It's late in London and the Sundays' David Gavurin and Harriet Wheeler have
just convinced their 2-year-old daughter Billie to sleep. It's been a long night for
the couple, full of all the unexpected twists and turns of parenting.
They even had to pass up a photo shoot because they couldn't find a baby sitter
for Billie. There are more important things than music, after all.
After a five year hiatus that saw them fall from public consciousness, the
quartet's long-awaited third album Static & Silence(Geffen), the first
since 1992's Blind, has finally made it to the presses. Now it's time to talk
about where they've been and what has come of their music over the years.
Sitting by a speakerphone from across the Atlantic, they follow-up each other's
points and finish each other's sentences -- that is, when the garrulous Gavurin
pauses for a breath.
"It used to be the case that we'd finish the music before we'd even write the
melody line on top of it," Gavurin says. "And last of all we'd do the lyrics.
But on this album, the melodies came up as the initial idea came up. It felt
like a less clinical process. It made for a more direct-sounding album. We kind
of wanted it to be quite natural, so the effect is..."
"More human," Wheeler interjects. "And this time we used all live drums. We
recorded virtually all of it in our little studio, but to record the drums we
had to go to a big studio. Drums don't make for real happy neighbors."
Since the Sundays have been out of the public eye for some time, the new
album will reintroduce, and in some cases introduce, many to the band.
Longtime fans will find it instantly familiar: offering the same brand of
shimmering, strikingly melodic, acoustic-electric pop as offered on the first two
releases. Gavurin allows that some listeners will find it too similar even.
"It wouldn't surprise me if people said it sounded exactly the same -- or if
people said it sounded totally different," he says.
But there are real differences. Real horns and strings on a couple of tracks,
and -- more significantly -- a more organic feel that likely comes from the way it
was written and recorded: at home in the couple's small recording studio. "The
album feels less lightly poppy than the first two," Gavurin says. "It's
more mature. You don't imagine a 17-year-old band wrote the songs."
Though Static & Silence is only the group's third release, the Sundays
have been together since 1988. Gavurin and Wheeler met at Bristol University
and formed the group that year with bassist Paul Brindley and drummer Patrick
On the basis of the band's first album, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic,
and its hit single, "Here's Where the Story Ends," Britain tagged the band as the
next big thing. But the Sundays' low public profile and meager recorded output
have caused public consciousness to slip and rumors to surface that the band
had dissolved. "It's not really something we've lost a lot of sleep over," she
says, adding that she and her husband put the band on hiatus for a year after
their 1993 tour simply to break up the monotony.
"I don't mean to say that we're not ambitious," Gavurin says. "We're happy with
how many records we've sold, and we'd like to reach more people -- but not at
the cost of who we are. If this record gets a good response, I'm sure we'll be
very pleased. But we'll never put out something we didn't believe in just to
have something in the marketplace."
"It'd be much worse," Wheeler says, "to put out an album that you don't believe
in. If we don't get a good response to this one, we'll be upset, but at least we
know that we acquitted ourselves well."
A good deal of why the songwriters say they are happy with Static &
Silence is the album's lyrics. At 34, they wanted to express thoughts that
were more profound, less juvenile. "The album is less youthful," Gavurin says.
"It's less quirky and jokey than the first album; that one was more stream-of-
consciousness. The new one is more poetic. We took a lot of time over the
lyrics. They're hopefully evocative, express a mood, express feelings. The
essence of the first album was sort of..."
"Flippant," Wheeler finishes.
The couple says they were not looking to get a message out to the world. They
have no story to tell. They just wanted to make good evocative music, Gavurin
says. "It's not pages torn out of a diary. It's not autobiographical for either of us.
It's just moods and feelings. That's what moves us when we're listening to
Drawing inspiration from some of the classics, they cite Joni Mitchell's landmark
1976 Hejira album as an influence. "I think we're going to have to update
our CD collection!" Wheeler laughs. "The things in the CD player most often
lately are Fred Astaire, some very weird French film themes from the 1960s, and
quite a lot of Frank Sinatra."
That doesn't mean there isn't something new in their sound though. Wheeler
admits to liking "a lot of trance music, ambient dance music," especially when
"We do follow the pop world very closely," Gavurin says, "but as you're working
on a record, you become very immersed in details, so it's hard to just listen to
new pop music without being too intense about it."
Gavurin adds, "I can write songs like the Prodigy!"
A tour is tentatively planned to support Static & Silence and Wheeler
says the Sundays will play a dozen or so U.S. dates before the end of the year.
But one question remains: How to handle Billie on the road. "I don't think either
of us are attracted to the idea of having a rock 'n' roll kid," Wheeler says. "So
we will take her, but we'll take a nanny as well."
"If (Billie) wants to come at all, she's got to prove herself," Gavurin quips. "We're
auditioning her these next few months." [Thurs., Sept.
4, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]