you resource for all things shoegaze & dream pop.

15 March 2017

INTERVIEW: Sugar Candy Mountain.

One of my happiest first encounters of 2016 was discovering California’s Sugar Candy Mountain. First came the droll and intriguing videos for “Eye on You” and “Windows” from the project’s third and most recent LP, the delightful and engrossing 666. (We posted “Windows” here.) From there, I hopped over to a clip of the title track being performed live at the Echoplex (embedded below). Amidst the appealing sound the band conjured with ease, Ash Reiter’s performance as front person—her low-key charisma and understated charm creating instant sparkle whenever she took the mic—riveted my attention and clinched my status as a fan of the project. I quickly got hold of 666 and, soon after, the two previous full-lengths, finding them all impressive and enchanting.

Formed in Oakland, California and recently relocated to Los Angeles, Sugar Candy Mountain centers on the songwriting collaboration of drummer Will Halsey and guitarist Ash Reiter, who share vocal duties. Completing the live lineup are Sam Faw on bass and Peter Maffei on keys and second guitar.

The project’s self-titled debut came out in 2011 and is still available digitally and on cassette. Sugar Candy Mountain is an offering of fanciful, lighthearted indie pop that lets Beatles, Beach Boys, and other vintage influences shine forth unabashedly through a set of tracks that nonetheless shimmer with their own consistent, keyboard-centric sound—lush while lo-fi, with delicious synth effects accenting and bridging the songs. On this first outing Will and Ash’s considerable gifts for pop craft are already in full evidence, bestowing every single one of fourteen tracks with tuneful melodies that glisten effortlessly across balanced pop structures. Side Two pleasantly surprises by busting out with several drum unit-enabled dance grooves.

The follow-up, Mystic Hits, came out on cassette, vinyl, and CD (as well as digitally) from Royal Oakie in 2013. The production values are somewhat higher, with an effervescent overall sound and feel likely to please fans of Tame Impala. Trippy sonic excursions and apt but unanticipated contrasts punctuate songs that flow one into the next in a way that suggests larger narrative structures, making Mystic Hits something of a progressive pop odyssey without at all weighing down its sparkle and lightness of step.
With 2016 full-length 666also available across the full range of formatsSugar Candy Mountain’s sound shifts somewhat, crystallizing beautifully with a distinct new signature. Guitar for the first time becomes consistently more prominent in the overall sound than keyboards, and Ash’s vocal performances become front and center as she takes lead duties on all but one or two tracks and as instrumental junkets are trimmed back. Sonic atmospheres resembling those of Broadcast are here pressed a bit more tightly into service of pop structures than was generally the case with Broadcast itself—much like what Melody Prochet and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker achieved on 2012’s self-titled release as Melody’s Echo Chamber (a project we’re still holding out hope of hearing more from). The result is an utterly beguiling album of glittering dream pop.

Sugar Candy Mountain’s lyrics are excellent across all three albums. Word and melody are seamlessly suited to one other in the manner of truly fine pop. The lyrics attract and reward interest and attention without inducing cringes of the kind that can crimp my enjoyment of so much otherwise good current material in the realms of shoegaze, dream pop, and psychedelia. The content is whimsical and lighthearted, with humor that can be agreeably sardonic. Check out “Eye On You” from 666, which acknowledges the voyeuristic undertow of social media while pointing out how platforms of ostensible connection also offer ways of holding our distance from one another: 

           Far is a long long way to run from
Near, well it’s just to close for comfort
I’ve got my eye, I’ve got my eye on you
You know you’ve been watching me too

…too many pictures, I couldn’t help but stare…

You’re just a fiber optic cable away
3000 miles or more, well, I like to keep my space.

Pith and irony are balanced in Sugar Candy Mountain’s songs by what I read as spirituality, a sense of magic and mystery that sprinkles the band’s work with just the sort of cosmic twinkle that an album title like Mystic Hits suggests. By way of this sense, the band’s lyrics at times alight nimbly on the profound. “Star Baby”, the opening track of the first album, begins with whooshing synth sounds evoking the arrival of a spaceship, followed by these lines:

Star Baby doesn’t know what love is
You gotta show her how
Star Baby doesn’t know what love is
Love is now
She’s got a lot to learn,
Still she can teach you
How to turn your antenna on
See the world around you…

Meanwhile, a chorus reprised on 666 celebrates the Heraclitean flow: “All that you touch, you change / All that you change, it changes you too.”

Sugar Candy Mountain’s 2017 European Tour commences as of this posting (dates below). We at WTSH wish Will and Ash and their bandmates great success and deeply appreciate the patience and availabiltiy required of them in the crafting of this interview.

(Note: all lyrics above are unofficial.)

▲▲▲    ▲▲▲

Can you tell us what the band has been working on and what you've got forthcoming in the near future (new releases, tour, etc.)?

Will: We just tracked about half of our next album at Palmetto Recording Studio with Jason Quever of Papercuts. We had a lot of fun and are comfortable working with Jason as he recorded and played on most of 666. We'll continue recording and go on a West Coast Tour with Kikagaku Moyo after our European tour.

Ash: We are also hosting our fifth annual music festival, Hickey Fest, June 16th-18th. Hickey Fest is a three-day independent music festival featuring twenty-five bands, community campgrounds, psychedelic projections and other relaxing adventures held in Leggett, California in Mendocino County, just three hours north of the Bay Area. It's named after Standish Hickey State Park, where the South Fork of the Eel River shimmers against a backdrop of majestic redwoods. Shannon and The Clams, Boogarins, and Mr. Elevator & The Brain Hotel are a few of the bands confirmed to play this year's festival.

Do you consider your music to be part of the current shoegaze/dream pop scene, or any scene? Defining one's sound by genre can be tiresome, but do you feel that the band identifies closely with any genre? How do you feel about genres in music, in a general sense?

Ash: I feel it's better to identify with a region and group of musicians and bands. We are a California band. I
f you look at the past line ups of Hickey Fest, that's our tribe. Our fellow musician friends and influences include: Kacey Johansing, The Blank Tapes, fpod bpod, Assateague, Indianna Hale, The Range of Light Wilderness, Papercuts, Sparrows Gate, Dreamphases, Annie Girl and The Flight, Everyone Is Dirty, Vetiver, Psychic Jiu Jitsu, The Electric Magpie, Flaural, Magic Leaves, Big Search and surely twenty more that I will feel terrible later for forgetting. These are our friends and who we make a point to go out and see each week and support. That is the only genre I need.

What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia artists, any favorites?

Ash: I don't have too much patience for the really jammy or super repetitive driving stuff. However there are a lot favorites who fit the bill: Holy Wave, Chris Cohen, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Flaural, Rotten Mangos, The Electric Magpie and Connan Mockasin.

What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps that you prefer?

Ash: I really love my 1963 Gretsch Corvette. With its broken pick guard and little scratches and imperfections it fits me perfectly.
Will: Ash has an awesome pedal board. When we are producing our songs I can always find a cool new sound. I love my drum kit too. I recently got an old Slingerland kit from Revival Music Shop in Portland.

How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? There is no doubt a massive change underway. How do you see it and do you feel it’s positive at all?
Ash: I'm not making music to be part of an industry. All that stuff is secondary to writing, producing, performing and recording. There are still great bands and there always will be no matter what's happening with the industry.

When it comes to label releases versus DIY/Bandcamp and the like, what is your stance, if any?
Will: Being part of a label can be cool if the label establishes a distinct aesthetic and stamp of quality with its artist roster.

Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or mp3 format when listening to music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?

Ash: Vinyl of course feels the most magical but I often find myself streaming music because I really want to hear a specific song or album. This summer I was able to listen to the new Mild High Club single from the peak of a mountain overlooking Big Bear Lake
I couldn't have done that on vinyl.

Will: All the formats you mentioned are useful and have their charms. We also listen to a lot of Reverberation Radio. It's a weekly podcast from the guys in Allah-Las. It feels like old fashioned radio in a way because the music is coming to you from DJs you trust unlike a lot of commercial radio today.

What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?

Ash: I learned to sing and express myself listening to Billie Holiday, Mirah, Jolie Holland and my good friend Indianna Hale; I learned to push the limits of creativity and production from The Beatles and Os Mutantes; and I learned how to perform watching the candid ease of The Blow and Chuck Prophet. I still need to learn to dance.

Can you tell us a little about what you are currently into (books, films, art, bands, etc.)?

Ash: I get a lot from reading
it always helps inspire me to write. Authors I find myself returning to again and again are the novelists Haruki Murakami, Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood; and the poets Lyn Hejinian and Charles Baudelaire.

Will: We love the art of Jess Willa Wheaton, an old high school friend of Ash's whose wedding we just attended in Manhattan's Marble Cemetery. We used her artwork for Mystic Hits, 666 and a limited release 7-inch single with our cover of The Zombies' "Beechwood Park". We plan to continue working with her for future releases.

Can you tell us a little about the band’s song writing process?

Will: We write a lot outdoors or during our travels. There are places by the Russian River and Crockett, California that have been particularly inspiring. "Time", "Tired" and "Windows" were written in Italy.