Last week I caught up with Sunset Sons’ Jed Laidlaw and Pete Harper before their London gig of their UK Tour at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Their dressing room was small but well kitted out, which provided a comfortable space in which Will 2 Listen could ask a few questions.
Hi guys, thanks for agreeing to meet with us.
J/P: No problem
You’ve had phenomenal success to this point. How did four guys surfing in Southern France turn into a rock band? Am I right in thinking it began with Jed meeting Rory in a bar?
J: Yeah that’s exactly what happened. I was travelling around the South West of France in my van, teaching surfing. I’d played in various bands around the UK but decided I needed a break from all that. I made a lot of friends whilst travelling around and ended up visiting my friend’s bar called “Le Surfing“. The night I got there, Rory was playing and he had an amazing voice and we got chatting afterwards. He seemed like a likeable guy [they both laugh] and Pete was there too…
P: It was my cousin who owned the bar and Rob was good friends with the head chef…
So everyone was just in the right place at the right time…
J: Essentially yeah. So we just decided to learn a load of songs and then went up to the Alps in the winter. We knew there were a lot of bands up there making good money from playing covers because there’s always a lot of rich people there.
A Spanish girl once knocked two rum and cokes over my pedals.
You played quite a diverse range of covers didn’t you?
J: Yeah we did all sorts from Queens of the Stone Age and The Who to Tina Tuner and The Rolling Stones, and so on…
P: We all chose a few, pooled them together and built a setlist. We’d play two hours at a time and often have two shows in a day. So it was pretty heavy…
J: It was a lot of work. I think the reason why we did so well was that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously and just had fun with performing our own interpretations of the songs…
P: We weren’t trying to be the best musicians in the world and play everything note-for-note. Other bands would look at us saying ‘Look at these jokers’…
J: People used to laugh at us when we first showed up because we didn’t have any money so we had shit gear and we weren’t as technically-precise musicians as everyone else. But we just had a lot of enthusiasm. Plus, it was a time when were honing our skills as musicians. We were being told that we should start to write our own material because a lot of the covers we were playing sounded like originals.
Any stage mishaps?
P: Oh god, loads!
J: Every day! Guitars falling over, drums falling over….
P: Rob dropped a pint over the mixer. A Spanish girl once knocked two rum and cokes over my pedals. One Christmas everyone’s jackets got stolen which had the car keys in them…
J: We were left stranded for two days when that happened.
What did you do when you came back from your adventure in the Alps?
J: We came back to the beach and started writing our own songs. The first one we wrote was pretty shit and then the second song we wrote was ‘She Wants’. Then we wrote a few more and decided to make an EP. So we found a producer on a budget and released it on iTunes and it instantly made the Rock Chart…
P: People were just like “Who the fuck is this band from the middle of nowhere in the Rock Charts with a fluorescent pink EP?” and then things really started to kick off.
How do you approach songwriting? Do you pool ideas together? Get in a room and see what happens? Record individually?
J: All of the above really.
P: We don’t have a particular way of doing it. It can come from anything; Jed had a drum beat in his head and wanted to try it out and Rory will keep hundreds of voice memos on his phone. So we chose a vocal and combined the two and came up with ‘Tick Tock’.
J: We’ll often end up working on ideas that become 10-minute jams and then we take the best minute or so and create a song from that. Then the lyrics come later. We don’t really write on tour.
We weren’t trying to be the best musicians in the world and play everything note-for-note.
Who were your musical influences growing up and if you could collaborate with any musician alive or dead who would it be?
P: At the moment I’d have to say INXS. I’ve been listening to them constantly and we actually had their music playing in the dressing room every night on our last tour.
J: It was good music to get us pumped up before a show.
What about you, Jed?
J: There was always a lot of music in the house when I was young. My dad played drums in a band and we had a very cheap jukebox in the house. So there was always music on; Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and loads of Bob Dylan. My dad would always have me listen closely to the lyrics and so the storytelling element of music was always important. So, yeah, my dad was a big influence.
If I could collaborate with anyone? Prince, hands down. I think he was one of the best songwriters of all time. If you listen to all of his records there’s everything from funk to soul, to jazz, to dance and hip-hop and so on.
Which of these gives you more satisfaction; catching a big wave or playing a killer show?
J: Hard to say; they’re very different. Surfing’s a lot more of a solitary and selfish thing. The band is a collective accomplishment. I don’t come off stage thinking ‘Man that was great tonight!’
P: In the ocean, you’ve no one else to blame but yourself.
Final Question. What were your worst jobs before you became full-time musicians?
P: Well I use to be an electrician…
J: That was not your worst job Pete, come on, tell him what your worst job was. You worked in a chicken shop…
P: I did work in a chicken shop. I was one of the best chicken schnitzel cooks in the joint! 40 chicken schnitzels in three and a half minutes! My first week there coincided with the first series of Australian Big Brother and the winner used to live just up the road from the shop. He mentioned the shop on the show saying “You have to go there” and so all of a sudden we had a queue of about 600 people outside all day every day.
Can you top that Jed?
J: I’ve had a million bullshit jobs. My worst was probably when I worked as a lifeguard on the beach and I had empty all of the dog shit bins in the morning before everyone showed up. That was pretty grim. I started teaching surfing when I was sixteen and I worked for my friend Steve a lot. He had the first ever little surf shop in our town. So there was a lot of standing around on a cold beach hiring out wetsuits and deck chairs. But if I’m honest, it wasn’t that bad.
Thanks a lot for your time guys. Have a great show tonight.
P: No worries.
J: Thanks man.