Godfathers of Emo
"Oh, boy," sighs Sunny Day Real Estate's tour manager when it's brought to his attention that guitarist Dan Hoerner has flaked on an interview. He says it like it's happened before, like "here we go again." He says it in the discouraged tone of a parent getting a call from the principal and not really wanting to know what horrible thing his kid did this time.
And surely it's not the first time he's been put in this position; Sunny Day Real Estate are famous for being elusive. Formed in 1992, the Seattle band refused to give interviews in their early years. They refused to pose for pictures. They refused, oddly enough, to play California. And then in 1995, after releasing just one full-length (1994's Diary, on Sub Pop), they broke up amid rumors that their lead singer, Jeremy Enigk—possessor of a beautiful, otherworldly voice—locked himself in his room for two months and found God.
1995's Sunny Day Real Estate (commonly referred to as LP2) was released posthumously. Drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel joined the Foo Fighters, Enigk recorded a mesmerizing solo album called Return of the Frog Queen(Sub Pop), and guitarist Dan Hoerner, responsible for many song ideas and lyrics, moved to a farm.
Fans, meanwhile—especially those in California who'd never seen the band—were crushed. There was something about Sunny Day Real Estate, about Enigk's voice and his ability to channel helplessness and beauty and frustration, about the crashing quiet-loud guitars, about the album artwork's chilling visions of childhood and suburbia, and about the mystery swirling around it all that caused some fans to connect and really feel something.
Sunny Day Real Estate have been called the Godfathers of Emo, and it's not hard today to find countless "emo" bands attempting with varying degrees of success to replicate the Sunny Day Real Estate formula.
And then in 1997, they quietly got back together,` minus Mendel, who stayed with the Foo Fighters. They released How It Feels to Be Something On (Sub Pop) in 1998, and this year, they released The Rising Tide on OC's very own Time Bomb label.
What's more, this time around, they pose for pictures and play California and give interviews, such as the following with guitarist Dan Hoerner which, although it didn't happen on the day it was supposed to happen, did happen.
OC Weekly: It's really an honor to talk to you—I'm a huge fan. Dan Hoerner: Awww, that's really nice. Thank you very much. You must get a lot of that, right? When you re-formed, to many people, it was like "I can't believe this is really happening."
In part, what helped us get back together was that there was all this interest, and we'd been broken up but it didn't stop. There were websites and people were excited, and it persisted. It's very nice to know there are people who care. In the grand scheme of the music industry, we're a very small band, but we have something that a lot of much bigger bands don't have:an actual fan base.
Did you not realize that when you broke up?
I think we were pretty much wrapped up in our own internal conflicts anyway, so there wasn't much awareness of what was going on. Who knows? You can't really look back and say, "It would have been different if this or that." We may have been inspired to work through certain things if we had understood how strongly certain people felt about Sunny Day, but then again, that's an impossibility —it's like one of those books that's like, "Well, let's say Hitler won World War II. How would the world be after that?"
So when the band broke up, Jeremy quit, Nate and William joined the Foo Fighters, and you moved to a farm?
Yeah. I have a farm in eastern Washington.
How did you feel at that time?
Better than I've ever felt in my life.
Oh, yeah, totally. I mean, my farm is like—
Yeah, totally. It's probably the biggest project that my little family group is involved in, and it's definitely the most important thing to us. It's a really good thing. It's a beautiful thing.
Were you still playing music?
Yeah—I mean, just jamming on my acoustic like I always do. Everything I wrote for How It Feels and The Rising Tide, I wrote on my farm.
Then, why did you guys get back together?
There was this rarities compilation that we were thinking of putting out because of the fan interest, and we thought, "What the heck. Let's just write a couple songs and put it on this rarities thing." We jammed a couple of times, and it was like, "Oh, this is good. We should do this more."
Oh, no. You live and learn, you grow up, move on. Everybody got to experience some part of something they really wanted to do outside of the band. William and Nate got to do the Foo Fighters, something I think they both wanted. Jeremy got to do a solo project, which he really wanted to do. And I got to write. I'm just actually in the process right now of finishing my book. I have a little collection of short stories called The Little Monkey Chronicles.
What are these short stories like?
They're very silly, sort of mock children's stories infused with my own twisted brand of philosophy. It's a story about human nature as embodied by a very naughty little monkey and the trouble he gets into.
Is there a similar aesthetic in the book and Sunny Day Real Estate's music?
How could it not be the same as what I put into my writing? That's just who I am. And as far as aesthetics go, this book is illustrated thoroughly by the wonderfully amazing Chris Thompson, who did the album artwork for How It Feels to Be Something Onand Diary.
I don't even know how I would describe the aesthetic of the artwork—"twisted" and "creepy" come to mind, but they're not the best words for it. How deliberate was that at the time?
There was a connection to what Chris Thompson was doing and how it looked and how we all felt about it, and that's kind of obvious. You look at it, and there are many similarities to Sunny Day music; that kind of chaotic interplay of conflicting forces is at work in Chris' paintings. I think a lot of his humor is based on the kind of strangeness of it, the incongruity of it, and I think that that's also a theme in Sunny Day.
So what does rain, which pops up repeatedly in your lyrics, represent?
I don't know why I'm so drawn to that. Maybe because in eastern Washington; it's much drier, so in the spring and summer, I'm always praying for rain, and when rain comes, it's a huge deal, and it means a lot when it rains.
But you talk about wanting to "be" the rain in the lyrics.
That's probably speaking more to a desire to disappear into more elemental components. There's something pure about rain and something kind of confused about being a human being. I don't know—I mean, haven't you ever just wanted to disappear into the rain?
I was actually taking this personality test over the Internet the other day—
Hey, I was finding the keys to unlock the true me. So there was this question: After you die, would you rather be forgotten or hatefully remembered?
What did you say?
I said forgotten. And then I justified it by saying it's more natural because you're not hatefully remembered before you're born.
Ultimately, we're all going to be forgotten. Ultimately, even Hitler is going to be forgotten. The human consciousness is not an eternal. At some point, we'll get evolved out of the race.
So how do you feel about the idea that you guys spawned the emo movement?
I think that anybody who considers Sunny Day Real Estate as an influence on their music—I think that's awesome. I think it's the biggest compliment that you can get as an artist—that somebody thought that your music was good enough that they wanted to try something similar or incorporate an element of it or just really like to listen to it a lot.
Who are your influences?
Aw, jeez, I'm influenced by the Clash and U2—you know, all kinds of different bands and things like that. So if I ever got a chance to sit down with John Lee Hooker and say, "In some weird way, you inspired me to play guitar, thanks," you know, that would be great. I think it's fantastic that people consider Sunny Day a musical influence.
The Rising Tide feels more anthemic and majestic, and the songs are bigger than on previous albums. Is that anything you were thinking about?
We definitely weren't consciously trying to write anthems. I think we might be getting a little better at writing songs. You just do something long enough and you feel like you get a handle on how you want it to go. I wouldn't say that that means the songs on Diary are inferior to the songs on The Rising Tide. I just think they're different. We're evolving as songwriters, so I think our actual writing style is evolving, too.
Did you write the lyrics to "The Blankets Were the Stairs?"
Jeremy and I wrote a lot of that together. How come?
That song has just always haunted me.
Cool, cool. That was a big one. That's definitely one where there was a motivation there. Good, I'm glad it affects you.
SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE PERFORMS AT THE GLASSHOUSE, 200 W. 2ND ST., POMONA,
(714) 647-7704 and (909) 469-5800. SAT., 7:30 P.M. $16.50. ALL AGES.
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