Sun Araw
Straight Lampin’ in Deep Focus
by Jerry Dannemiller

When a musician behaves more like a filmmaker, especially directors like Bela Tarr and Andrei Tarkovsky, and sounds fall outside the narrow lanes of purely auditory, perspective gets widened and all sorts of engrossing looks ensue. Cameron Stallones, who has released five full-lengths, three EPs and five cassettes in the last five years under the name Sun Araw, is one such music-maker with a director’s eye. Hailing from Long Beach and dwelling in the deepest pockets of psychedelia, dub, Afrobeat, improv and drone, Stallones’ releases (usually on the NotNotFun label, but also Woodsist and Thrill Jockey) have been unhinged excursions into long-form concept development, with little self-restriction. The work of his eye (and ear) is attracting fellow gypsies: Wire selected 2008’s Heavy Deeds as one of the top records of the year, as they did with last year’s On Patrol. The former was a thick tar of space echo and Fela-isms, while On Patrol treaded into a dub-psych star cluster of deep astral tangents.

Directors like Tarr and Tarkovsky are hailed for their propensity for long, uninterrupted takes (see Satantango or Solaris), sometimes stretching for eight to ten minutes, traversing time and miles. With Sun Araw, Stallones operates on a similar plane, capturing one scene (or melody) and taking it on a complete journey, building up and tearing down an original image until what’s left bears little resemblance to its early state. Stallone’s latest (though by the time of this writing there will likely be three more) Ancient Romans (out August 23 on Sun Ark), moves the proceedings into an even deeper headspace, with underwater funk, Casio burps, and multi-tracked missions to the outer limits. I tracked him down via email after he had just played at the recent Woodsist Festival.

How was the Woodsist Fest at Big Sur?

Cameron Stallones: Solidly magical. That’s a really special place, and that fest is an incredible accomplishment of sanity and good vibes. It can happen.

Does the live experience of audience energy and vibes make up for the inherent awkwardness and lack of spontaneousness of recreating Sun Araw live? Playing in the USA versus in Europe has to be another distinction, yes?

CS: Sun Araw live is very spontaneous. The new band is heavily improvisatory and getting more and more so. My goal is usually to try to forget about the audience; I’ve never been someone all that comfortable with engaging people directly from onstage. But focusing inward usually leads to a better overall sonic situation for me and everyone, so it works out I hope, despite the lack of charisma. European audiences are usually a little more enthused in general, and a lot of that might have to do with the music being thankfully a little more removed from the context of subculture.

Is the “edifice” of Ancient Romans the largest you’ve ever constructed, to your mind? There must be some satisfaction in that.

CS: Well, in terms of length, it’s actually slightly shorter than On Patrol. But in scope, thematic and sonic, I think it definitely covers a lot of territory. I’m extremely happy with how it came out.

Does making music come easier now (in terms of ideas to be executed, people to collaborate with) or does the heaviness of expectation weigh upon you?

CS: I’m not really conscious of anyone’s expectations. I find that everything just flows on its own rhythm. Any collaborations that I do are borne out of the most natural of circumstances, from where and with whom I find myself. The process is still something that interests me more than almost any other activity. I’d truthfully rather be jamming than pretty much anything else.

Ancient Romans truly seems to get into a way deeper (Julian Cope) headspace, even more than your previous records (which is all a very relative and subjective descriptor, certainly). It really stitches together the prehistoric and futurist. Was or is there ever any intentional attempt at a particular juxtaposition in your work, or is it the by-product of sheer studio improv?

CS: Thanks man! It’s a deep record for me personally, and it has a spiritual sense that is a little different than in previous records. The recording of it coincided and was incited by some particular revelations about the nature of time, and the ancient/future nexus is certainly a part of that. But everything is borne out of improv, none of it was planned. I really try to avoid the direct approach. Things seem more vibrant when they are borne out of a general spirit of investigation. Voyage now, examine and metabolize later.

“Fit for Caesar” embraces as much as it rejects dub, which is a strong vibe that comes through in all Sun Araw music. What are your feelings on that influence these days?

CS: This record isn’t very dubby, though I’ve never been quite sure my music is as dubby as some people seem to think, That said, I’m probably listening to more dub and dancehall than ever before. I just returned from a trip to Portmore near Kingston to record with the Congos, which was a mind-flaying experience, opening that far eye.

Along with many other folks, I’m sure, I would be interested in hearing what you’re up to next musically. Is more consistent touring in the works?

CS: Always working on something. The next big thing on the horizon is the Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras and the Congos record. When it drops in January that one will have taken a full year to emerge, but it will be worth it. In the meantime lots of little projects: Duppy Gun Productions, which is the dancehall stuff Ged and I produced while we were in Jamaica, a prayer tapes series of Sun Araw home recordings, more Sun Ark tapes, some hyper-primitive cassette disco edits I’ve been doing. We’re getting around as well, will be in Europe a bit in August, in Brazil in December, Australia in January.

The Eternal Tapestry collaboration record seems perfectly unplanned, in the best of ways. How mapped out were the songs?

CS: Not at all, that was an improvisation performed live on the radio.

I’ve read you work (or worked) at a film archive. Where? Do filmmakers like Bela Tarr, Pedro Costa, Svenkmajer, and Bergman creep into your aesthetic as much as Can, Neil Young, or Fela?

CS: I work at the Academy Film Archive here in LA. Filmmakers are an enormous influence on my music. I’m most enthusiastic about long-take filmmakers like Tarkovsky, Altman, Rivette, Bela Tarr, etc. and I think that my interest in that sort of camera movement through space, the slowly shifting perspective, has become a big part of the way I compose. I’m utterly devoted to long-form, mantric music and so I’m all about straight lampin’ in deep focus: angle after angle on the melodic object. It (thankfully) undermines the whole concept of detached third-person perspective, the myth of a fixed point of view, which I try to avoid in all aspects of life.