Sometimes the music from a singer-songwriter can blossom when a band gives their tunes a complete structure. These songs get new dose of life due to the adding of different instruments and elements. An example of this is Sun Gangs, an indie rock quartet that started out from Matunuck native Luke Graham’s solo material. Rounding out the act is North Smithfield’s Nick Schmidt on lead guitar, Peace Dale’s Rory Maynard-Dean on bass and Portsmouth’s Chris Cooney on drums. The past few years have seen this act steadily and increasingly getting a following in both South County and Rhode Island as a whole.
I had a chat with Graham about how he formed the band, what their recordings sound like versus how they sound live, going from one musical role into another and continuously working on new songs.
Rob Duguay: How did you go about getting Nick, Chris and Rory to join the band?
Luke Graham: Sun Gangs came about because I had just moved into a new house and wanted to host a house show, but you can’t really throw that kind of thing with a solo act. I hadn’t played in a band in about a year and I wanted to play in a group where I could share and perform the songs I had been writing for the past several years. Rory and I were in a band together called S. Walcott while we were in high school, so I wasn’t worried about getting him involved, but I still needed people on drums and lead guitar. I met Chris and Nick previously through the local scene, and we were all friends, so I just reached out to everyone on to see if we could all jam together. They were all down for it, and we went from there.
RD: What made you guys want to go from the electronic edge that’s in the recordings to more of a complete sound with guitars, bass and drums?
LG: The difference between our live and recorded sounds is kind of out of necessity. As a producer, I love exploring synth and less traditional instrumentation, so our recordings that are out now are a reflection of that. When it comes to playing live though, we all love the classic four-piece lineup and the energy that we can bring while in that orientation. In our future recordings, we’re definitely going to look to bring those two sounds together, since it can better represent what we sound like live and in-studio.
RD: As you mentioned earlier, before Sun Gangs started you played drums in S. Walcott. From being behind the kit to being in front of the mic, did it take any adjusting or was fronting a band something you’ve always wanted to do?
LG: Playing drums was how I got into playing music, so playing with S. Walcott was ridiculously fun and taught me how to be a good live performer. That band spanned all of high school, but also during that time I started writing my own songs and became really passionate about recording and production as a result. Once everyone from the old band went off to college, that opened up the possibility for me to start my own project, which was really exciting. Moving from behind the drums to the front of the stage was a big adjustment, but I had wanted to play my own songs for so long that I was super excited to do it. My songs are all pretty darn personal, so it’s certainly a more vulnerable position to be in, but I get a lot out of playing in that context, especially when I have such a great group of guys behind me.
RD: What do you think makes performing in Sun Gangs different than any other band you’ve been in before?
LG: I had only ever played drums in bands before Sun Gangs started, so it was logistically a big leap. I had to gain a lot of confidence with my singing and guitar playing, but now that it’s been a few years, I’m a lot more comfortable in that position. When I’m performing in Sun Gangs now, it’s a very honest exercise. I have a habit of putting everything that’s going on in my head into the songs I write, so they come out as very frank and sometimes self-deprecating. The other guys in the band know what I’ve put into these songs and where I’m coming from, so playing in front of other people almost feels like everyone is sharing this moment of “Here’s how weird and anxious I feel, don’t you feel that way too?”.
RD: What are some goals the band has in place before the year ends? Will there be a full-length or an EP out next year?
LG: As far as releasing more music, we’re always working on new things. We have some unreleased songs we’ve been playing live, and many of them are in various stages of being recorded. I have a goal to release something by next February, so keep an eye out for an EP.