Q&A: Sunset Graves

by Kyle McCormick
Kyle McCormick
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on 04 April 2016 in Features

Sunset Graves is Andy Fosberry, and Andy Fosberry is Sunset Graves, the man behind the music is also Lo Grounds and tpique, with all three of these monikers operating through the record label 3rd & Debut Records, which Fosberry also controls. As an owner of the label’s entire digital discography, reviewer of three of the four Sunset Graves records (excluding ‘Love Pours Into Death’ due to laziness), and a general supporter of this artist from first contact, the prefacing question to this piece I direct at myself: Why did it take so damn long to do a feature interview?

What follows are some extensive answers to ten questions posed, hopefully providing an insight to Sunset Graves and the associated slowly expanding electronic empire more generally. I am a great advocate of this man’s talents, and have interspersed some streaming players for your listening pleasure, welcome to the world of Sunset Graves:

First of all, where does the name Sunset Graves come from?

Driving in my car during what feels like it should be many summers ago, but isn't, I saw the low sun hit something in a very specific way. I was at a transitional time with my life, music, things. I was in traffic and my thoughts can wander. You know when words or a phrase sort of tumble around in your mind for a while? All of that played a part. And the realisation that “Summer” as a prefix instead of “Sunset” immediately sounds like an American cheerleader.

It was aesthetics really. I'm a sunset guy, not a sunrise. Some words look good together too. I put these together and they felt like home.

From your first record 'Variant' to your latest record 'In Blood', the sound has changed at each step, was this a forced alteration or a natural evolution?

I'm not sure a forced alteration can be a good thing that often. It's weird though, since about 2012, I've definitely been aware that my musical tastes, my compass, whatever you might call it, has changed. It's not through peers or osmosis. It's just happened. I've been aware of it, but don't influence it. Just let it run its course, discover things, remain open minded and explore as much as time allows. Nothing has been left behind, but new and new / old avenues opened up. Collecting vinyl has played a part as much as spending time on Soundcloud and Bandcamp. I can't deny that all this has made its way into what I do, but it's just evolution. You absolutely have to evolve as a writer. It’s also new gear, new software, it frees you up, gives you ideas and different perspectives.

Back in 2013, I made ‘Variant’ with a MiniAK keyboard, an eight string guitar, an amp, a shit microphone, drums, a pile of vinyl and a turntable. It was entirely recorded and mixed in Audacity. It was half post-rock, half electronic, a definite crossroads. Sonically, it's a little muddy, more of the parts need a scoop around 200Hz, but it's colourful and I still have real love for it. The second album, ‘Form Your Ghost’, was a haunted MPC, which is reflected in the simpler beats, and more advanced software (I moved to Presonus) which meant a better mix. There are little tiny fragments of DNA even from that album through to ‘In Blood’, I guess. But the latest record is very, very much it's own world. All the boards, mental and literal, got wiped before I began working on it. It came from a completely different place.

The 2015 album 'Love Pours Into Death' was the turning point for everything. Compositionally, technically. I actually studied for a month or so before I got into it. Just ploughing my way through mix exercises, reading interviews and blogs. It sounds kind of dry to mention it, but it was so valuable. The tools are all there in the world if you want to be better at what you do, whatever that may be. I did the homework and then got stuck into the next phase of... this.

What inspired you to start your own label, 3rd & Debut Records, and what benefits and issues has it generated?

Around the time of ‘Variant’, it was really just a name that sounded better than “self-released”. But as I put together more and more work, I got to the winter of '14 into '15 and I decided I had to make it more of a thing. Even if it was just a thing to me and no one else. 3rd & Debut became the umbrella under which my little universe could exist.

The benefits have been an identity, a sense of purpose. Even awful words like “branding” have played a part, and I love designing whatever needs to be designed for the label or a release. It's grown now to where there is a wide discography in a relatively short period of time. I've put out CDs, tapes and vinyl. When 'In Blood' was completed, I signed a distribution deal with Juno. The label is taking on its own space now, which I like.

Issues are probably obvious... money and awareness. Music is such a money pit. I think we all know this. It's hard to earn these days, but the expenses are still there. I work incredibly, stupidly hard under weight of hope that it will one day balance out. For now, I still have a day job and don't sleep a lot.

For the awareness, it's hard, you know? Sunset Graves is who I am when I wake up in the morning, and its finding some traction. As did one of the Lo Grounds releases, 'Fatalism'. But all the other music, tpique, for which there are several EPs and a 2015 album, more Lo Grounds, what have you… there are few things more humbling than putting out something you feel is genuinely good and it gets nine plays on Soundcloud. I just don't have money to hire PR for everything I do. And for music fans, of which I am one, there are 90 billion other things vying for space. I get it. I just don't like it.

You have also released other material under different monikers on your label, as mentioned, why choose different names, and what makes a track need a name other than Sunset Graves?

Well, I work a lot. And, at the moment, there is Sunset Graves, Lo Grounds and tpique. They fit into cycles, but they also fit loosely into a kind of heart, soul, head divide. Speaking generally, tpique is lab coat stuff, experimenting with anything and everything. Sounds, loops, parts happen, they get arranged into tracks. Sometimes the tracks become something else, or attributed to an emotion, but it begins quite academically. Lo Grounds is all samples. It's mostly vinyl and some films. To me, there's a warmth involved. It’s records, it’s crate digging with feeling, the heart of loving music. Searching for a feeling that only sampling vinyl can provide. Finally, as I mentioned before, Sunset Graves is who I am. It's the soul of me, my expression, the lens through which whatever I'm dealing with gets filtered. It's sonic, visual, lyrical, without any perceivable words. At least, it is to me.

You are quite active on Instagram, posting aesthetically pleasing landscape photos, do you have a particular love for photography?

I want to say yes, but I don't want to offend any actual photographers. I have a smartphone and love capturing moments that resonate a feeling or occupy a space. It's not just landscapes, architecture fascinates me, night photography, urban photography, abstract photography. But I only got into it because I have this camera in my pocket basically all the time. I certainly practice at it, working on my framing and composition or whatever, but I'm not a photographer. I don't have a camera and I don't gaze lustfully at them through shop windows or an internet browser. I guess I do what so many other millions of people do, and I put a lot of effort into it. I'm engaged in the experience. Cinematography fascinates me, having a good eye is important to me. It's not self-promoting or anything, just something I dig. My selfie game is totally weak anyway. Mercifully.

Having said all that, I have noticed some merging between the images I shoot and the music I make, sometimes. It’s recent, and I'm still trying to work that out. Recently, I took a photo in London one day, and wrote a track that was a sort of reaction to it the next day, and put it out. (It's called 'The Death of Everything New', if anyone is interested.)

Sunset Graves has new ventured into the live environment, how much of a success was this transition, and how does the live show compare to the recorded material?

Pushing through that barrier has been one of, if not the best things I have yet done, musically. Sure, there have been challenges, and I had to get it wrong an awful lot before I got it right. I fucked with Ableton a little bit, but I just hated it. Apparently, I'm the only person on Earth who does. I really found my space with hardware. I bought and sold some entirely inappropriate bits of gear before I found the set up that works for me. I used to be in bands, so I want to play live for you. I want to be doing shit. I want it to have structure, but to be different each night. I want different tracks, different tempos, not different noises over a 4/4 kick for 45 minutes. So, I built this rig that is a mix of old and new equipment that comes together and forms my sound. They're instruments, so play them as such. Even the mixing desk is expressive.

If you come and see a show, you'll get stuff you know from the albums, but the best by-product of this process is that the set up lends itself to writing. I've just got back from a UK tour and about 80% of the music I'm presenting is totally new. Even newer than ‘In Blood’, which isn't even out yet. It’s definitely laying the ground work for the next record. So, I'll keep evolving the music through the shows I play. Some of the next album will do it's growing up in public. And getting feedback from people in the moment is really amazing. I mean, I'm really busy remembering everything I need to do when I'm on stage, but occasionally, I can look up and see people feeling it. It's kind of wild. And sculpting ideas in your studio is one thing, but then you take them to a sound system and everything is still awesome, but more so? It's all new to me. New is good.

Can you briefly describe the themes and content of 'In Blood', and sell it to us and your fans?

No. I don't really want to. If I try I'm just going to stutter and speak vaguely in clichés like “it's a musical journey” or something else that really doesn't tell you anything at all. I know, whole heartedly it's the best work I've done so far, but what do you, the listener think of it? Where does it take you, how does it make you feel? What do you see? Where are you when it's playing? Do you look at the artwork or hold the sleeve? Are you still listening to it in the future? All these questions are way, way more important to all of us, than anything I can tell you about it and where I think it came from.

I believe in the album as an artistic statement. I really do. This is an album, not a collection of tracks. Three of the pieces on there are 10 minutes long. Before I wrote ‘In’ Blood, I was listening to, among other things, records like the 'Trouble Man OST', 'Wish You Were Here', really album-y albums. I fell in love with that kind of structure. ‘In Blood’ is my most album-y album. Put it on, listen to the whole thing. I made it for you that way. It has an A and a B side. It’s 40 minutes long. Stay with me for 40 minutes and I won't waste your time, I promise. Take a break from shuffle and playlists. It's not old school in that way, just... refreshing I think.

Following the release of LP #4, what is next for Sunset Graves, 3rd & Debut, and yourself?

More shows for Sunset Graves. As many as I can find. Wherever I can find them. In the gaps between shows, I'm writing on the same gear I take out. It's just so much fun. As I mentioned before, new music is taking shape, so the foundations for the fifth record are coming together. I have a strong idea about the process and the construction, but I'll keep that to myself for the moment. Things can change.

There will be a new Sunset Graves single in July. That's done, the music isn't from ‘In Blood’, it’s new. There is an hour long mixtape being broadcast on Amazing Radio very soon. That's all unreleased material from 2015. After it's been on the radio, I'll put that out everywhere as a free download, because I'm nice like that.

Between 'In Blood' and the summer single, there is new tpique finished and ready to go called 'Sacred Geometry'. That will be ongoing, a series hopefully. That's evolved from something I've touched upon in this interview.

I just want to keep my head down and work, staying faithful and humble to this eternal continuum of sounds we're all in. If I value the music I share, one day someone else might too. In about 3,000 years’ time, someone or something - probably a machine constructed of pure thought - will find the 3rd & Debut discography and be like “This was all one dude...?!” and explode.

What are your inspirations, both musical and otherwise?

It's such a nebulous question, I can't begin to answer it. Life, death. I don't know. If I can be selfish for just one moment, all I want is to be better at what I do. I work every day to make that as real as I can make it.

Finally, what is your favourite film of all time, and why?

Blade Runner (The Final Cut). Few other films really compare, for me. It's the perfect synergy of film, visuals, soundtrack, design, scope, depth, mythology. I love movies in general and like being a nerd. But I always come back to Blade Runner. And its score.

Now that you’re suitable educated in all things Sunset Graves, within reason, I present to you a full stream of the latest album ‘In Blood’ courtesy of the label’s Bandcamp page (which you can of course click through to for purchasing reasons – there’s an LP version y’know). But for now I’ll depart by directing you to our review of that record, for an additional insight to encourage you to part with that hard-earned cash.

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