outside of itself.
Danny: That’s the best way to put it. Locking into the ethereal spirit of it all. Those are the entertainers that I like.
Mauricio: We’re lucky because we’re doing what we actually love doing.
Danny: Yeah, we have to fight for it so we’re gonna give it our all.
Mauricio: Exactly! If there’s two people in the show, we play like there’s a thousand.
Jake: We play like it’s not gonna happen again.
Mauricio: It’s my favorite thing to do in the world.
Danny: We’re always gonna give it 200 no matter what show you come to.
Nice! Then as far as your music, you had an EP come out at the end of last year. What can you tell me about the process behind those songs?
Jake: [The EP] was written a while before it was released. We started recording that right after the one before it came out. So our first EP was done, and we were already working the day after on recording. So they had been written a while. We kind of took our time to slowly build it from the ground up from a recording standpoint. And you know, New York City band, it’s like who’s got their basement free for two hours? How much can we get done?
Alexis: We recorded at my house.
Jake: We recorded at his house...we jumped around a bunch of different studios. We recorded saxophone in one studio, keyboards in someone else’s apartment, that sort of thing.
Danny: It was interesting, out of those six songs, four of them we went in dead set, and then “Sweet V” and “Modern Music” we kind of just decided on the spot. We had just written those maybe a couple weeks before that and just decided to go for it. So like those takes you hear of “Sweet V,” that’s the first time we made it through. It’s a very live experience in that sense. You hear him [Alexis] say “Fuck” at the end of it.
Do you guys do your own producing too or do you work with somebody else?
Danny: Not yet, hopefully soon!
Alexis: We’ve been doing demos by ourselves.
Jake: I think from like the technical definition of producing, a lot of it does land on our shoulders. We definitely have people engineering for us, and as far as like the ownership of the equipment. But it’s not like we’ve gone into a studio and we’re like here’s our song and someone’s going “I’m actually thinking we should restructure it.” None of that. We’re definitely owning it.
Danny: We’ve been working with this dude upstate called Kevin McMahon, who’s like a guru. He’s worked on a lot of records we like, like Fat White Family. Swans. He’s a weirdo. We love that.
As far as your collaboration as a band, how do you handle times when you might disagree? Or do you typically just agree to each handle your own parts?
Danny: I think we state our opinion and if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
Alexis: Most things instinctually kinda work out. It just kind of works.
Mauricio: Now after a moment of playing together for a year and a half, we know how we should play for the sound we want to do. So I play the bass and I’m not gonna try to be super technical. I know how the song should sound, and what I should do. We now know our strategy.
Jake: There’s plenty of times where an idea will come into the practice space or the writing room or wherever we’re working on something, and someone will float an idea, and maybe it doesn’t land 100 percent. So yeah there’s disagreement, but just because it doesn’t make sense or it’s not a fully formed idea yet, it’s when we all figure it out together. There’s a song, ”Oedipus”…
Alexis: I used to hate that fucking song. Now it’s my favorite.
Jake: We just put it out on a 7 Inch, which we just put out here [during SXSW]. We just couldn’t figure it out. We couldn’t get on the same page, the tempo didn’t feel right. It’s not that anyone was playing incorrectly, it’s just that we were like out of sync. Then one day--
Danny: Oh, we did this kind of like art experiment, where they had us play for eight hours straight without stopping. And they documented the whole thing. On the breaks, they wanted us to jam. We started jamming on that song, and I remember Jake took a dump and came back and was like I got it! I figured out what was missing. We jumped into it and you see the process of how it all evolves.
Jake: Definitely a come to Jesus moment on the toilet.
As far as more new music, you mentioned there’s a newer unreleased song you’ve been playing here. What else have you guys got cooking for release this year?
Mauricio: It feels like its time.
Jake: We’ve got the two song 7”. Those songs will likely be on the final product of a full record. We recorded a bunch of songs with Kevin McMahon a few months ago, which we figured would maybe be like the starting point for that album, and we have a bunch of songs that we’ve been demo-ing ourselves.
Danny: Jake’s computer is the vault.
Jake: Exactly, I’ve got to lock it up. Alexis has the back up. So now we’re demoing the remainder of the songs we have and we’re just trying to fit the pieces together and see what makes the most sense as a complete project
Danny: We want something that’s a cohesive body of songs.
Nice, so you’re definitely more into full albums that sort of have a theme?
Danny: This could go there! It’s not gonna be like a wizard theme or anything like that. But we want it to feel like a body the whole way through. The records that I think we really love, be it from all different genres, are bodies of work that you know in their own respective rights.
Jake: 100 percent an album guy, start to finish, no shuffle. An album that’s ten singles that don’t really fit together has never been my sort of thing. So a cohesive piece-- sequencing is really important to me.
Danny: We want it to sound timeless. Like this record could have been from twenty years ago or that band still could be making this music in twenty years.
Cool, and then as far as the New York music scene, we were chatting a little bit earlier about bands like Gnarrcicists and Stuyedeyed—which they’re actually playing an ANCHR showcase on Friday back in Chicago.
Danny: Where’s that at?
Danny: Nice that’s a big one! Hell yeah. Who else is playing?
Varsity, Rookie and Pool Holograph!
Danny: Oh sick, we love Rookie! We played with them—
Jake: Oh my god! I’m so glad you brought them up! Haiku Hands, I love you! Like next time I’m in Australia, I will find you, but Rookie was the best band that I have seen! God I love them!
Mauricio: Yeah they were fucking sick.
Jake: You know how South By goes, you play at 3PM and maybe that’s just not where everyone’s at right now. They played to like I think me and Rachel, our friend. And they were just SO good. They brought it, just like their energy. They brought it like they were playing to a huge crowd.
Yeah they played the ANCHR showcase here too and people were coming in off the street cause they heard them outside.
Jake: I think that like we’re purists and appreciators of classic rock-- those are classic rock students. Those are dudes that like Rock n’ Roll!
Ok so, we’ll have to do a show with you two in Chicago at some point is what I’m hearing! As far as the New York scene, though, what are some of the best and worst parts of the scene at the moment, in your opinion?
Danny: I think it’s very privilege and image obsessed. You know what I mean, some of these bands put on a front of this griminess, but once you really know them, that’s not really them. So we try to be honest about who we are cause we’ve had to struggle for it. So that’s my biggest thing with people in New York.
Jake: The best part of New York for me is that there’s so many opportunities to play, there’s so many venues to perform at. I’ve lived in a smaller town. I grew up in South Florida where there’s one venue and you can’t play at the one venue with the same three bands every week. It’s just like at some point people aren’t gonna come. So [In New York] you’ve got so many different places you can go. There’s so many different scenes that exist and I’m on a constant personal journey of trying to figure out what’s happening that I don’t know. Cause I know the world I run in, but what’s happening somewhere else, there’s all these other different bands. I see the SXSW list of all the bands coming from New York that I’ve never heard of, and it’s like who are they? What are they doing?
Danny: Actually a great band that we really like from New York is called Yaasss.
Jake: I really like Miranda and The Beat. There’s a lot of soul in those songs.
Danny: We played with them when they did a full Shangri-Las set at this fake prom show we did at Baby’s All Right.
Jake: There’s a lot of non-musical things that sort of revolve in our world that are really cool and make it a really fulfilling place to be and to be working on music and art. We’ve got friends who are unbelievable film makers and unbelievable photographers and poets. Our friends Rachel and Natalie run POND Magazine, which is an institution. There’s so many different things that are multimedia happening that it’s really inspiring to be around.
Danny: I’d get bored if I was hanging out with musicians all day, I like stimulation from other art.
Jake: From people making zines...there’s just stuff happening all the time!
Danny: That’s why we love Chicago!
Yeah that’s very similar in that sense. Then last thing I wanted to mention, Danny you said earlier that the ride down from NYC to Austin was interesting. What were some top moments from the road trip?
Mauricio: Yeah yeah, it was fun! We stopped in Nashville to sleep there. So we went out just because we’re in Nashville, so we’re like let’s have a beer at least. We go to this dive bar/trucker bar. We played some pool, had some disgusting tequila shots.
Jake: Grossest tequila I’ve had in my life. Why does Nashville have sweet tequila?
Mauricio: It was intense. So we went back to our hotel and wanted a little more. So we got to the hotel bar and they were closed, but the lady was like I’ll open the bar for you if you play a few songs.
Danny: So we got up there and did a few songs acoustic, but then she opened up the bar. Then she liked it so she invited us on this country tour bus, and we chilled with a bunch of different people that we don’t usually get to. It was great! You get to see all different paths of life when you’re sitting there with a kid with no teeth.
Mauricio: I held a knife.
Danny: He held a knife! This woman wanted him to hold her knife. I think that’s a sign of affection.
Jake: That’s really just how you say hello in Nashville I think!
D: Me and [Mauricio] did another song and that kid was like “Is that The Stooges?” And he smiles and you just see no teeth.
Mauricio: We didn’t think they were into that shit.
Danny: Yeah he was playing like “Wagon Wheel” and then he’s like I love The Stooges! Us too, dude.
Anything else you want to shout out, or let the world know as we wrap up?
Jake: I’d like to shout out the city of Austin, TX. I’d never been here before. This is both my first time at SXSW and in the state of Texas and the city of Austin. That being said I feel like I’ve had a personal spiritual awakening while being here. There’s been a door of a room shut inside my soul and the door has been kicked open and the lights been flicked on. And I feel like I am now me again. A me that I forgot that I was. I’m not being tongue and cheek. I feel like the keys are back in the ignition and I am revved. I’m ready.
Danny: He got that oil change.
Jake: My oil has been changed.
Alexis: The van’s oil has not been changed.
Jake: I got new windshield wipers. I got new headlights, I can see!
Danny: I just want everyone to pay attention to this year. It’s a crucial time, there’s a lot of people in this country that are being disserviced right now. I just want everyone to keep their eyes open and not shut off the doors. Right now is the time to do something.