The Sunshine Factory first came to my attention last November when I found the Bandcamp page for their, at the time, soon to be released Sugar album. Only two of the songs were available for listening/buying, but I liked “My Sugar Cane” and “Sugar Sister” enough to attempt to pre-order the album. Unfortunately, I could not find a way to make the purchase without a PayPal account, so I moved on and turned my attention elsewhere. I was on the verge of forgetting all about the band, when I got a friend request from sunshinefactory on Last.fm. In the exchange of emails that followed, I was offered a promo copy of Sugar with one condition: if I didn’t like it, I would send it back. I readily agreed to that deal.
This offer reminded me of the kind of thing that would happen when I posted compilations on the old Tremelo 100 site. It wasn’t that big a leap from those memories to the realization that, with all the unsigned bands practically giving away their music on Bandcamp, I might have an opportunity to combine my love of making compilations with my desire to get the word out about some great music and the artists who were making it. A week or two later, I approached Whirl about using one of their songs on a compilation, then The Great Wilderness, then The Sunshine Factory…
In preparing for this interview, I read those TSF had given to When the Sun Hits and The Dumbing of America. In the former, I learned that Robert and Ian Taylor are father and son, not the brothers I had erroneously assumed them to be. In the latter, I learned that The Sunshine Factory has only relatively recently become a three piece band, its current lineup including Ian Taylor (Guitars and Vocals), Matthew Hendrich (Drums), and Sally Robertson (Bass and Vocals).
Here’s the interview I did with The Sunshine Factory:
NWs: First off, I’d like to thank you for agreeing to do the interview and then for waiting patiently until I was well enough to follow through.
Robert: No problem, well worth the wait. Glad you are better.
Ian: Yes, glad you’re feeling better.
NWs: Thank you both.
Both: You’re welcome.
NWs: I’ll start with you, Robert; what exactly is your role vis a vis The Sunshine Factory?
Robert: Day to day operations manager, music consultant as needed, and chief lyricist, although Ian does major edits to fit his needs, which I don’t mind.
NWs: That’s interesting. Do you play any instruments?
Robert: No. I do not perform at all. I try to keep in the shadows as much as possible.
NWs: So, you pen the lyrics and pass them on to Ian to put to music?
Robert: Well, usually it is the other way around: he comes to me with the beginnings of a song, and we start to work from there. We may use something I am already working on, if it fits, or just write to the subject/music at hand.
NWs: Interesting. Do either of you foresee a change in the way songs are written with the new band members coming onboard?
Robert: We are trying to integrate them as far as writing their instrumental parts, but the actual song development will probably stay relatively the same for now. Sally is becoming more and more involved and is a wonderful collaborator.
NWs: I assume you mean that she is collaborating on the music?
Robert: Yes, she is curious about the lyrical process, but is not writing to date. Hopefully, that will come later. Sally and Matt are here now, so you may address questions to them as well, if you wish.
NWs: Alright. Hi Sally, Matt.
NWs: Staying with Robert for the moment, Mobile born and bred?
Robert: No, southerner by marriage. I was born in Connecticut, spent time in several states (my father was military), graduated High School in Austin, Texas, and attended college at OSU – that’s Oklahoma State.
I do love Mobile, but for different reasons than you would expect. It is truly Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil.
NWs: Where and when did you meet Ian’s mother?
Robert: I met her in Austin ’round about 1986. She was Punk Rock (GBH, Scratch Acid); me, I was New Wave; I loved The Smiths and The Psychedelic Furs.
NWs: But those differences couldn’t keep you apart, eh?
Robert: Twenty-five years of wedded bliss, this year!
NWs: I guess not. Congratulations.
NWs: In 1986, Psychocandy was still a fairly new release; did you get on it right away?
Robert: Yes, so fast. I listened to it over and over; the tone arm just kept going up and back to the beginning of the LP.
NWs: How did you hear about it in Texas?
Robert: Probably one of the DJ’s who did a thing called B Club. It was a traveling DJ show that moved from club to club.
NWs: Did you know you were listening to Shoegaze at the time?
Robert: Not really; that name was not really around as far as I know. The idea of genres seemed in its infancy.
NWs: Yeah, I loved Curve, JaMC, and Lush, but I didn’t know they belonged to a genre.
Robert: Yeah, I was doing MBV, Spiritualized, Swans, and lots of other stuff like that – Nurse With Wound and Love and Rockets. Of course, it’s been so many years, I cannot say the exact year I heard about certain bands, just that I did and it changed my musical world forever.
NWs: At what point did you move to Mobile?
Robert: I moved there in 1986 – around Christmas. It was major culture shock; I felt like I was in a time machine! It was such a great, weird, psychedelic feeling without dropping acid!
NWs: I’ll bet; I’ve been through it myself.
NWs: You mentioned in one of the other interviews that you were reading This Is Your Brain On Music. You didn’t happen to find your copy in a motel room in Kissimmee, Florida did you? I seem to have left mine behind last April.
Robert: Ha ha. No, I bought it to make it through some boring orientation stuff at UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham).
NWs: Well, I only got through a chapter or two, so tell me, how does it end?
Robert: Same as the beginning: there is a chemical connection, but it is still a mystical art form.
NWs: I was kidding; it’s not a novel.
Robert: Okay smartie, don’t play with my emotions like that!
NWs: Forgive me.
Robert: Keep joking; it’s good for me.
NWs: I can’t help myself.
Robert: Me either.
NWs: About the name, The Sunshine Factory, how was it chosen?
Robert: It was a song name from a previous band that I was in in the early nineties called Fragile. Ian asked if he could use it as his band name, and I, of course, said “yes”.
NWs: What’s happening with the potential conflict with the San Diego band using the same name?
Robert: As far as the San Diego band, no conflict that we know of. Besides, we have a “The” in front, and they don’t. I think we just both help each other to reach new people! No problem.
NWs: That’s good. Do you know what kind of music they play?
Robert: Not sure really; we have never listened to them but for a few seconds. Have you guys?
Robert: Have you?
NWs: No, I have not.
NWs: Did you indoctrinate wee Ian by sending him to sleep with MBV and the like?
Robert: Yes. There is more truth to that than fiction. His mother is a great music lover in her own right. She wooed him with Bowie and New Order, and I with Joy Division, Bauhaus, MBV, JAMC, and so forth.
NWs: Ian, did you ever feel a desire to rebel against your parent’s music?
Ian: No, because it was always so good; how could I?
NWs: What was your musical upbringing like, Sally?
Sally: My Dad loved early Beatles, but my brother exposed me to a lot of stuff – from The Grateful Dead to Iggy Pop. Later, a friend of mine introduced me to The Smiths, then he burned me a CD of Loveless, and the rest is history.
NWs: It’s my understanding that TSF is made up of the only Shoegazers in Mobile. Did Matthew and Sally join at the same time?
Robert: No, we had to convert Matthew. He was not a Shoegazer before joining this band. He immediately fell in love with the ethos of the genre, the depth, and the wall of sound. His style of drumming was perfect for us; he has amazing timing.
NWs: Matthew was not a Shoegazer?
Robert: He was not. Technically, drummers can’t be Shoegazers.
Robert: HaHaHaHa! Yes!!!
NWs: Have you told Matt that he isn’t a Shoegazer?
Ian: Yes. Haha. He was bummed.
NWs: I’m sure.
Robert: Sally came along a couple of months later. Ian was recording a song for her brother’s band and happened to mention he was looking for a good, female bass player. Little did we know that she was already a fan of the band and knew some of the songs. She played a little riff, and within a few seconds Ian knew.
NWs: When did each of you first realize that you wanted to be a musician as a way of life?
Ian: When I was about sixteen. As a child, I was a member of the Canterbury Choral Society of Oklahoma City, and my parents always had a wide variety of music in our home, but I didn’t begin playing guitar and writing songs until I was about sixteen.
Matt: When I actually started playing drums in high school. I have played in various Hardcore bands, one of which enjoyed mild success. We actually had good recordings and played different cities in Alabama and Florida. It was then I realized that income didn’t matter to me; all I wanted to do was play music.
Sally: I had always enjoyed going to The Sunshine Factory‘s shows. When I got the opportunity to play with them, I was elated! After our first show, I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
NWs: How did you learn to play your instruments?
Ian: I’m mostly self taught. I had some instruction by my friend, Marvin Mosher, from the band Dream Window.
Matt. My friend Elliot taught me two drum beats my freshman year. I practiced them over and over until I had them down. Then I would mostly just jam and everything branched off from that.
NWs: Ian, are you a guitarist who sings, or a singer who plays guitar?
Ian: I’m both. I spend an equal amount of time on guitar and vocals. I’m definitely a lot more focused on tone and interesting chord progressions than learning scales or fancy lead work.
NWs: Did the three of you record Sugar?
Ian. Yes, and I produced and engineered it.
NWs: I didn’t think that the band had been together that long. When did it become a threesome?
Ian: When we all consented!!! Hehehe…
NWs: In Alabama, your consent would be of little interest to the courts.
Ian: As long as we’re sixteen, we’re good. LOL
NWs: Then it really is a new South.
Ian: Let’s just hope it doesn’t rise again. But, to answer your question, Sally joined us in August. So about six months ago.
NWs: Would it be accurate to say that Ian was already writing songs that would appear on Sugar, then Matthew and Sally joined up, recorded Sugar, and started to play live dates?
NWs: Let’s talk about live dates and tours. How often does TSF play in Mobile?
Robert: About once a month!
NWs: Support or headlining?
Robert: Headlining, unless it’s a major touring band; we just recently supported a band called MAE.
NWs: I must confess, I’ve never heard of MAE. Not Shoegaze, I take it?
Robert: No, just a good opportunity to make some new fans.
NWs: That’s always good. Is there one Mobile venue in particular, or does TSF get around?
Robert: Several venues: The Soul Kitchen, Alabama Music Box, and Satori Sound to name a few.
NWs: What’s on the agenda touring-wise?
Robert: We are leaving for Florida day after tomorrow for a 7 cities in 16 days mini-tour. Then, it’s off to NYC for two, label showcase shows before playing the Deep Heaven Now Festival in Boston.
NWs: Are the Florida dates set?
Robert: Yes. They are as follows:
Friday, 21 Jan – Jacksonville (331 Cafe / Factory)
Friday, 28 Jan – Gainesville (The Atlantic)
Saturday, 29 Jan – Tallahassee (Farside Collective)
Wednesday, 2 Feb – Orlando (Backbooth)
Thursday, 3 Feb – St. Petersburg (Eckerd College)
Friday, 4 Feb – Tampa (New World Brewery)
Saturday, 5 Feb – Pensacola (The Handle Bar)
NWs: And the East coast dates and venues?
Robert: Well, April 14th & 15th in NYC, probably Delancey’s and Cake, then the Deep Heaven Now Festival April 16th. I am presently building that tour, which will probably include The EARL (East Atlanta Restraunt and Lounge) in Atlanta, and 40 Watt in Athens, to name a couple. I am not sure about the rest yet.
We are most probably going to be playing SXSW. We don’t have final confirmation, but it is a pretty sure thing. Fishbowl Records is going to sponsor a show built around TSF. They are from Mobile, but have strong connections to a venue on Sixth Street in the heart of Austin. I know APTBS is playing there as well. I hope we get to see them. I love that band.
NWs: Yeah, me too. Don’t you have a gig in Houston somewhere around that time?
Robert: Yeah, the Houston show has been moved to either March 12th or 26th – before or after SXSW.
NWs: Back to something you mentioned earlier: what is a label showcase?
Robert: A couple of labels want to see TSF live. So we are setting up and playing in a location that wil be conducive to putting on our best show. Our friend DJ MOJO, who promotes our NYC shows, is arranging the venues for us.
NWs: I’ve never heard of that; is “showcasing” a standard practice?
Robert: Yes, it is.
NWs: So, the band is showcasing, but the audience won’t necessarily know that, right?
Robert: Yes, that’s right, they don’t. It’s just to give the band a chance to perform at their best – you know, a good room and all.
NWs: Anything else of interest going on?
Robert: We have been asked to be on a compilation by Northern Star, so little by little, you know. It’s quite an honor to be in this position. Ian and I never dreamed we would have these kind of opportunities when we were freezing and sleeping in the van while playing NYC as a one man band.
NWs: You must have had some kind of dreams to keep you going through the cold.
Robert: Yeah, mighty dreams… mighty, mighty, keeping your spirits up in dark days kind of dreams.
NWs: What’s happening with the label in Atlanta? Adair, was it?
Robert: Well, we have a distribution agreement with them through their StickFigure Distribution. That is for selling physical albums. We are in the early stages of a discussion with Kanine; they have expressed interest in coming to see us in NYC. But the label that is most interested and the farthest along in a relationship with us is called Townie.
Townie is a brand new label out of Seattle. We were introduced to Brent Stieffel, its founder, by Blythe Robertson, an indie filmmaker. Brent is a great guy and is coming to see us play in NYC on April 14th and 15th. He was an executive with a family owned pharmaceutical company in Florida, but he had always wanted to be in Music and the Arts, so when the company sold for huge amounts of money – over a billion dollars, he finally had a chance to do exactly that.
NWs: Sounds pretty exciting; a little competition for your signature can’t be a bad thing.
Robert: Yeah, but we could very well continue to be independent. We are developing a pretty solid company without any outside help. We definitely don’t feel pressured to change by any desire for money. Any musical decisions we make are based on a joint desire to head in a given direction.
NWs: Definitely nice to have options, though.
Robert: Yes, you could say that it is nice to have options, if you know the right decision to make.
NWs: Say does this Brent fellow have his own jet? He could swing by Portland and give me a lift to the shows in NYC.
Robert: Yeah, I imagine he does, and I could ask him.
NWs: I wouldn’t dream of asking in seriousness, but how cool would that be?
Robert: Very cool, but so much great stuff has happened for us, it would not surprise me.
NWs: Well, as far as I can tell, you guys deserve to catch a break or two. Thanks to all of you for making time for this interview during your preparations for the Florida tour. I hope 2011 proves to be a breakout year for The Sunshine Factory.
Well, it took longer to get this interview posted than I had expected, but I think it was worth the wait as well as the effort.
Vintage Revolution by The Sunshine Factory
©2009 The Sunshine Factory
My Rating: ★★★
I think of this release not as an album, but as the aural equivalent of the portfolios graphic artists put together to display the range of their artistic abilities. There is a wide variety of musical styles on display here – most of them found in unexpected juxtapositions: the Disco and Shoegaze of “Roving Eye”, for example. For me, “My Love”, with its New Wave meets R&B fusion (think ABC in the ’80s), is the song that sticks out like an honest man in Congress; it’s not my cup of tea, but I can tell that it is well executed.
There are some truly lovely bits of music scattered here and there, but it is the lyrics and vocals that stand out. Ian’s versatility and comfortable command of such a vast array of styles is truly impressive. I’d say he’s put together quite the portfolio.
Sugar by The Sunshine Factory
©2010 The Sunshine Factory
My Rating: ★★★★
iPod Songs: “Down”, “Smile”, “Twisted and Clover”, and
“My Sugar Cane”
Several of the songs that didn’t make it to my iPod didn’t miss by much, especially “Don’t Fall Asleep” and “Deeper Look”. Actually, I might put “My Bon Ami” on; it just won’t have ‘Shoegaze’ in the Genre tag, which means it won’t be in the playlist I listen to most often, but it will be there when I’m ready to listen to something different.
Vintage Revolution and Sugar are both available from The Sunshine Factory‘s Bandcamp page. Vintage Revolution can be had at whatever price you name, here. Sugar can be purchased at the very reasonable price of $9.90 for the digital download, or you could spend an additional 10¢ and get the limited-edition CD here. While I was checking the links and prices, I came across this: Sugar Live.