Byline: Joy comes with a bit of melancholy, knowing that it doesn’t last forever…
Author: Willa Rudolph
So, I got this email that initially caught my eye because of the cover art displayed at the top:
I’m a sucker for sunset colors. As I skimmed through the email, I saw that the musical artist being pitched, Sunshine Convention, had a little “(me)” next to it [i.e. “Sunshine Convention (me)]… meaning that the writer of the press release was also the artist, himself!
After giving the project a listen, I was really impressed, and felt it was something I definitely wanted to write about. Sunshine Convention’s self-titled debut album, out this past Friday (editor’s note: our site was down most of the past week fyi but we’re back, baby, and better than ever with a brand new look!) certainly feels like sunshine, with buzzy guitar tones, upbeat melodies and catchy distorted hooks.
Jake Whitener, a Brooklyn resident, has created an array of guitar-heavy, ear-worm alternative pop-rock songs that deserve to be played in a convertible heading for the beach.
This album is meant to introduce Sunshine Convention to the world, a brand new project. It’s got elements of surf rock and shoegaze, with references to 60’s and 70’s psychedelic rock.
“Penny Lids,” the second single off the project (and first song on the album), is an “old fashioned power-pop ‘love song’ that leans into [their] more sinister aspects… with imagery of Dairy Queen women, over-eager proclamations of love, male obsession with possession, and quarterbacks with pennies on their eyelids…” If this quote from Whitener’s email doesn’t make it clear he’s created an entire world for Sunshine Convention, then I don’t know what does.
Whitener continues, “I wrote and recorded this song around 2 am in January of 2021, immediately after watching [Charlie Kaufman’s] film I’m Thinking of Ending Things. There was one scene in particular featuring the main characters, an ice cream shop in a blizzard, and the three women working it, that struck me deeply. When you first encounter it, it feels like another sudden slip into the fantastical, but by the end of the movie the scene reveals itself to be the turning point, unraveling and exposing the darker nature of the lead character, Jake (which…let’s ignore that for now.)”
Despite touching on dark themes, the music is hopeful, reminiscent at times of a happier, surfer-ier version of Daniel Johnston (“A Soft Bullet In” and “Sister Judy”). But when that first song, “Penny Lids”, ends and becomes the second song on the album, “The Spark,” I hear a charging guitar riff, I hear a little Wilco, a little more darkness. But the psychedelic rock comes through in the harmonizing guitar parts. It’s still so sunny, the vocals chanting together, a nursery rhyme for beach goers and happy people who simultaneously have a feeling of melancholy constantly bubbling under the surface, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
He sings, “Look at how your flowers grow they
Don’t reach out for the sun
They twist themselves in complex circles
Until they come undone
I’m not sure if Daniel Johnston actually used one of these toys in his music, but he very well could’ve. There’s a quality to the Sunshine Convention sound that also reminds me of this classic 90’s children’s toy. Call me crazy…
I asked Jake, and it turns out, the blown-out effect of the music is very intentional (I assumed so).
“Because I loved everything that came through the tape, I ran the final mix of every single song one last time from Garageband into the tape recorder, tried to make sure the levels were somewhat close, and then just let the tape play as I recorded it back on to the computer. The result I think sounds super warped and blown out in a strange way, because for some of those instruments, it was, like, the 3rd time passing through the tape machine! So, some guitars sound really fucked up, but everything else is really clear and vice versa. So really, the whole album is a Frankenstein’s monster,” he explained.
I absolutely love the process behind this record. As a musical artist, I value the process and how one arrives at the final result, which is really all anyone else sees, unless they ask.
Yo, I had to listen to the song “101” a million times, because that is my home-town freeway, baby! When it came on, my ears perked up because the glimmery guitar intro reminded me of Lucinda Williams signature slide. It turns out, the song is somewhat about the 101 freeway, but it’s a play on words, because it was originally called “One on One”. It’s about “wasting time fighting yourself in your head.” Whitener described, “I was on a highway out here in New York, and there was a graveyard lining the road, and right across the street, there were strip malls and billboards. I thought that was a funny, almost L.A.-like contrast, so…101!”
As I was finishing up writing this piece, I thought to myself – gosh, there’s one more thing I must know! Why the name Sunshine Convention?
Whitener gladly explained: “For such a simple, saccharine name, it’s sort of nerdy how I came up with it. It was the result of thinking about my top three favorite bands.
“My favorite songwriter is Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse and I always thought that name was so funny for him to use when you listen to the sincerity and sometimes heaviness of his songs. The Flaming Lips do the same thing with their lyrics. For such over the top joyous music, their lyrics are pretty heavy and existential (but always hopeful.)
“I’m really interested in extreme contrasts (like “101”) and wanted to use a name that sort of did the same thing. My other favorite band is Guided by Voices. I love band names with multiple syllables for some reason, so I also wanted to incorporate that somehow!
So I came up with:
13 Hour Noise Machine
Moon Crisis Make Up
Birds and Blooms
Then I thought of my friend Kenny (from the LA band Goon) and we share this vivid passion for warm colors: yellows, oranges, etc. So, Sunshine Convention just came to me, and I texted him and asked him what he thought and very enthusiastically said: THAT’S IT!”