Smile Politely

Sorting through challenges and amusement with Sunjacket

I had the chance to talk with the members of Sunjacket through email over the last six weeks. This back-and-forth started on September 6 and continued until earlier this week and, I have to say, it was one of the more fun interviews I’ve had the pleasure of conducting. Sunjacket is opening for Grandkids at Mike ‘N Molly’s this Saturday with The Fights and Sleepcomesdown. I don’t see any need to embellish any further. 

Smile Politely: How did you all meet and start making music together? 

Bryan Kveton: Our lineup has snowballed naturally from friendships and previous musical collaborations. Carl Hauck and I went to high school together and I often collaborated with him on his solo material. The two of us met Tricia Scully through music and mutual friends while we were all attending U of I. We talked quite a bit about starting a project during college, but it wasn’t until we were a few years out of college that we started actively trying to make music together. By that time, I’d met drummer Garret Bodette through work, and he joined us after a few rehearsals. It took a while before the four of us became musically acquainted enough to write anything we all liked and agreed on. I think Garret and I started to miss performing, so we joked about the challenge (and amusement) of covering Weezer’s Pinkerton on the side as a two-piece. I later mentioned this idea to bassist Ross Tasch, whom I met in college through our mutual friend, Chris. We knew Chris had talked about hosting a BBQ with bands, so we put together a bill and sweat our way through Pinkerton from start to finish. Shortly after that, we asked Ross to come rehearse with all of us and Sunjacket became a five-piece. 

SP: Great! I have a history with Pinkerton, and a casual BBQ is the perfect setting! 

What are some of the challenges (and benefits) of working with people you are friends with? Ever run into problems or is it even better collaborating with your buddies?

Carl Hauck: I think that one of the biggest challenges—and it’s a challenge for anyone working collaboratively in a band—is that songwriting is deeply personal. Tricia and I both had been writing our own solo music for a while, and because it was solo music, we didn’t really have to answer to anyone. When we were first trying to write music for the band, Tricia, Bryan, and I tried bringing those solo-type songs to the table for the other band members to build around, and it simply wasn’t working. I think everyone was feeling frustrated that the sound wasn’t quite the ideal that we all had floating around in our heads, but we continued to toe a murky line between directness and politeness, and no one really spoke up. It wasn’t until we all had an honest conversation and admitted that we didn’t like what we were creating that we were able to move past that frustration. Luckily, we ended up deciding to forge ahead and talk openly about the sonic identity we wanted to craft instead of throwing in the towel.

Garret Bodette: That led us to try writing from scratch as a group, with no set plan or preconception of what we should be making. “Two Parades” was the first song we tried writing that way, and that process is what ultimately made us realize that we actually could make something we’re all into. It’s difficult writing that way, but it’s the best way to create one cohesive sound instead of five individual sounds playing simultaneously.

SP: How would you describe your cohesive sound? (The formula I use is “It’s like ______ and ______ had a baby that was raised by ______, who only listened to ______.” But use your own words if you like.) 

Bodette: This is definitely always the hardest question to answer. 

In the simplest terms, I’d say we’re a rock band that uses a lot of syncopated rhythms, dark chords, bright melodies, vocal harmonies, dense layering, and textural sounds. So, there’s a lot happening in most of our songs, but there’s also a lot of structure and melody in place to give people an entry point and make things accessible.

I think we’re beginning to find more and more that each time we answer this question it gets sort of reductive to just list bands we’re influenced by. I’m sure some of our influences are obvious and others, not so much. Either way, trying to give people who haven’t heard us a sense of what we sound like by comparing ourselves to stuff that already exists is sort of like telling people what to think about you before they can form an opinion for themselves. It’s always more interesting to have people tell us what they think we sound like because it’s always different and unexpected. I figure they may not have come to those conclusions had we told them what we thought we sounded like before they heard us. 

SP: I respect that, Garret. It’s good to describe a sound or feeling rather than give a list of influences. It really can limit the listener’s first impression to give them “your biggest influence.” 

Where have you toured? Any favorite cities or venues?

Tricia Scully: As of right now, we don’t have any extensive plans to tour beyond the Midwest, since we’re focusing on writing and eventually recording an LP. Chicago is our home, and we’ve had such great experiences playing there so far, so it will probably always be a favorite.

SP: You could pick worse places to hang your hat… 

So what’s the brass ring? A certain venue or festival? High LP sales?

Ross Tasch: There are definitely a few venues we’d still love to play in Chicago (Lincoln Hall, Empty Bottle), but most of our efforts as of late are towards writing and having enough material to record an LP. 

Kveton: Maybe the “brass ring” would be something we can’t necessarily forecast -something we don’t totally have control over. We all have full-time jobs, so earning the attention and stability that would allow us the ability to focus only on music for a while would be exciting. Scary, but exciting. Maybe that would come in the form of a national tour. Maybe it’d be selling 10,000 records in the first week of a future release. We’re a pretty pragmatic bunch, and we realize those successes are rare opportunities for most bands. But, I think we’d be lying if we said they weren’t successes we all wanted or were working towards.

SP: What do you all do to earn your living? How do you pay the rent? Is it related to music or just punching a clock to fund the dream…

Carl Hauck: I just started my fifth year as a high school English teacher.

Tricia Scully: I work at a record distribution company, freelance blog for SEO companies, and take pictures with an event photography company.

Bryan Kveton: I design and develop websites. 

Garret Bodette: I’m a graphic designer. 

Ross Tasch: I work in insurance.

Hauck: That was riveting.

SP: It takes all kinda to make a band! 

I would really like to know what/who your personal inspirations are. Musical inspirations, too, if that speaks to you…

Scully: Gillian Anderson, Alison Cuddy.

Kveton: Personally, I’m pretty inspired by the weather. Musically, I’ve always connected with the way Britt Daniel thinks and talks about creating music. And Kanye West’s continued ability to create music that challenges his listeners has always inspired me too. I’d love to be in a studio with either or both of them, rain or shine.

Hauck: As much as I’m inspired by great songwriters and lyricists, the initial draw for me is when a singer makes sounds that I simply can’t make. I’m technically more influenced by singers who are somewhere in the vicinity of my vocal range, but it’s always a pleasure to listen to vocalists like Nathaniel Rateliff or Tom Waits, since they have the ability to muster up these impossible blends of whiskey and gravel that I can mimic only poorly and only when I have a cold.

Tasch: Yeah, Dana Scully’s pretty B.A.

Bodette: Response to come.

[We’re at September 26 at this point…]

SP: This is growing to be a pretty epic interview! Have we covered touring? Your thoughts on Syria…?

Kveton: Our world news correspondent is currently on vacation. 

Hauck: Probably not in Syria either.

SP: What’s the weirdest thing to happen on the road since we’ve started talking? I love bizarre touring stories.

Hauck: We’ve played outside of Chicago only once prior to the upcoming Champaign show, which means our collection of weird tour stories is pretty limited. But I guess our first out-of-town show had its share of interesting experiences. 

A Michigan band invited us to play their album release show out in Ypsilanti at the beginning of September, and Tricia and I knew a few of the members from when we toured with our solo music a few summers ago. We knew they were cool guys, and it ended up being a really fun show -the bands were great, there was a good audience, and the bar staff was super friendly. But at around 2:30 in the morning, when we were shown the room we’d all be staying in for the night, that’s when things got a little weird. The place looked kind of like Jesse Pinkman’s house circa Season 4 of Breaking Bad, and it smelled very strongly of cat urine. The previous renter had moved out with no warning, so there was no electricity, but they did take the time to run an extension cord from another apartment over to us so that we could charge our phones. So that was nice. The other problem was that there was no bathroom, which wasn’t exactly ideal for five people who had just been hanging out in the bar downstairs. In the end, the guys peed in the utility sink, and Tricia slept in the car and held it all night. It was “only rock ‘n roll,” but we liked it. 

Bryan Kveton: Yeah, we were in a good mood from the show and had a free place to stay so we just laughed it off -just had to move a few bags of empty bottles out of the way before we got comfy.

SP: And that’s why I ask about life on the road.

Thanks, guys! I think we’re set. It’s been a pleasure!

Carl Hauck: P.S. I don’t know if we mentioned it, but feel free to mention that Tricia Scully has played in C-U quite a bit both as a solo act and as a part of the former C-U band Tall Tale; I’ve played down there as a solo act (Carl Hauck) as well; and Bryan Kveton ‘s former band, Butterfly Assassins, played there a handful of times, including at Pygmalion.

SP: Noted. And shared!

Sunjacket: One more thing! Garret just remembered that he never had a response for the inspiration question. So here it is if it’s not too late! 

[On October 21, I got the final final response to the biggest Influences questions. I know you wondered…] 

Garret Bodette: I definitely have plenty of musical inspirations, but one of my biggest inspirations has been my mentor at the graphic design internship [that] I moved to Chicago for. His name is Rick Valicenti and he’s the type of person that just somehow remains excited to make things every day. He’s in his 60’s, but has the energy of someone in their 20’s. He maintains the motivation for creative endeavors that younger people have, but has the experience to navigate the obstacles like uncertainty and lethargy that can come with any creative process, whether it’s design, art, music, etc. I have to remind myself of that outlook sometimes because it’s easy to get discouraged when songs aren’t coming together really fast.

SP: That’s the way to (really) end this interview. Thanks, Garret!


What a delightful group of musicians! Sunjacket is opening for Grandkids this Saturday with Sleepcomesdown and The Fights at Mike N’ Molly’s. This is a great trio of entertainment, folks. You can trust me when I say it’s a bound to be a good time. 

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