Mikey Powers, the lead singer of local indie-punk-pop quintet Sun Club, discusses friendship, grind, and the new-old sound of the band's sunny debut album, The Dongo Durango, out now via ATO Records.
So you guys grew up in the suburbs between Baltimore and Annapolis. How did the band get its start?
Mikey Powers: It’s kind of a classic story. There was the core group—me and my next-door neighbors, Devin [McCord, drummer], and Shane [McCord, guitarist]—who grew up together and did, like, stupid stuff together as children. We were just really close friends and as little kids would always pretend to be in a band. We’d jump on the trampoline and name all of our songs and albums that didn’t exist. We just always naturally wanted to play music. I think Devin and I were in middle school when we started to learn our instruments, and Shane is a little bit younger, so he must have been in elementary school.
When did you officially become Sun Club?
As time went on, we started this different band with our friend Sam, which grew and evolved over time with different people. Finally, we got Adam [Shane, bassist], the final member of the band, and decided to change our name to Sun Club.
In the beginning, we mostly played friends’ parties and toured people’s basements. [Then] about two years ago, we started playing bigger venues. We put our all into it and were booking shows all over, taking whatever we could get, and slowly built a little bit of a fan base. You just keep taking baby steps until you get to the next stage.
How were you guys getting by?
Basically it was just like: play, go home, work ’til we have, well, not even enough money. There were so many times when we were scraping the bottom of the barrel. We pretty much still are, actually, but it was definitely worse back then. I worked full-time as a dishwasher. It was gross and terrible, though the people who hired me were awesome—you know, dishwashing naturally isn’t the best job in the world. But we all would save up, go on tour, spend all of our money, come home, work again, leave for tour . . .
You guys were in your teens or early 20s, then. Were you juggling this with school?
Shane graduated high school a year early so that we could all drop out and go for it. No one is in school anymore. It’s not that we don’t think we might go back some day—it’s just not even a thought right now. We can’t do both. It wouldn’t work. As far as jobs go, we work as we need it. We got [a song used in] this Chevy commercial and were living off of that for a little bit. It was cool to not have to worry about money as much for a while. It was nice to just focus on songwriting.
Do you guys live in the city now?
We live in Charles Village and just practice in our basement. The neighbors are fine with it, which is cool as hell.
Wait, so you all live together?
Three of us do right now—me, Devin, and Shane—and Adam is moving in at the end of this tour. Kory [Johnson, keyboardist] lives in this house in the middle of rural Annapolis by himself in this basement and just does like art all the time.
How do you guys get along? Not just in the band but as roommates.
I look at them in the same way I look at my sister. It’s like the same relationship. It’s second nature for them to be around all the time. I mean, it’s not like, 'Oh man, we’re best buds!' arm-in-arm, smiling all the time. I still get angry with them and they get angry with me, but it’s just like we’re used to it.
Do you all have the same taste in music?
We all listen to different music, from like Tom Waits to the Beach Boys to just straight noise music. [But] Animal Collective, to us, is like...God. We like music that has a very specific sound and really good songwriting.
What do you consider good songwriting?
You just write what you feel at the time. At a younger age, we were kind of hippy and grungy, ’cause, you know, we were angsty teenagers. And then as we got older, there have been a whole lot of weird feelings and things that come with touring and being in relationships and stuff like that. They create different feelings and you try to expand on them or recreate them in songwriting. [Though] sometimes it’s just like, “Oh, that sounds cool.”
You’ve included some of your previously written and released songs on this album, like the big fan favorite, “Beauty Meat.”
They’re entirely re-recorded in the way we originally imagined them. The [first] EP just didn’t sound the way we sound [now]. We wrote those songs when we were really young. They feel so old to us now. At the time, it was what we wanted—we recorded them in the way we thought people wanted records to sound—but they were overproduced and none of us were really happy with [how they turned out]. So we re-recorded them on this album in the way that they sounded when we played them in the basement. When we were younger and wrote songs, we had this crappy PA system and we would crank up all the reverb and blow out the speakers and just be as loud as possible. We naturally learned to love the way that sounded because it was all we had.
How has the rest of your music evolved since those early days?
Melodically, lyrically—especially lyrically. No one really pays attention to that in our style of music because it’s so washed out that you can barely understand it. But everything is much more in-depth. I feel like rhythm is the thing that we spent the most time on. Just trying to figure out a way to do things differently.
You had your release show at The Crown in November.
The Crown is awesome. We’ve had some of our favorite shows there. It’s just a great place and always a really fun time. It’s intimate but it still fits enough people that it feels good. It’s often a lot of people we know and are chill with. People are really supportive of music here. That’s one of the big reasons why the city is so awesome.
How does it feel to go from putting on shows in people’s basements to performing at big festivals like Sweetlife, which you did earlier this year?
Well Sweetlife was just weird as hell. It’s such an entirely different world than what we’ve always been involved in. We don’t really play those kinds of shows. We were like the black sheep of the festival. We didn’t really fit in. But it was fun and they treated us awesomely.
What would your ideal show be?
Honestly, it would just be like a huge vacant space so we can set up the PA system the way we want to set it up. Maybe like a warehouse that we could rent out for a day and have a mass amount of people come to . . . For this album, we recorded most of the instruments live in this huge warehouse on the outskirts of the city. Steve Wright of WrightWay Studios produced it. He moved a ton of equipment in there we did most of it live, and whatever we didn’t do live, we just blasted through speakers in the warehouse. We really wanted a real-sounding record.
So no plush, padded recording studio.
Yeah, we just let it naturally resonate [off the bare walls] and it was really real reverb. It’s not mixed digitally or anything. A lot of the records we all love have that kind of organic, specific sound. Those productions aren’t necessarily the ones that are the most polished, [but] sometimes that can take away from the feeling of a song.
How do you feel about the final product now that it’s out there?
We’re happy, but it’s like we’ve been sitting on it for so long that everyone is just stoked to finally move onto the next step of writing and recording.
So what’s up next?
We’re just writing music and trying to find new cool things to do with it. Whatever happens, happens. If anything does, great. But at the end of the day, the focus is just making music that you feel strongly about, and about releasing it, which is something we’ve been lacking on. So we’re really excited about this album.