Sunday Morning Drive, Sunday Morning Drive (Free Napkin Records, 2009)
An interview by JwJ music editor David Werther.
The acoustic rock band Sunday Morning Drive [Jesse Brown, David Cosand, Mike Jones, and Josh Robinson] recently released its self-titled CD. I was drawn to the music as soon as I heard the opening riffs to "Maybe (Never To Be Seen)," while lines like "Crazy's where I live" and "Hope I didn't leave the oven on" lingered with me. Wanting to know more about the band, I asked Mike Jones if he would arrange an interview. He agreed, and along with David, Jesse and Josh answered my queries.
For the band's website see http://www.smdband.com/.
DW: What are your musical influences? How, if at all, are they apparent on your CD?
David: We all have different musical tastes that blend in one strange nebulous gas of musical goodness. I'm influenced by post-industrial, ambient and electronic music, also love hip hop, classical, jazz, blues and jam bands. I guess you could say I add a little bit of everything to the group, but the CD is all about the four of us and what we sound like when we come together as a group.
Mike: We all bring a wide-diversity of influences to the band that each add their subtle element. But overall, I think our greatest influences, as a whole band, are Dave Matthews Band, Jars of Clay, and maybe Pearl Jam. We started with two acoustic guitars, drums and bass, and at the time were listening to a lot of DMB. Their style of jam music, with some pop sensibilities, really inspired all of us. The way DMB goes about their business of making music, putting on great shows, and sticking to their artistic guns, was a goal that we would love to reach at some point. Their acoustic jam definitely shows up in our older songs, like Maybe and SOYP. Jars of Clay has inspired us through their music as well as their hearts for Jesus. We all love Christ and it has impressed us how Jars of Clay has gone about creating really good, artistic music, sticking to their beliefs, and even making it a successful venture. Their vocal harmonies have also had a big influence on our music. "Hawaii" is probably a good song that highlights this. Pearl Jam and Eliot Smith are more subtle influences and have probably shown up more in our later songs. Both artists have a real knack for great song-writing coupled with great music. We love those qualities. I would say Midnight, Baseball Bats and Boogeymen and Coffin Nail show a little of this influence in our music. At the end of the day, though, we really strive for our own style and I don't think any one of us has ever found a band that we feel is really similar to us. And I think we all really like it this way.
DW: How did the band form?
Mike: Back in 2004 I got introduced to Jesse and Josh through a mutual friend, Scot Savale. The four of us, plus another guy — Chris Garrison — all played music in various capacities and really wanted to write some music and form a band, so we decided to jam together a few times and see what happened. After a few times together it became pretty apparent that we fit pretty well, musically. We started writing some songs together and by 2005 were booking some shows around the Phoenix area. We went through a lot of changes in members as both Scot and Chris left us at different points and we took other members on, trying to find the right combination. It wasn't until 2006 that we asked David Cosand to join us, on keys. I think from that point on we knew that this really was the right combination and it's proven to stick. We all bring just the right amount of differences in musical style but still have a willingness to submit to the 'group sound' rather than making it just one person's sound. That's really hard to find and we really enjoy it!
DW: Why "Sunday Morning Drive"?
David: It's something that everyone loves to do in Arizona in the middle of January. There is a careless joy and a feeling of freedom that you experience driving through the Sonoran desert that just can't be explained. I think our music reflects that feeling pretty well.
Mike: I think it was a lyric from a song we wrote really early on. It wasn't a very good song but that one line kinda stuck with us. I remember we went through a couple times when we thought a different name might be a good idea but every time, we kept coming back to "Sunday Morning Drive" as the one we all felt best described us and our music. I love that it's a hopeful name. We have some pretty serious, emotional lyrics sometimes and even the music can get a little dark at times, but in the end we always want to come back to the hope and joy we all share. Yeah, times can get tough, and things can really suck and make our hearts hurt, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel. We want to reflect that.
DW: Does the band have a signature song? If so, what is it?
Mike: Probably "Goodbye" [subtitled: "Flowers on my Grave"]. It's a catchy song, both in its music, melody and lyrics, and it works well in a lot of different settings. Plus, it's fun to sing along to! There are some others off the album that people have really liked (like 'Midnight' and 'Maybe'), but 'Goodbye' seems to always make it into everyone's top 2 or 3.
DW: How long had you been playing the songs on SMD before you went into the studio?
Mike: Some of the songs on the album we've been playing for years, like "Maybe" and "Hawaii," but some of them we only started playing as a band in the year before we went into the studio, like "Flowers." But none of them were really brand new to us before walking into the studio. We've been writing and playing together for over five years and we've got a lot of music in the archive. We really wanted this first album to showcase some of the earlier stuff so we can hopefully reveal some of the progression of our music on the next one.
DW: These days when individual songs can be purchased as MP3s, how important is it to you that the songs on "Sunday Morning Drive" are heard together?
David: I think there are common themes from one song to the next, but the whole album tells a story that you might miss if you only buy one song. Musically speaking, each song is very different and shows a different dimension of our personality and our style. I'm a fan of my iPod and I love shuffling songs as much as the next guy, but it's a shame if people can no longer listen to an album from start to finish and really let the musical juices simmer and soak into their ears.
Mike: I'd like to think that it's important that all the songs are heard together but I know that reality speaks otherwise. We live in a time when the MP3 is king, and a one-song download from iTunes or Amazon is really the way it is. I would probably encourage people to get the whole album as you really can't get the full picture of who we are and what our music really is by only listening to one song. I will say that one of my goals for the next album is to really refine our storytelling in the production of the album. This album, being our first, was a real learning experience, and there are a lot of things I'd like to do different on the next one, the main one being creating more flow from each song to the next so that you really want to listen to the album from the first to the last song to get the whole picture. I love the album as a piece of artwork unto itself. Yeah, each song is great, but they're like chapters in a book—sometimes they can stand on their own, but they work so much better all together.
DW: Along the same lines, how did you decide on the sequencing of your songs?
Mike: That was definitely Josh's deal — he came up with which songs were going to make it on the album and in what order. He's the musical heart of the band and the album was only going to work best if he was the one calling a lot of the shots.
Josh: We were lucky enough to have more music than we needed for one album, so we were able to pick songs that fit a certain tone and ordered them accordingly.
DW: How do your songs "come together?" What is the songwriting process like?
David: For the most part Josh is the brilliant songwriter out of the group. He pretty much just tells us what to play and it usually sounds pretty good. Sometimes we take some music that one of us already had created and then throw some lyrics at it and see what sounds good. For the most part we keep changing stuff around. Sometimes songs go away for a long time because we just get sick of them... and then someone revives it by making simple changes that really do big things for the song.
DW: Are there stories behind some of the songs that you would be willing to share?
Jesse: "Before My Eyes" is one of my favorites. I wrote this one on my bike coming home from the gym. I'll never forget, I heard the first line of the song in my head and I stopped my bike in the middle of the street. I just sat there repeating it over and over so I wouldn't forget it. As I continued riding home I just kept adding lines. By the time I got there I only needed one more verse. The song has two meanings to me. First, all of life is a stage. In the menial, mundane tasks we participate in every day are opportunities to have fun and to create drama. Second, there is almost nothing that compares with playing music in front of a live audience. And that feeling is so euphoric and comfortable. Being on stage and creating live music is my "runner's high" and my "crack addiction."
Josh: I wrote "Flowers On My Grave" long before SMD formed. I played it at a new year's eve party with another band a few years back. After we finished, a girl in the audience shouted, "that's your best song!" I thought it was funny.
DW: How does SMD define "success?"
David: I think success for SMD is being able to play music we like with the people we like for an audience that likes us and doing it until we get old and crabby.
DW: What's next for the band?
Mike: We've now got an album (which we've been talking about doing for years), so now it's time to get it out there, play a lot, and hopefully make enough money to make another one. The next year is really going to be about getting our music in front of people who've never heard it. We've got a lot of people we know who love our music but there's a lot more that I think will love it too who just haven't heard it yet. We just gotta get out there and do what we do best — make and play great music!
Josh: More shows, more cds, more cheeseburgers for breakfast!
For the band's website see http://www.smdband.com/.