Pete Doherty once sang that “there are fewer more distressing sights than that of an English man in a baseball cap”; a rare moment of clarity from the usually addled former Libertine.
Indeed, a similar kind of wince of embarrassment can be invoked when a group hang their hat on the peg marked ‘Americana’ and they’re, well… not from America. Historically, Liverpool has a fine tradition in regards to the output of Americana. However, with its subject matter traditionally skirting around issues such as the long, open road and tales of the mid-West, it’s easy to understand why the majority of Brits have found it difficult to emulate the style.
So when somebody actually does it right, it stands out. Step forward SUNSTACK JONES. The Liverpool-based collective are something of a pre-emptive strike on the inevitably dull British summer, bringing forth songs that stand out like slants of light in a dusty old room. Theirs is a mission to spread a little of what Captain Beefheart would call “that old-time religion”, and you don’t even need to be a perceptive eager beaver to work it out. Their debut LP, Surefire Ways To Sweeten The Mind, produces exactly the emotions that its title implies it will evoke. Their music is so finely rooted in the Americana tradition that listeners with synaesthesia may be bathed in waves of yellow and blue; recollections of a time and place that may or may not have existed.
Defined as a loose-knit collective of “always two, sometimes three, but mostly four, maybe five, musicians,” Christopher Jones (vocals/guitar) deems it “a necessary accident that we were invented. There’s no set format really.” Accident or not, it’s a set-up that allows the group to play to the strengths of their many potential incarnations. Complimented by Lorcan Moriarty (guitar), Australian Daniel Thorne (bass), Richard Jones (drums) and Paul Denheyer (providing “other”), Sunstack Jones provide reasons to be cheerful for Liverpool’s muso crowd.
With tracks like the quick fire and insistent Keep Out Of Trouble, the deep rumble of Santiago and the heavenly Sleep Silent, their debut is a record that will keep you coming back for more and more. Songs such as Country Dust show a different side to the group: the slow, drawn-out guitar work juxtaposed with ethereal vocals that can defy the many superlatives with which we journos are armed.
The group cite a wide array of influences on their sound. Jones namechecks artists such as Ryan Adams, Beachwood Sparks and Mazzy Star: “I can kill a party in seconds flat,” he jokes. Moriarty defines Lee Hazelwood as a “revelation” and praises Kurt Vile as somebody who has steered their sound in a particular direction. They even find time to dip their toes into the waters of the classic blues musicians such as Blind Willie John.
For a group with such obvious talent and determination, their attitude is refreshingly laid-back, eschewing the hyper-intense stance of other bands. “We can basically meander on like this forever. It’s like a secret club,” says Jones. Moriarty is more relaxed still: “Six gigs and an album a year would suit me. That’s ambition for you!”
Not content with solely creating a superb album, Sunstack Jones are also a self-sustaining operation. With the record having been released on their own Mammoth Bell imprint, it’s a reassuring sign for others that both business and pleasure can be mixed in an industry that has seen the usual model tilted on its axis. “The label name had been knocking around in my head for a few years,” says Moriarty. “It was meant to be my heavy side project that just never materialised. The self-release came about because it was just easier to keep up the momentum if we put it out ourselves.” Moriarty has been burned by the industry and its’ wanton hesitation in the past. “I’ve been signed before, and after recording the album the label sat on it for 18 months before releasing it. By the time it came out, we were bored to death of playing it.”
Of course, there are problems inherent in going it alone, as many others can attest to. Jones is keen to point out that they still need the backing of labels and their money: “I’d rather someone else be paying for everything and marketing it. I think marketing is the big thing. We’ve all got boxes of records under the bed; how do we get them into people’s houses?” A fine point well made, but as the old adage goes, ‘the truth will out’, and you can’t help but feel that given time, attention and yes, just a little dash of luck, Sunstack Jones will be granted their spell in the sun.