Heavy Drone for Bunnies
Sun Araw is mandala-powered postmodern psychedelia, strange fruit that compels the listener to sit down, unpack his soul and just surf the gravitas. "My music is pretty committed to the true psychedelic ethos of mantric ideals, like basically, angle after angle after angle on the melodic object," explains Cameron Stallones, 26-year-old chief architect of Sun Araw, whose default mood is seemingly set to "whoa." His name is not pronounced Stal-lones, as in a herd of sweaty Rambos charging across the L.A. jungle, but Staaa-lins, as in a pluralized Russian dictator. For the record, there's nothing even remotely Stalinist about this amiable mystic, except maybe his magnificent mustache.
Sun Araw is part of the cosmic cluster emanating from L.A. record label Not Not Fun, known for its reliably unorthodox roster of musical Kool-Aid makers. Their scene hops around freak-friendly venues like the Echo Curio, The Smell and Synchronicity Space. And the label's shining stars — which you may or may not have heard of, depending on how close to Echo Park or Berlin you live — include the possessed china dolls of Pocahaunted, Long Beach's stoner psych wizards Magic Lantern, and Vibes. In the last four years the Austin-born Stallones (a film archivist at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by day) has been in and/or toured with all of these bands — but Sun Araw, which he started in 2006, shortly after moving to Los Angeles, is what feeds his soul.
The name Sun Araw is an intentionally unsubtle play on Sun Ra, the jazz spaceman whom Stallones holds up as a superhero. "I think he's kind of a next-level example of true interdimensional living," he says. Sun Ra, after all, influenced so much of the music that influences him. "I am really into a pretty specific era of free jazz, roots jazz, African jazz and experimental avant-garde, stuff that bridges that gap between psychedelia and modern composition in jazz." The name Sun Araw also holds a secondary, special meaning — araw is a Tagalog word meaning sun or day. So Sun Araw means sun sun? "No, it's more like sun day, like sacred rest," says Stallones. "Sacred rest is a big concept for me. I like to be really busy and be in a lot of different bands at the same time — but Sun Araw is always like the sacred retreat."
Recently Stallones has been spending more and more time in his sacred groove space, writing the fourth full-length Sun Araw album, On Patrol (out on Not Not Fun). It is his most sparse, minimal offering to date. It's also the most physically sprawling — a double album, in which most of the songs are at least 10 minutes in length. The album artwork features a giant triangle and a blueprint of a police patrol car.
"The album is about how we need to be on patrol. You need to be looking out for your brother. It was heavy choosing the police imagery. I had to think about it because it's not something I see as an unqualified positive — policing oneself, policing one another." (The album lettering, alas, does not feature Stallones' favorite font — the ultrathin Helvetica Neue. "I am kind of a font freak," he says, "but once I found this one I rode it pretty hard on a few releases.")
He wrote and recorded On Patrol primarily in a little cottage on the borders of Glendale and Eagle Rock, where he lives with his wife of four years, Erica, an auburn-haired painter who crochets while we talk. Halfway through the interview she puts down the needles to feed lettuce leaves to their floppy-eared house bunny, a rescue named Sissy Spacek. Sissy is blind in one eye, and "loves heavy drone," says Stallones. "I'm really into experimental drone music and long-form ambient stuff, and Sissy really gets into that. She gets all perched and sits near the speakers. Anything sustained and low end — she's into that."
Stallones is wearing a vintage NBA champions T-shirt, jeans, black socks and a Judge Dredd trucker hat. He owns lots of trucker hats. He picks up one that is red, with the TIME magazine logo on the front. For Stallones, it's one of the most awe-inspiring things he owns ("Time. Whoa."). He also has an imposing black triangle tattooed on his left inner forearm, a recent body-art addition. He's really into triangles right now. "Without getting too cheese ball, I think triangles are kind of the architecture of the universe. They are the most fundamental community. Two people is a relationship, three people is a community, you know what I mean? It's a really heavy zone."
Does Cameron always think about the world on this level, I ask Erica. Yes, he never stops thinking, she says, smiling. "I'm a recovering academic," he admits. Were his parents academics, I wonder? "Yes, how did you guess?" says Stallones. His father is a professor of education, an expert in the science of teaching, and his parents are also Evangelical Christians. He met Erica while he was studying art at an Evangelical Christian college.
"I stepped away from that," Stallones says. "I am really into the shamanistic model of the artist, letting go of the self for a time." He didn't agree with the school's approach on everything, but he did enjoy the intensive, "Cambridge-esque," course of study, clearing at least one great work of classic literature a week. The religious upbringing, the rigorous arts schooling, and his idyllic domestic home life seemed to have created the perfect triangular springboard for Stallones, rocketing him, his imagination and his mustache into the outer realms of consciousness. "It's insane when you think about it — the music that I do," he says. "But it's just there. The music. I don't know what else to do. We're stoked. It's chill. "
Sun Araw plays a secret show at Landslide (see sunaraw.com) on June 11, at Woodsist Fest at the Echoplex on June 15 and at Synchronicity Space on June 17.
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