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That One Song

This Week: Sundials, “Neighborhood Well”

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Band monogamy is overrated. When they're not creating do-it-yourself-inspired pop-punk as Sundials, Carl Athey, Harris Mendell and Cory Chubb give their attention to Drunk Hugs, Hold Tight! and the Charlottesville-based St. Gods, respectively. Performing with multiple groups seems to fuel the trio's gusto rather than deplete it, and our local scene reaps the musical rewards.

      
Style Weekly: Tell us about that one song …
      
Harris Mendell: “Neighborhood Well” is basically about dealing with insecurities that prevent you from talking to people you are in love with, but barely know. It's a general feeling that comes and goes, but will probably continue for life. It's a love song, mid-tempo, very melodic.
      
I always kind of knew I wanted the song to be the beginning of a band, but I was playing it in my solo project (Horn & Tusk). I never recorded it (solo) and now it's on our first EP.

How do you take an acoustic song and bring it into a band setting?
    
Mendell: A lot of the arrangements and a lot of the songwriting elements are very similar.
    
Cory Chubb: They transfer really well.
    
Mendell: I had some ideas, but the nice thing about Sundials is we each bring our own thing to the table. Carl made up some cool bass lines and Corey knew what he wanted to do on drums. I had some ideas (for filling out the song), but for the most part we all put our own thing into it.
    
Chubb: Harris did a demo for “Names That Matter Most” (which also started as an acoustic song).
     
Mendell: That was different. I had demoed it on garage band with fake drums. I programmed the whole thing and it's really dorky sounding. That was the first song I showed them where I said this is the kind of music I want to play. We started off with the idea of playing punk rock, but having it inspired by the 90's alternative indie-rock bands. Like The Lemonheads and Superchunk, but more DIY punk. 
     
Who is your 90's doppelganger?
     
Mendell: I want to say Husker Du, but they were more 80's. In Corey's drumming, you can tell he listens to a lot of Husker Du.
     
Chubb: That would be my main influence.
     
Mendell: When the band was starting all I was listening to was The Lemonheads. We don't sound like them though.
     
Carl Athey: We're a mixed bag.
     
How do you feel about the noise ordinance?
     
Mendell: I think that it's awful. I read the whole thing two days ago and I was trying to find loopholes in it. If it's enforced, it could completely destroy what we have in terms of DIY venues. Anywhere without a permit is not going to be able to have shows and if they do have shows, they risk jail time. Six months in jail. It's going to take kids being accused of a noise violation and spending that time in jail or being fined. It's going to take people getting to that point for everyone in the city to say, “Hey, this is a really bad idea.”
      
Athey: I feel that this ordinance is not that much different from the old one. It just sets in stone the punishments more. And there's the whole daytime ordinance now too, which is really weird. But, the fifty feet thing has always been enforced. When we were trying to run the Tinderbox (art space), we were getting noise complaints. In that sense, not a whole lot is going to change because house shows are always getting shut down. DIY venues always have issues with noise complaints. Now there's just more concrete punishment for it. It's the same ridiculous stance this city has had on grassroots arts and music ever since I moved here. The policymakers at city hall do not support local arts at all. There's an incredible community here of artists, but there's not been a single moment where I felt the city understood the grassroots arts community or were willing to support it in any way. They don't see all of the good that can come out of it.
      
Mendell: On a side note, there's exceptions for religions, including the playing of instruments, singing, and music. So, I think we should start a DIY religion.
      
Athey: The church of rock ‘n roll.
      
Mendell: I'm thinking the church of the force, a Star Wars based religion. My house is the church, we'll have the concerts, and we'll have the permits.
      
How can we get the city to support the arts and music scene more?
      
Athey: People need to start writing to their city council members. They answer to us and I don't think anybody is speaking up about it in a meaningful way. Obviously there's a lot of anger and a lot of activism. For example, when CAPS got going, people made themselves heard more. We need to directly let these people know how we feel.
      
Mendell: There's a lot of people who care about this.
      
Athey: Politicians are supposed to work for the common citizens. Their job is not to sit there and make laws they want to make, for the hell of it. It's to make laws based on the interests of the people. So people need to make it clear that they want arts in this town, they want to build this arts community up, and they need city support.
      
Mendell: The vote was 5-4, which means not all of the council members are behind this. Some of them were furious about it. There are districts that may be more vocal, but the fact that it passed at all was completely ridiculous.
      
Athey: Young people need to be less apathetic, because there's a ton of us. The 18-24 age group in Richmond doesn't get out and vote. They don't do it in state elections and they don't do it in national elections. But, they sit around and complain a lot. People need to get motivated and take responsibility.
      
Mendell: If they did, they'd have a lot of power.
     
Do you prefer house shows or club shows?
     
Mendell: House shows. Not even remotely comparable.
     
Athey: Without a doubt, house shows.
      
If we were to get city support and there were more music clubs, how could you maintain the DIY nature of punk rock?
      
Mendell: It depends on how the club is run. As long as the focus of the club is on the music and not on making a profit, then it is in the realm of DIY and punk rock. But, that is very difficult to balance with paying your rent. That's where stuff gets complicated.
      
Athey: It's extremely difficult to run an art space or non-profit, but there is interest out there.  It could happen, it could work. There's been a number of venues that tried to get off the ground and I think they would have, if they had the city support and they were run with the right ethos.
      
What's the funniest thing you've ever done on stage?
     
Chubb: Harris drank a bottle of wine before a show in DC.
     
Athey: He told like five jokes incorrectly.
     
Mendell: And two of them were the same joke.
     
Athey: He put his capo on the wrong fret. He would put his capo on so it was bending a string completely and he was wondering why it was off. He told me to tune for him.
     
Chubb: Also, we were playing in Greensboro…
     
Mendell: Yes, this is the one!
     
Athey: We had asked a friend if we could come down and play and he was like, “Funny enough, Cough, who is from Richmond, also needs a show that day. So, I'm going to put you on the same bill as Cough.” Even though they're from Richmond, we didn't know each other at all.
      
Mendell: For those who don't know, Cough is an extremely heavy, extremely loud, sludgey stoner-influenced metal band.
      
Athey: Every other band on the show (was heavy), no one sounded remotely close to us. There was a d-beat crust band called No Tomorrow. Torch Runner, this thrash-grindey, post-hardcore band played.
      
Chubb: So we were like, “This is going to be fun.” We would have gone to talk to Cough, but none of us knew who was in the band, even though they're from Richmond.  We went on first, and Carl thought it would be real funny…
      
Athey: Harris had to tune his guitar in the middle of the set. It was a little break, so to fill the silence, I thanked Cough for taking us on tour with them.
      
Chubb: It did not go over well.
      
Mendell: Nobody said anything or laughed or anything.
      
Athey: There was fifty or sixty people in the room and it was just silent.
    
 Mendell: After the set, Corey went up to the show promoter and said, “That didn't go over so well did it?” And the promoter was like, “No, no it did not.”
     
Athey: We asked if he thought Cough was going to say anything in response during their set. He said, “It'd be a really good sign if they did. That being said…no.”
     
Chubb: We talked to Cough all about it and they were really cool. They were joking around with us after the show.
      
Mendell: One of them shook my hand and said, “It's been a pleasure working with you.”

Now that it's getting warm, what will you be doing this summer?
     
Mendell: Going to the river. It's one of the best things about the city.
      
Chubb: The river. Hanging out on front stoops. We're also thinking about getting a team together and challenging Charlottesville kids.
      
Athey: A Richmond-Charlottesville interdisciplinary league. I was driving the other day and we saw kids playing quidditch in the park by Randolph pool. You know, the Harry Potter game? There were kids running around with house brooms between their legs, throwing a nerf ball. They had hoops set up to throw the balls through. We parked the car because we couldn't drive anymore, we were laughing so hard. I think we could beat Charlottesville in quidditch.
       
Your demo is available for download. Will you be putting a CD out?
       
Mendell: The six songs are up on ifyoumakeit.com, which is a really cool website that a guy in Brooklyn runs. They do live videos of bands. They do this thing called The Pink Couch Sessions, where they record electric bands acoustically, on a pink couch. We're planning to do the same six songs, with the same artwork, on cassette tapes.
       
Athey: Then, we're going back in the studio to record eight or nine new songs at the first of April.
      
Mendell: Those songs will be on a ten-inch record, come August. Also, our seven-inch will be out next week. We're self-releasing it on a label we started called Impermanent Records.
      
What is your favorite booty jam?
      
Athey: Anything by Al Green.
      
Mendell: If I don't answer right now, I'll seriously regret it.
      
Athey: Also, that album that “Amish Paradise” was on, by Weird Al (Yankovic). Bad Hair Day, that whole album is really good. I've found it sets the tone nicely.
      
Mendell: If we want to go even more embarrassing, what's Hilary Duff's brother's band's name?
      
Chubb: Metro Station.
      
Mendell: There's that song that goes, “shake, shake, shake it.” Every time I hear it, I hate myself for how much I like it.

Sundials will play April 7 at Gallery 5 with Screaming Females, Antlers, and The Two Funerals. Doors are at 7pm and admission is $5.

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