Brooklyn progressive sludge trio SOMNURI know a lot about overcoming obstacles, as witnessed on their sophomore full-length. Recorded pre-pandemic, placed in somewhat of a forced hibernation for 2020, this Summer will find the threesome decimating eardrums upon the June release of Nefarious Wave.
RIDING THE WAVE
Interview with Justin Sherrell [Vocals, Guitars] and Phil SanGiacomo [Drums] of SOMNURI
Interview By: Lord Randall
Rebel Extravaganza: Your bio mentions “The strength of will to survive in New York” being a reason for the heaviness found in what SOMNURI does. These days, that’s anywhere, right? Being from Detroit, there’s obviously a lot of pride in the working class, the scruffiness, the tenacity it takes just to wake up, go through the day and fall asleep, knowing that – for a lot of the people there – tomorrow’s going to look exactly like yesterday. Still and all, we’ve seen those deserted Times Square images from when the lockdown first started, and it was chilling. What was it like in those days, seeing the “city that never sleeps”, if not grind to a halt, at least go into hibernation? Do you see it coming back now, slowly?
Justin: Yeah, for sure. I think NYC is just a little chunk of the band’s DNA, certainly not as significant as who we are as individuals or our combined experiences and what we’ve all been through. But just waking up everyday knowing that you’ve got to grind just to maintain whatever it is you do. Everything is expensive and there are people everywhere fighting for their place. Most of the time it does feel like if you’re not busy, not hustling, then what the fuck are you doing here? I think it’s those things that pave the way for a heavy approach to our music.
To me, it’s the grime, desperation, angst and in general, over-stimulation. You’re a product of your environment. Last summer it did feel like things were slowly coming back. Bars and restaurants were opening back up, which was kinda cool for a bit. Businesses were forced to get creative and build outdoor seating in the streets, anything to stay afloat. But there’s just so many places that will never return, that really sucks to see. Now there seems to be a trickle of places opening back up again, and staying open regular hours. Hopefully venues are next.
RX: Back at the start, you had a…let’s say…interesting fundraising campaign for the debut. Tell us a bit about that…
J: You got a lot of cops reading Rebel Extravaganza?! Kidding…kind of. Well, long story short I was working at a shitty bar for shitty owners in a shit neighborhood when a friend of mine basically said, “I got a pal with this weed delivery service, they’re looking for riders. Your job sucks, you should do it”. It was right around Thanksgiving and I guess people kinda stop riding in the winter months because it’s cold and gnarly. So that was my opportunity to get out of that super shitty bar and try something new. It was shady at first, but after a couple months, I got used to it and it was quite enjoyable. The money wasn’t bad either and it certainly helped us off the ground initially.
I got to meet a lot of eclectic people, see some unreal homes, and had a number of wild interactions that I’ll never forget! A few years later, I had seen that show High Maintenance. It’s super accurate, well done. So yeah, gotta make ends meet any way you can in this city.
RX: So, 4 years from the debut until now. How has the band morphed during that time, and do you feel you’ve reached some sort of symbiosis, in that whatever comes out of you three will simply “be” SOMNURI, individual influences notwithstanding?
Phil: We rarely even talk about influences, all ideas and energies are welcome. When an idea feels genuine and we all lose ourselves playing it in the practice room, we know the sum of the parts have merged, and it starts mutating into something that’s purely SOMNURI.
RX: Safe to say a lot’s happened between the two albums, right? New bassist, for one. What has Philippe [Arman] brought to the band?
J: That is correct! A number of subtle things here and there that Philippe has come in with went a long way, and definitely represents who he is and his flavor.
RX: It’s so easy for heavier bands to focus on staying heavy, going lower in tunings, louder for the sake of loudness, a lot of times – even in some of the more “known” bands – the songs get left behind, or take a back seat to that often forced heaviness. What steps have you taken to ensure you stay focused on the “song”, and have you ever had to pull yourselves back on
something because it just didn’t “fit” the song?
P: Heaviness always feels subjective, probably why there’s a million sub-genres of metal, which is awesome!
If it’s out of context or doesn’t serve the song, it gets put on the back burner and maybe revisited when it feels right in another place. It’s a good problem to have! I play guitar and produce as well, so I’m always giving my thoughts on how to structure things and because Justin is multi-instrumentalist as well, there’s near endless possibilities for riffs and grooves and song ideas. Philippe solidifies everything with in-the-pocket, gut rattling low-end and helps make the songs really come to life.
RX: What was the recording setup like for Nefarious Wave, and were you able to do it in person?
P: Everything was recorded pre-pandemic, so it was in person. We’ve recorded drums for both records at Studio G, here in Brooklyn. We have a great experience there recording with Jeff Berner, it just feels like home turf! We demo all the songs, tempo map everything and then it’s all about getting drums and laying down a solid foundation for the record. Nothing fancy process-wise, just a good amount of rehearsing and pre-production to get the feel of everything right. Then, we get to be a bit more creative in crafting the rest of each song. We record and mix everything else ourselves, which gives us a ton of freedom to try things and get good guitar, bass and vocal takes without massive amounts of editing. There’s never any pressure at that stage and few ideas are not at least experimented with. This record took so long to release because of COVID that we actually went back and added Philippe’s harmonies to ‘In The Grey’, retook a couple other vocal parts and gave it one last remix and master. It was worth it, and we like being able to take it as far as we want without the restraints of a typical studio budget. Even still, I’m a big advocate for getting solid takes early on, it always seems to be more authentic that way.
RX: How does the writing work? Simultaneously, or does one element usually come first, and the rest of the song gets built on or around that?
J: I usually bring in a riff or a couple parts that I think could go together, and we’ll play them a bunch and feel it out. Maybe we’ll try things in different orders and when it starts to sound cohesive, I’ll try a vocal pattern or a couple of phrases to see how difficult it is to do both at the same time.
That can be the biggest challenge in writing, and we can’t move forward with writing until it’s known I can handle doing both. We’ve had a few songs and parts written where it’s just Phil and I going for it, just kind of loose jamming if you will, but if we can’t remember something, it probably wasn’t good enough to keep around. There will be a lot more of that on the third record, now that we have a solid lineup to write with.
RX: Hard to plan anything in the definite now, but we still have a bit before the album’s out. Any special release events, live or online? Some bands have really embraced the livestream, others simply won’t because it “doesn’t fit their band”. Where do you fall in this?
J: For a band like ours, the live show is so important. We’re not dressing up or doing windmills or anything crazy, but I do think that live and in person, you can tell that we mean every note we play. It’s not being phoned in, ever. At the moment, live streams are the best way for us to have any visual connection at all.
We had done one last October for Metal Injection’s Slay At Home, and it was great to be a part of, such a cool opportunity for us. Obviously not having anybody else there is super weird, it’s like performing at practice. We’ll be doing another live stream 5/15 in collaboration with some awesome bands from both Magnetic Eye and Blues Funeral.
After that, we really hope to be playing shows sooner than later. Outdoor, rooftop, in a bubble, we don’t care. We just want to shred and for people to feel good about it. This shit’s been going on for long enough, hopefully we can all be responsible and do what we gotta do to get back to “normal”, whatever the fuck that is!