Forming a band in the age of the internet: Talking with Sunjacket

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It’s a rarity to catch a group at the cusp of their commencement but I luckily had the opportunity with Chicago’s newly formed Sunjacket, a five-piece comprised of pragmatic multi-instrumentalists with an ear for harmonies. Often times as an audience member, I forget that the band didn’t magically form minutes prior to taking the stage but perhaps has been in development for a year or more with constant practice, reformations and a hard drive filled with rejected material.

In Sunjacket’s case their current configuration began last May and the group have been building camaraderie through shared songwriting and constant practice. They recently began releasing a series of songs via their Bandcamp and Facebook page as a unique way of introducing themselves to Chicago. “I was just thinking about a new way of releasing material to get people to notice,” explains guitarist Carl Hauck. Other guitarist Brian Kveton further cites the difficulty of keeping people’s attention in the ever shifting universe of music and the Internet. “I feel like a lot of bands, including previous ones I’ve been in, the goal is to get an EP down. Everything moves so fast. We spend a lot of time writing the songs and carefully putting them together. We didn’t want to work and work and come out with an EP and have people say ‘Oh that was great’ but already be ready for something new. We’ve been trying to pull and include people with the process of what we are doing.” By releasing a song a week that also requires the listener to share it in order to have access to the second piece, Sunjacket innovatively includes the audience in its promotion with the benefit of instant gratification through new, free music.

The various paths the underground music scene weaves can easily keep one locked in one path and forget the myriad of methods bands approach their image. With Sunjacket I was reminded of the varying relationship music and business both hold and struggle with. “I feel that now-a-days people are not interested in paying for things,” said Kveton regarding Sunjacket’s logical approach in forming an audience base via Social Media. “Honestly so many parts of me are okay with that. I love the idea of open-source, etc. but it is interesting. With the initial crop of songs we didn’t expect anyone to pay for them, we were just happy for people to listen. I think treating it like a business comes from being in bands prior and understanding what it takes to grow your audience. It comes from really wanting to do it badly. I think that is the awesome thing we all agree on, this is thing we want to do.”

With the advent of Social Media such as Bandcamp or Facebook, musicians have an alternative to reaching a wider audience without the financial burden of endless touring. “We have to be pragmatic and be honest with ourselves. In college I spent so much money going on tour and lost so much on it. It’s not feasible right now to do that. Looking at the band in a financial way has allowed us a really unique way to release these demos,” said guitarist Tricia Scully. In the constantly changing frontier of the 21st century, Social Media appears as the lone cowboy continually charging ahead to unknown lands. “Even five or seven years ago it was totally different. I remember senior year of high school in 2006, I was handing people CDs of my band after shows at the Metro. We went to the Metro recently and there was no one standing out with that gauntlet of flyers to walk through because it’s online. It would be a waste of a person’s time to do that,” Kventon points out.

Along with allowing quicker exits after shows, Social Media further more provides a glimpse into how the public is receiving your material. “The analytics for Facebook is crazy. You can see everything. It is also sort of alarming but I was also amazed how quickly after we put “Grandstanders” out people were listening to and then liking it,” remarks drummer Garret Bodette.

Sunjacket embodies the contemporary manner that many bands now set about to create, both an art and brand in a national scene that grapples with nostalgia and the looming specter of incessantly morphing technology. Tapes and records with download codes included and Wikipedia as a constant source to check before purchasing a record. The Internet is secure in its bastion of how we access and understand music, this is not a revelation but we have put ourselves in the hands of something that is inherently fickle. “I feel like the Internet is in its teen years right now and everyone is still figuring out what to do with it and how to interact and operate with it. I honestly think that it will get better with a system where artists are being reimbursed better with the work they are putting out. I’m hopeful,” Kventon concludes in regards to sharing and purchasing music through the web.

Sunjacket hopes to perform live in April and with a growing audience already aware of their music, the first show has the hopes of drawing a larger than normal crowd for an inaugural performance. The Internet these past decades has utterly transformed the way we discover and digest music. Perhaps now we've reached the crossroads in which we can begin to rebuild in a direction where bands are able to navigate and succeed in this new environment by employing the tools that once were seen as working against them. By seeing the building blocks of early demos and information of first shows, we as consumers can become less remissive and appreciate the process and production of creating art.