Performing on pavements, with a ‘Sun State Of Mind’
“To dream openly without defining exact steps is also the most beautiful thing, like playing on the biggest stages in front of the coolest people, to make a living out of it one day, to freely do what we feel like doing and what our creativity drives us to do – that is the plan.”
Stephi and Max – Sun State of Mind
Right then, to all of those out there seeking some wavy tunes I would like to introduce “Sun State of Mind” to you. This radiantly named band is made up of just two artists; vocalist, Stephi and guitarist, Max. The pair have spent the last couple of years experimenting with various genres before finally settling on what they describe, most accurately if I do say so myself, as “psychedelic pop”.
Now then, don’t let them being few in numbers fool you as these two have perfected the art of looping licks and vocals to produce one massively echoey sound. “Sun State of Mind” made their recorded debut in 2020 with “Windows” which proved to be a truly wicked, yet massively tranquil, trip of an album. More recently, all of this work has cumulated in their latest single “No Pain, no Gain”, a more streamlined showcase of their looping skills, coming together to create a gorgeously fluid tune with positively celestial vocals. While this layering may appear physically in each track, there is also a more abstract case of layering in the care and thought that goes into the moulding of each track, each lyric, each piece of album art. But I have to say, as someone who has recently left formal education, this isn’t the kind of layering that you find in academics, where you often have to force the flow and research to the ends of the earth, this layering is mega freeform, most wholesome, and totally organic. If I have taken nothing else from researching, reading, and listening to “Sun State of Mind” I certainly now better see how stepping back and allowing things to fluidly tumble into place every now and then is absolutely the way forwards. Deep huh?
And I mean, if they weren’t intriguing enough already, the way that “Sun State of Mind” have chosen to share their super psychedelic talent is through the art of busking, which as you will learn later in this interview, isn’t the easiest route to take, but is certainly a truly wholesome way to perform. Now, if you’ll allow me just one more philosophical moment, this juxtaposition between the intricacies of their loops and the simplicity of playing on the streets of Vienna, or in the city’s underground train stations for the latest round of “U-Bahn Stars”, certainly speaks to the simple yet intricate essence at the core of this band. With that being said, if you want to see two people genuinely having a total ball while also catching a snippets of some totally cool tunes echoing through an U-Bahn station, Sun State of Mind have helpfully uploaded some clips of their latest busking endeavours to their Instagram!
Alright, let’s get us to the good bit. I have to say this interview right here has the same energy as listening through an album and realising you haven’t heard it since your mam used to play it in the car on the way to Primary School (niche reference I know but it’s that same kind of uplifting, pure, and wholesome moment). I think it’s safe to say we’re all in need of a little light at the moment, and quite simply this band aims to do just that, and man do they do it well.
Hello hello, how’s it going? It’s an absolute pleasure to be speaking to you both. First things first, let’s get the formalities out of the way… would you both mind introducing yourselves, and sharing some background as to how you guys met?
Hey, it’s a pleasure for us as well and thank you for having us.
Stephi: I started very early with songwriting, always liked to philosophise around in my own world of thoughts and to process feelings. I started my first recording experiences with cover songs and went into some Hip-Hop and DNB cooperations with friends with my first solo project “Eliona“. But at some point that wasn’t enough anymore, I wanted to set my own songs to music. Because I don’t play an instrument, I needed a complementary link on this path. That’s why I started looking for a guitarist via Facebook. Since then I’ve been filling our songs with layered vocal loops, condensing them with different effects and motivating Max into other musical realms to find our common path.
Max: My job in the band is to bring up the instrumental loops and feeding our hungry drum computer. Before Sun State of Mind I played in several bands back in Bavaria and also here in Vienna. How we met is a funny story. I came back from a longer traveling trip in Mexico and already had my band “Die AstroKants” here in Vienna, but wanted to make as much music as possible. Stephi was looking for a guitarist in a Facebook group to complement her singing, making videos and also play live in the future and I was thinking to myself, why not? Let’s give it a shot. So we met, had a couple cups of coffee and wanted to try out a cover song first and then see how it will go. What can I say, the first rehearsals went great! We had a connection and when it was clear we both take it as serious as it was necessary, Sun State of Mind was born and became the environment where I can express myself the most.
A lot of the independent musicians I’ve come across got their start in tiny pubs or playing in a mate’s front room, and while you guys have played your fair share of indoor gigs, you also do a lot of busking! I am curious as to how you go into it, and what is it about playing in the wild that appeals to you guys the most?
Oh yes, we definitely played our fair share of small and cosy indoor gigs. Sometimes we had less than a two square meter stage, but still looking forward to see those tiny stages again after all these lockdowns. So how did we get into busking? As Max mentioned, before we met he just came back from a trip through Mexico and made his living with busking while traveling and also back in Vienna.
It was not a safe income, but enough for the rent and spaghettis. When we formed the band we always talked about it, how we could bring our set back on the streets and to the people which don’t know us at all. You must know, that in Vienna it’s not allowed to busk with an amplifier, only totally unplugged. So no loop stations, nothing. We made a few DIY street concerts with a couple of good friends, where we just took the risk and used battery powered amps, but this was just once or twice a year and we wanted more. We decided to work out unplugged versions of our songs and then played them in the streets. But it’s pretty tough and there are only several places where you are allowed to play only with a permission and to be honest most of them are next to loud areas where a voice and a guitar will just disappear in the dust. But still we enjoyed it a lot and you get to know your hometown more and more. That’s why we are even more enthusiastic about the “U-Bahn- Stars“ project, it is finally an approach to the possibilities of musicians in other countries where it is more promoted.
Yes, I saw that you guys have been participating in “U-Bahn Stars” in Vienna and watched a couple of snippets of you performing your latest single “No Pain No Gain” and also a magnificently psychedelic cover of “Clint Eastwood” by the Gorillaz on your Facebook page, totally cool! You mentioned how it was a very good way to get your music out to as many people as possible in a short space of time, which is positively genius, and I was wondering if you could speak a little about this experience?
We are glad you like it! The experience of “normal” busking in Vienna is one of the reasons why we are even more enthusiastic about the “U-Bahn- Stars“ project. It is finally an approach to the possibilities of musicians in other countries where it is more promoted. It is actually incredibly ingenious how many different people we can meet and reach at the metro. Even if we play four times a week at the same place, there are always others around and it’s a feast to watch all the reactions, live and unedited, It’s a treat and a very different experience from scheduled gigs.
Usually we play our set for 1.5 to 3 hours at a frequented subway station in Vienna. It’s a unique picture of partly rushed, busy people but also those who just wander around dreamily and take the time to linger. But even if someone takes just 30 seconds to immerse themselves in our music, it puts a smile on their face, it was worth all the effort and is a rich reward for us. Seeing the direct reactions is a very authentic and motivating experience.
I was having a listen to your appearance on “Backbeat das Musikmagazin” and I realised two things – 1. My German is not as bad as I thought it was, and 2. You guys really do embody the ethos of DIY! I know you chatted a little about it on the podcast, but would you mind speaking a little about your production process? How do you find writing, creating, self-producing, and self-publishing your work? And how do you think the experience would be different if you were not doing it yourselves?
Oh wow, we didn’t even know that you speak German, nice! As you know, we also play covers. It seems it would always be the same process: listen, learn, reproduce. If you have to learn a song, it’s not part of you in the first place and something will always be missing. But we find it is also a very interesting way of making music. You can create a completely different variation of an already very cool song. It’s fun to adapt them to our own sensibilities, mix them up and combine our two ideas. But still, of course, it’s not the same as playing your own songs.
There’s so much heart and soul in your own music. The feeling that comes with it, when you know it’s coming from you, from inside you. Maybe deeply influenced by your subconscious, and the things that are bothering you at that moment, and the feeling you get back when you think about it and play it. To be reminded every time of that initial enthusiasm and joy in the sounds as you play it is indescribably beautiful. Like smells, every memory is there again that played a part in the creation of the song. It wouldn’t be the same to just play songs that someone else wrote.
With most of our songs we just started with a jam, often up to an hour of feeling and expressing the same theme over and over again- that’s the most fun. Just let yourself fall into the music and experiment with everything that makes you tick. And then the next time we work it out properly and see what structure might work.
We also ventured into a new world a bit and produced the last two songs ourselves. With Logic Pro. It’s a new experience that we’ve grown from and leaves even more room for creativity. And, as small indie artists without a label, we just took the next logical steps and put it all together from blank paper to the Spotify playlists.
You guys have one heck of a sound, which you lovingly refer to as “Psychedelic Pop Soul”. The more I trawled through your discography the more this title made sense, especially throughout your debut album “Windows” that you released back in 2020. Songs like “This Feeling” and “Step by Step” totally embody this huge, echoey sound that seeps into every corner of the room. Would you mind taking us through how you build this sound, and, how you choose what licks to loop?
Yes, let’s dive in! In every free minute, Max takes one of his guitars, noodles, searches for riffs, makes experiences with sounds. Stephi is writing lyrics, ideas, thoughts and feelings all the time, whenever they come to her mind. So if Max has a feeling about a lick or a chord progression, the next thing we do is sit down and he plays it live, maybe in the kitchen or even before breakfast, but if it comes up, yeah, it has to come up. If Stephi has the same feeling or hears something in it that would fit some of her written lyrics, she starts singing them right into the jam and that jam can last up to an hour. Repeating, playing with the words and the sounds.
So that would be the birth of a song idea. The next step would be to get it into the loop stations. From the previous jam, it’s pretty clear which is the main guitar riff and that will be the main loop. Everything else is built around this loop. The bass is emulated with the EHX Bass 9 and the drums come from our drum machine. Stephi spices up her vocal loops with the TC Helicon Voice Live Touch 2 effects. This way we have hundreds of ways to build these huge loops and soundscapes. Of course, that will take hundreds of iterations and about two months. We might also try it out live on the street to see if the party works, or if people enjoy it. And yes, in the end we will record it as close as possible to the live version… and that’s it.
Speaking of your sound, I noticed that in your most recent single “No Pain No Gain” you guys have really, not condensed necessarily, but streamlined your sound to have a little less layering but definitely more overall impact. I mean those soulful notes and wavy guitar riffs pack a serious punch. What has the journey been like for you guys, both musically and personally I suppose, since releasing “Window” all the way up to the release of this new track?
When you find something you really like and love, you tend to take it way too far. And we realised that it takes way too much time to build the whole song live on stage with all the loops and layers. So we tried to work out the key elements, the parts that the song couldn’t exist without, and focus on bringing them more to the fore, expressing them more. Before, we filled the silence with a myriad of layers, hiding each layer in another, rather than foregrounding one that stands on its own. It took all the way from writing and producing “Window” to the first single “Melting Apart” where we were already trying to get there, but “No Pain No Gain” is now the first song we can listen to and say that maybe we have found it now, our unique sound. As a musician you need the time to learn that “less is more”. A listener can’t focus on 10 layers and loops at the same time. We as artists need to point out what to focus on when listening to the song. Maybe in the intro it’s the lead guitar playing the melody. In the first verse, the vocals, and so on. Take the listener by the hand and lead them through the world of the song.
You’ve previously mentioned the intention to brighten up everyone’s mindset with the music you create, and cite this as how you got your name. In one of your interviews where you chat about this goal, you gave us one of my favourite lines from an interview so far “Also einfach abschalten und eintauchen in den einen Moment, ohne Gestern, ohne Morgen, einfach genießen.” Or in other words “switch off and immerse yourself in the moment, without yesterday, without tomorrow, just enjoy”, so very calm. I was wondering, where do you guys find this wonderful mindset? And how does it inform and shape your sound as musicians?
When we two were still in the beginning, we discussed a lot and thought about how we could unite our two different approaches to music, and above all: what we want to express! We quickly agreed that our sounds should inspire, just as we ourselves have been shaped by music on our way. It can be such an important companion on many decisions and emotional rollercoasters.
The sound that expands your consciousness, to which you can simply surrender, just switch off and enjoy – no matter how you feel at the moment. This is exactly what we try to emphasize in our song compositions. Deep messages with shifted sounds that expand consciousness or inspire you to celebrate life – whether it’s the heavy feelings that aren’t easy to digest or just those that make you want to pull out trees. The constantly repeating loops pull you into a hypnotic spell, adorned with psychedelic, experimental guitar sound and soulful, dreamy vibes of the voice. Anything can be endured, just keep finding your way back to your own “Sun State of Mind”.
I love that! And, whilst we’re getting deep here… I wanted to ask you about the artwork you use for your albums and singles, I cannot help but feel there is so much thought that goes into the creation of these images. Like when you were explaining the artwork on “Window”, about how some people miss all the beautiful, blurry opportunities in life, I genuinely thought I was back in Uni having accidentally wandered into a philosophy class, truly beautiful! So with that being said, what inspired the artwork on your latest release?
That’s the beauty of art. There are so many ways to express thoughts and feelings. This background was especially important for us when creating the logo. We all grow together with our music, like a tree. Everything flows together and bears new fruit, which in turn becomes roots for other ideas. You can see or feel everything through the music, therefore the eye- leaning on Yin and Yang- everything joins together, similarities as well as opposites.
Also the artwork of our album “Window” should show the message of all songs, a visualization of all the beautiful opportunities in life that are waiting to be seized. With our last released singles “Melting Apart” and “No Pain No gain” we also wanted to show our faces, some real pictures so to speak, to make us more tangible. Probably the next album cover will be more ambiguous and more psychedelic though.
Speaking of what is yet to come, what are your aspirations for the future… where do you hope to be in your career in the next five years?
We hear this question often. But we think to ourselves, why should we want to know what our life will look like in 5 years. Isn’t it just the exciting thing about life that you don’t know what surprise is lurking around the next corner? It would be boring to plan everything in advance down to the smallest detail, then you might overlook all the wonderful opportunities and chances. Patience is a talent, everything comes together one day and makes perfect sense and is wonderful just the way it is. Isn’t that exactly the view of a “Sun State of Mind”? To dream openly without defining exact steps is also the most beautiful thing, like playing on the biggest stages in front of the coolest people, to make a living out of it one day, to freely do what we feel like doing and what our creativity drives us to do – that is the plan.
That’s a really good point, well made! Although, in one of your previous interviews, you mention aiming to play in New York, which is so very cool. Do you guys have a particular venue in mind, or would you stay true to your roots and continue busking all around the globe?
To be honest, we don’t have a specific venue in mind. We like the idea of playing one of those classic “New York Live Music Venues” that we all know from the movies. And maybe they’ve aged a little bit and they’re not what they were in the ’70s or ’80s, but there are still a few out there. And of course busking in the streets, in Central Park and on the New York City subway. The street music scene there is huge. But speaking of a cool busking scene, London and a few other cities in the UK are awesome as well. At least what we’ve seen and heard. So definitely travel and busk when it’s possible again, for sure!
Is there anything else you’d like to add that we’ve not covered? Any shout-outs?
We have some cool new songs in the pipeline for 2022. Like “No Pain No Gain” it will underline our new way of making music. A bit more stripped down and catchy. The next song is called “Gimme Some Time” and will be out in February 2022- written in the first lockdown with club vibes. And of course we wanna shout out to all our supporters, friends and families! Without you nothing of this would have been possible, thank you all so much!
Thank you so much for your time guys! We look forward to hearing more from you in the future and wish you all the best! Readers can find Sun State of Mind on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube and all the usual music streaming platforms.