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Q&A: Solar Temple Suicides On Fears, SCarey Studios, and the Japanese Nuclear Disaster

June 6, 2011

The first instrumental element you’ll take real note of in a Solar Temple Suicides song is the bass. It’s not shy, that bass. It’s prominent in the mix: bold, booming, probing, a sweet, mellow groundswell carrying the rest of this Baltimore-based group’s earthenware psychedelic grooves on its muscular back like an enormous, oversized tortoise, lending heavy-metal weight and quicksand-like torpor to engorged music to take drugs to, a grounded counterpoint to the effect-drenched guitar leads that drift overhead like irradiated cumulus cloudbanks.

All of this, and the smeared, spectral vocals and pounding stickwork, helped make debut Sentinels of the Heliosphere (Sleepy Records) one of 2010’s finest Baltimore stoner slabs. In an April e-mail interview, the first-name-only members of Solar Temple Suicides–Jon on lead vocals and guitars, Mike on drums and percussion, and bassist Scott–took a few moments to answer City Paper’s questions about their origins and what they’re most afraid of.

City Paper: One thing I like a lot about Sentinels of the Heliosphere is how it doesn’t go too far toward any one extreme–by which I mean that it isn’t especially languid, but it’s not exceedingly hurrying; it isn’t crazily diffuse, but at the same time it’s not out to crush the listener; it’s engrossing but it’s not going to carry one out to sea, unless perhaps one is already altered. More Dead Meadow than, say, Spacemen 3, without a wimpy folk-psych feel, as has recently been in vogue. Was this intentional, or just how things wound up playing out?

Mike: That’s a really fantastic way of describing the album.

Jon: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m glad that people think that.

Mike: I’m glad we don’t have a wimpy folk-psych feel.

Jon: Before we actually started playing music together I guess we were sort of more like, “Yeah, let’s be a shoegaze band,” but then once we actually started playing music–I mean, we’re all into a lot more music than just shoegaze. So like all the other shit that we listen to sort of filters in as well.

City Paper: How did Solar Temple Suicides come into being, and what inspired the name?

Mike: Well, I was at a party and I was really stoned and I heard somebody say something about My Bloody Valentine. And I said, “Well I like ‘em, too.” And that was pretty much how the band started.

Jon: I’ve done a lot of different projects over the years and I’ve been really into this kind of music for the past like five or 10 years and never really did anything along these lines. And I found someone else who wanted to be in a band and do this kinda stuff.

Scott: So the conversation between Jon and Mike happened first. That was when me and Jon were in this sort of neo-folk project, and he asked if I wanted to be in a shoegaze band. And I was just like: “Yes.” Jon came up with the name.

Jon: We needed a name. When I’m at my day job, I do a lot of procrastination by Wikipedia. I don’t know what exactly started me on that particular topic, but I ended up reading an article on Wikipedia about the Solar Temple cult.

Mike: We were going by Solar Temple for a while.

Jon: Until we discovered there were like 80 million other bands with that name.

Scott: And also a masked Mexican wrestling team.

Mike: So Greg suggested we throw something else in, and we went with suicides.

Jon: But I guess I like it for a couple reasons. I guess bizarre cults and bizarre instances of murder are kind of interesting to me. But then it also had the spacey connection with the whole them trying to get to Sirius, and all that. I also kind of liked the sort of sideways reference to Brian Jonestown Massacre. I mean, that wasn’t intentional.

City Paper: You guys are among many, many bands appearing on Patetico Records Rock Back for Japan comp. Do you remember where you were when you heard about the disaster there, and what you felt?

Mike: Tom Lugo, from Stellarscope and Panaphonic, and he also owns Patetico Records, he sent me an e-mail asking if we were interested in being part of it. And I told him, “Yeah, of course, no problem.” And I didn’t realize how big he was making it. I mean, I think we’re on like the seventh volume and he might even do eight. So that’s how we got involved with that. It’s really awesome to be on a compilation with all of these bands and it being a benefit thing.

Jon: I mean, obviously sadness and sympathy, but I can’t even imagine like what that must be like. It’s hard for the brain to even process something like that.

Mike: The first thing you heard about was the earthquake, and then you heard about this other stuff, and then you heard about the tsunami, and then you heard about all these other things. I mean, it’s ridiculous.

Scott: Well, I was up late as I usually am on the internet and a friend of mine posted that terrible things were happening in Japan, and I looked it up online and I basically watched it live on Al Jazeera English on their YouTube channel. It was really, really strange. It was very surreal and it made me think of when I was down in New Orleans a year after Katrina. It was just when they were starting to clean up the houses and I was six blocks away from one of the main levee breaks that took out the lower Ninth Ward. I would just like walk down the street across the bridge and there were no houses, and on the way there, we were on an ever so slight incline and you go a few blocks down our street and all the houses were abandoned and people’s possessions [were everywhere]. So it made me think of all that, how it was so many times worse than Katrina.

City Paper: According to the biography on the Solar Temple Suicides site, the now-defunct SCarey Studios plays a key role in the band’s origins. Set the scene for us; what was the vibe, the energy like there? Were you able to carry it over into your next practice space?

Jon: I may have had more of an attachment to SCarey Studios than the other guys. Possibly because I sunk more money into it than anyone else. That was a very interesting and, in a way, important period in my life, trying to run that place.

Mike: I think it was pretty important with us, just in terms of the chaotic aspect of what was going on there. We never really got through a full practice there. I mean, it was really insane over there.

Scott: It was originally a small alleyway row house, the kind you have in Baltimore city. The little tiny ones; you know, the servants would live in the alleyway in a tiny little row house. And over the decades, it had additions put onto it to turn it into an industrial space. So in the end, it was this tiny, just rotted, decayed row house with the back wall cut out, with a large room behind it. And then you’d go to the right and there was a giant warehouse, almost the entire length of the block. It wasn’t giant for a warehouse, but it was giant compared to the tiny row house. This huge, empty space that had been disused for, like, 15 years. Before that it was a machine shop, and before that it was god knows what.

Jon: Well, we know it was probably a chop-shop at some point because we found all those license plates stuffed in the wall.

Mike: I mean, it was literally falling down around us.

Scott: You could see through the walls, like through the gaps between the bricks in the walls. It was amazing.

Jon: Me and my roommate and partner in Hexpseak, Walter Carpenter, we had kinda been talking about trying to do some kind of warehouse space for a while. One thing Walter and I kind of had in common was that we both had a lot of ideas and a lot of ideas that sounded like really good ideas, but they never actually happened. We’d been talking about getting a warehouse space and then we were having shows and stuff at our actual house, and the cops kept coming cause our one neighbor was a cunt, so we decided to, like, actually get off our butts and find a warehouse space. This place was pretty cheap and then I guess that sort of coincided with the founding of this band.

So I was like, “Hey, Walter and I are trying to get this space, you guys in on having it as a practice space and run shows there and stuff?” And so they were in.

Mike: One band that always sticks out to me though, of having a show there, was Mahjongg.

Jon: Yeah, Mahjongg was fucking great. We had a lot of good acts. We had a lot of noise acts, pretty much anything that any person who was involved with it, that felt like booking got booked. The people of the neighborhood really kinda added to the flavor there.

Mike: Oh, you mean the junkies.

Jon: The junkies and the car wash and the car wash employees. I mean, the junkies were your run of the mill Baltimore junkies and you can imagine everything that might go along with that.

Mike: I think we sang happy birthday to the same woman like four times in a month.

Jon: Basically, in the end though, because it was a garage in the middle of an actual neighborhood–

Scott: –where people lived, who had to get up for work in morning.

Jon: So yeah, we were getting the cops called on us. . .

Mike: Every single time.

Jon: Maybe not every single time. But pretty often.

Scott: Yeah, our budget did not allow for real sound proofing and you could hear a show three blocks away.

City Paper: What’s “Close Your Eyes” about? Every time I listen to it, I imagine a bunch of people following their opiate-influenced bliss in a mammoth Holiday Inn suite.

Jon: I kinda wish what you’re saying [that] was what it’s about. It is, as far too many songs are, about an ex-girlfriend. To give the short version, it was a long time ago and I thought she was going to be like “the one.” Had a messy breakup and didn’t talk for a while, and then, you know, after brains had calmed down and whatnot, we became pretty good friends–actually really good friends for a while there. I guess we all kinda deal with the difficulties of life in different ways. For whatever reason, she just sorta started losing touch with reality in a way. And I mean, it was kind of sad, really. She’d be all boasting about stuff and then sort of like delusions of grandeur and then but also delusions of persecution. It was kinda sad to see her go off the deep end.

Mike: Slowly degrade.

Jon: I think there is still that really great person inside her somewhere, but I don’t know whether she’s just not willing to let it out or whatever. And I guess that’s what inspired the song, but also I was following that trope of like the garage-rock song about a crazy woman.

Mike: When we first wrote this song, we wrote it as a three piece, and we wrote it really fast. It was actually a faster song.

Jon: Yeah, that’s true. We cut the tempo down a lot.

Mike: I mean, I definitely think that it has that good bite of melancholy that we happen to infuse a lot of our stuff with. And I think that song has it as well.

City Paper: What is your biggest fear?

Scott: I’m thinking maybe we should answer this one flippantly. I’m going to say: video games coming to life and killing us all. Actually, that’s not very good. Penguins are my biggest fear. But only big ones. Emperor penguins are huge.

Jon: I guess my biggest fear changes from circumstance to circumstance. Sometimes thinking I’m never going to be happy. Sometimes it’s thinking I’m always gonna be lonely or sometimes it’s, like, “Oh this job is gonna go on forever.” I guess depends on, you know, what’s going on at the time. Although, I guess like dying slowly and painfully is. . .

Mike: There was this commercial where this guy’s in a shark cage and there’s sharks all around, and then somehow the cage gets snapped off or something, and the last shot of the commercial is like him sinking into the dark of the ocean. That’s my biggest fear. But at the same time, there’s a lot of movies that have that style of imagery and really, I’m always drawn to that. Even though I’ve had nightmares like that.

Jon: I’m glad I’m not drawn to movies of 90 year olds shitting themselves.

Mike: Scott is, though.

Scott: I like Eraserhead. I don’t know if that counts.

Mike: But I guess it’s the helplessness of the situation. You’re fucked. There’s nothing you can do.

Jon: Which I guess is like essentially the same issue as my thing. We can agree: two thirds of us at least are afraid of helplessness.

Mike: But I also find some of those scenes very calming, cause there must be that zen moment. And that’s terrifying and incredibly intriguing to me.

Solar Temple Suicides play the Ottobar June 6.


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