Interview: Pete Harper, Sunset Sons bassist
Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Following a festival packed summer, Sunset Sons are ready to jump back on the tour bus. Last April's release of debut album Very Rarely Say Die had the band's sunshine-chic sound inaugurated as an essential soundtrack to summer 2016. But this indie-rock infatuation is no mere holiday fling; these guys are just getting started. On the eve of their tour, we sat down with bassist Pete Harper for his take on the upcoming shows, band dynamics and what's to come...
Okay Pete, describe Sunset Sons in five words…
Band, music, fun…rum…coke.
Do you guys have any particular roles in the band aside from the obvious ones?
I’m kind of the technical guy – I know a bit about fixing stuff, like when someone’s car breaks down and things like that. Rory knows more technical things like how to sort phones. Rob’s the little rock: he never complains, never falters…he’s just always there. And Jed’s role is sleeping in and being constantly late.
Who does most of the songwriting?
We tend to do a lot of the music stuff together. We all set up in a big circle facing each other and go through ideas ‘til we’ve got the rough bones of a song. It’ll come from anything: I could have a little riff on guitar, or Rory will have something on the keyboard. He does a lot of voice memos as well; often he’ll be in his car like “oh shit that’s a good melody” and sing it to his phone. Or Jed will be like “I’ve been thinking about this drum beat a bit like this old Chilli Peppers song.” Then we all just build it up, work on a rough structure and then get some melodies together. Jed and Rory tend to do most of the lyrical stuff though.
Speaking of new tracks, you’ve got a single coming out soon…
Yes we do! ‘VROL.’ Some songs come in three seconds: you sit down and five minutes later you have the structure and melodies, and it’s boss. But ‘VROL’ had certain parts to it that we knew were absolutely amazing, like the pre-chorus & chorus, but we couldn’t fit it all together. We recorded it when we were doing all the songs for the album, but the boys hadn’t finished working on the lyrics, so we just said, we’ve got enough songs for the record, let’s just leave it and work on it. We didn’t want to rush it & push it through with a half-ass attempt. So we came back and changed a few things around: Rob came up with some awesome guitar lines when we were in the studio and we got some friends to come over and sing. We only actually finished recording the rest of it about a week ago, and had to rush through mixing and mastering. Because of playing at festivals we hadn’t had much time over summer, so we went down to a little studio in Saint Jean de Luz (just south of where we live in France) – it’s actually at the Quicksilver headquarters – and smashed it out. You could work on a song for fifty years, but we’ve got to a point now where we’re just like “yep, that’s exactly what we wanted it to be.”
So are we going to be treated to ‘VROL’ when you guys come and play in Oxford this month?
It’s your first time at the Ox O2 Academy isn’t it?
Yeah, we played in Oxford last time we went on tour but in a different venue. We’re really excited about the Oxford show because there’s always such a cool vibe there. It’s a big uni town, everyone loves having a good time…
Oh for sure! The show is looking to be a big one for this term – especially as 3rd week is prime time for people looking to distract themselves from essays…
Yeah! No one’s spent all their money yet…they still have enough for a few jägerbombs…we’re good!
Exactly. What part of touring are you most excited for (aside from coming to Ox of course)?
Well, as I mentioned, we’ve been playing a lot of festivals. They’re amazing, but it’s not your own crowd. When you do your own shows, especially on tour when we’ve got like 5 weeks of them, it’s all about having people come and just being so into it. It’s so rewarding when, after all the hard work, the driving, and hours spent in the studio and rehearsal room, it all just comes together. It’s why we do what we do – the big pay off really is to just see people having such a good time. We obviously hate the early starts and the rock-paper-scissors for the shit bed in the hotel…but that stuff just fades away when you go on stage and hear the whole crowd singing all the words. Seeing people as passionate about these things as we are…that’s what really keeps us going.
And perhaps as we head into the winter months, the band’s summery sound must only encourage the fans’ eagerness to party?
Yeah, it takes them back. It’s reminiscent of when everybody’s down at the coast on holiday with their mates and listening to the record.
It’s fair to say your life has taken on some serious changes over the past few years…where do you see yourself in ten years time?
Just doing the same thing in bigger and better venues I hope! Maybe with the luxury of a little bit more time off to travel and get out there. We’ve been pretty locked in for the last three/three and a half years now. In ten years I hope we can do one big, awesome tour a year and a load of festivals, then spend the rest of the year doing what we want, having time to just relax and write more music. That would be my ideal situation - we could all go to Bali or Hawaii, chill there, surf, and not feel any pressure – not that we feel pressure now or that pressure matters, but it would be nice to have a bit more time to breathe.
If I had asked you the same question when you were fifteen…would you have said the same thing?
Ermm…probably? But I got into music pretty late. I didn’t start guitar until I left high school, and never actually learnt to play the bass, I just kind of started playing it? The first full song I taught myself was 'Fade to Black' by Metallica. After that I was in a band in Australia, but then dropped out of music for ages. I was just working, surfing, traveling, surfing…and then when I came to Hossegor I met the other guys. But when I was fifteen my priority was just skateboarding like eight hours a day and surfing on the weekends, so back then I’d probably have just wanted to be a professional skateboarder. I was all about jumping off as many stairs as I could…
What are your favourite inheritance tracks (i.e. a track that was passed on to you, and a track you’d most like to pass on to others)?
That’s quite a hard one! A song I remember my dad passing onto me is Bob Dylan’s '115th Dream' – it’s this amazing long folk ballad, no chorus that just goes on and on and on about this whole story. My dad said when he was 18 or 19 and on a surf trip, he just remembered driving over this hill. It was the first time he ever went to Byron Bay in Australia, which is quite an iconic surfing place, and he could see this absolutely perfect wave. When we went back there and I was about 14, he put the same song on the stereo and we did the exact same thing. I’ll always remember that – it’s quite an important song that’s been passed down from my old man to me.
If I were to pass on a song, it would be a track called 'How to make gravy' by a guy called Paul Kelly. It’s a really cool song – Kelly is basically the Australian version of Bob Dylan…kind of? The lyrics in it are absolutely amazing, the way he paints pictures with words, the story & the melodies, and you can just see yourself in his situation. It’s basically a letter that a guy has written to his family when he’s in jail at Christmas. The chorus is ‘who’s going to make the gravy?’ because he always used to but now he’s in jail. It’s not very heavy metal and it’s not very rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s a song that stands out in my mind as one of the best I’ve ever heard in my life
Well I’ll definitely be looking that up, you’ve sold it!
If you ruled the world for one day, what would you do?
Oh there’s so many things! I would alleviate poverty and hunger all over the world. If you could take all the money that people spend on useless shit & put it towards something good, that’s all we’d need to do to solve all the world’s problems. If people didn’t buy things they didn’t need and instead gave that money to people in shit situations, I think the whole world would be a different place.
And finally, what’s the one thing you can’t live without?
Short and sweet.
Check out our review of Sunset Sons' show at the O2 Institute, Birmingham (30.03.15) here.
Sunset Sons: Remember, live at Goldcast Festival (official video, 2016)