Sun Wizard

"'What the fuck? Is Malcolm freestyling over the music right now?" I looked up and he was! Frankie was pissing in a bottle next to him."

Photo by Michael Irvine
Photo by Michael Irvine

Sun Wizard are clearly enjoying themselves when Discorder meets up with them at Reno’s Restaurant on Main and Broadway. James Younger and Malcolm Jack, the band’s two guitar-weilding lead singers, play off each other like a pair of comedians, cracking jokes over clubhouse sandwiches, further demonstrating the solidarity evident in the band’s debut album, Positively 4th Street, which was just released on Light Organ Records. The album boasts roaring guitar riffs, harmonica jams and choruses that stay lodged in your brain. Songs like “Middle of the Heart” and “Little Less In Control” have the warm, hazy tint of a Vancouver summer. Since starting up in 2009, Sun Wizard (comprised of Younger, Jack, Francesco “Frankie” Lyon on bass and Ben Frey on drums) have made their aspirations clear about making it big by doing what they know best: playing catchy, hook-laden rock ‘n’ roll. Discorder had a rousing chat with Younger and Jack about their thoughts on their new album, Vancouver’s music scene, touring, and the numerous Tom Petty comparisons that have been thrown at them.

Discorder: When I first heard about your band, I was told you sounded like Tom Petty at the beach.

James Younger: (laughs) I wish we sounded like Tom Petty at the beach.

D: That sold me.

JY: We may have mentioned we like Tom Petty too much when we first started as a band. It seems to have followed us around. Maybe we’re a bit indefinable. You think you’d be able to pinpoint who we really sound like, but there are so many influences in our music. Pop is a diverse field.

Malcom Jack: It’s not like we think about Tom Petty all the time, really. But he’s good. We like him.

D: Do you find it annoying having those tags associated with your band? When I looked you guys up, the bands that kept getting tied to you were Neil Young, Tom Petty…

JY: Every indie band gets compared to Neil Young though, don’t they? No one really knows what [we] sound like, so they just say the Replacements and Neil Young.

D: One article said you were an infusion of those two bands.

JY: (laughs) An infusion? Not a fusion? Like there’s an aroma to it?

D: (laughs) Yeah, a tasty, hot-licks aroma.

JY: You should write that, that’s really good. “Tasty hot licks.”

MJ: We probably sound like those bands. The reason is because we’re doing what all those bands did: just writing songs and playing them.

JY: There’s not much thought afterwards or before, really.

MJ: We used to run a songwriting workshop together. It got us into writing songs every week—every day, even. It got us into writing songs quick, getting them out right away. You get into writing naturally.

JY: You’re not fixating on certain ideas being more quintessential than others. You can write a song and if it doesn’t work you can throw it away because it doesn’t matter. Because you’ll write another song. Because every one is just a moment in time. It isn’t arduous writing songs, it never has been. If a song doesn’t work with the band, I’ll just write another one, or Malcom will, or even Frankie these days.

D: That sounds really healthy. So how did the recording of your new album go? Did you record with the same guys who did the Maybe They Were Right EP?

MJ: Colin Stewart, yeah. Dave Ogilvie remixed our first EP, but he didn’t work with us on it. Light Organ wanted to reissue it, so Dave remixed the reissue. He did a great job on that, so we wanted to do the new album with both of them. They were both great.

D: Working with Dave, did he help you shape the songs? Or did you just roll in and tell him, “This is what we’ve got”?

MJ: [Dave] was pretty mellow. Colin was more the producer as far as recording goes. He would do the engineering and we’re pretty close with Colin. James has recorded with him before. We just really get along with him; I think everybody does. He can give you advice and it’s not at all offensive. He just wants you to do your thing. It’s funny, Positively 4th Avenue is just what we were into [when we recorded].

D: Is it still representative of your sound now? Are you still trying to write a song a day?

MJ: Kind of, yeah. We have a bunch of new stuff. We could make a new full length right now.

JY: And again in a couple of months. I’d prefer it, if we could do that logistically.

MJ: I wish we were the Kinks and could just put out our first five albums in three years.

D: If you could find a way to record on the cheap, that would be ideal.

MJ: We want to record again soon, but the album that’s coming out is awesome. It sounds great.

D: So what’s with the title, Positively 4th Ave?

JY: (laughs) Do you get the joke? There are a few jokes in there.

MJ: It’s a take off the Bob Dylan song [“Positively 4th Street”] and it makes sense if you think about how it applies to Vancouver. It’s really about just being in a normal band.

JY: We want to let people work it out for themselves.

D: So have you guys toured at all?

MJ: Not really.

D: How was Toronto? You guys were there for Canadian Music Week.

JY: It was really good, it was fun.

D: Any good stories?

JY: We had $400 to spend over the time we were there and we blew it all in the first night. Malcolm ended up freestyling at a rap club. I was just chillin’ out at the bar.

MJ: The DJ was into it.

JY: Maybe chillin’s not the right word, but I was posted up, just listening and I was like “What the fuck? Is Malcolm freestyling over the music right now?” I looked up and he was! Frankie was pissing in a bottle next to him.

MJ: You gotta throw down sometimes. Especially if the DJ is going to cut it up for you.

D: (laughs) Amazing. So when you go on tour, who would be your ideal tour-mates?

JY: Contemporary bands or fantasy world?

D: Both.

JY: It would be good to go out with a hard-working rock ‘n’ roll band we could learn from, like Jaill or the Soft Pack. A real band, like Ladyhawk.

MJ: The Shilohs are great, their new record is amazing. I just want it to come out.

JY: It would be nice to tour with Yukon Blonde. We’re finally going to play a show with them, but those guys are always on tour, aren’t they? It’s paid dividends for them.

MJ: I like Slam Dunk a lot.

JY: The High Drops are good.

MJ: They’re playing our CD release party at the end of April. Our release party is with them and Slam Dunk. It’s going to be at the Biltmore, April 28th.

D: Isn’t the record coming out on March 28th?

JY: It is. The show is just the month after. The vinyl will be available there, too.

D: I really hope you guys tour, you’ve got some great songs here.

MJ: We want to, we’re just waiting to get a booking agent to do that, it should come soon. That’s the only reason we haven’t been out there already.

D: And then you’ll be out on tour with Yukon Blonde.

JY: And the Kinks. And Dinosaur Jr. And Superchunk.

MJ: Together at last.

JY: We’re definitely opening.

MJ: We’re not on the bill, we’re roadies.

JY: We’re doing the merch.

D: Lastly, I’ve been wondering: where did the name Sun Wizard come from?

JY: It’s Frankie’s First Nations name.

D: Really? Is he First Nations?

JY: (laughs) No, but you can say he is. He’s also been known to be Mexican and Japanese. He’s creed-less.

MJ: He’s the Sun Wizard.

Sun Wizard play their album release party at the Biltmore, April 28.