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A particular scene from True Detective’s second season is stuck in Sun June vocalist Laura Colwell’s mind as she describes her band’s sound. The scene in question opens with a forlorn woman perched atop a stool on a bar’s dusty stage. The woman croons a lonely tune with her guitar’s weeping chords before the camera slowly pans to the main characters’ conversation. That’s where Colwell imagines their sophomore album Somewhere would fit: crammed in the corner of a dive bar, setting a somber atmosphere for a serious exchange of words.
But casting their album as a mere extra accompanying a monologue from Vince Vaughn is selling themselves short. On the contrary, Sun June’s Somewhere is fit for the spotlight. Throughout eleven gripping tracks, the Austin, Texas five-piece find poetry in the monotony and grief of life’s most dramatic moments.
No one is immune to grief, especially given the events that plagued our country last year. Nearly everyone is experiencing a sliding scale of anguish — and that’s something Colwell knows all too well. “I definitely am just always dealing with grief in some way,” she tells me over the phone from Austin. As we speak, the remainder of her band (including her partner and songwriting companion Stephen Salisbury) is spread out all across the US. Most of Sun June’s songs delicately explore how grief presents itself in various ways — grieving an old life, isolation, sobriety, the loss of a friend, or even something as simple as a carefree day that’s finally come to its inevitable end.
Songs like “Everything I Had” deal with the particular grief that arises from unwilling change. As people living in the transient city of Austin, Sun June are used to seeing transformation. Friends are constantly moving to or away from the city and, as someone who has settled there, this has made Colwell feel uneasy. “Seeing others around you thriving and you’re feeling out of place is also part of that feeling,” she says. As heard on the remainder of their tracks, the production on “Everything I Had” mirrors its theme of reluctant change. After Colwell croons of missing her former life, her band breaks into a cascade of arpeggio synths and descending keys, evoking a poignant sense of longing that’s further explored throughout each verse.
While change can be difficult, it’s oftentimes for the better. But even with this knowledge, it’s hard not to fantasize about how different life would be if one never learned from their mistakes. On their song “Bad Girl,” Colwell examines the missteps of her youth through a nostalgic lens. “I have a terrible memory and I repeat my mistakes a lot. So maybe I’ve been starting to learn that, no, I don’t have to keep repeating the same old dumb mistakes,” she says. Throughout the song’s lyrics, Colwell looks back on her naive slip-ups with rose-tinted glasses. She daydreams about the act of trashing an apartment without thinking of the consequences and chuckles at the time she irresponsibly spent her last dollar on a pack of cigarettes. “All the moments of your life are not something you necessarily want back, but you do miss it,” she says. “You’re grieving a part of you.”
Colwell’s youthful regrets aren’t universal, but Sun June’s poetic lyrics leave just enough mystery for listeners to insert themselves into. Colwell even admits to covering her prose with a purposeful veil of ambiguity, which not only helps listeners find Sun June’s songs relatable, but also acts as a way for Colwell to examine her emotions from an outside perspective. “Sometimes you reverse engineer yourself: you write a song and have no idea why you wrote it,” she says. “And then you realize when you put it all into the spotlight that, ‘Oh, okay. This is what’s going on with me, good to know.’ It’s hard to know what really makes sense or matters. We all get caught up in this fantasy of life sometimes, and it’s easy to lose yourself in it.”
For Sun June, the “fantasy of life” can be as simple as romanticizing a usually monotonous moment. Colwell believes this is best explored on their wistful track “Karen O.”
“We get into our heads sometimes, with mourning the loss of a part of you,” she says. “I think it’s really easy to fall into that spiral of feeling bad about yourself. [Karen O] also picks these random moments that are just kind of melodramatic. Like, climbing the stairs of your apartment. That’s so melodramatic — it’s like the end of a movie. No one actually lives that way, but it’s fun to get caught up in the fantasy of every minute detail meaning more than it really should.”
Somewhere does grapple with melodrama and grief, but not all of their tracks are forlorn. Each song is touched with a playfulness that arises from the band’s close-knit chemistry. “We’re all just tightly wound, and yet at the same time, very easy going and like to have a good time,” Colwell says, excitedly explaining how each member of the band equally contributes to a given song. Colwell and Salisbury begin to write music separately before reworking each other’s recordings. Leaning on the mantra “melodies are king,” their lead guitarist Michael is then passed the demo to flesh out lush tones. The rest of the group offers their edits at band practice, which results in a truly collaborative process.
Before starting Somewhere’s songwriting stage, the band collectively decided on a sonic theme for the record. After some deliberation, they eventually agreed on a universe where their album lives: a futuristic prom set in Albuquerque in a time where global warming has lapsed to a point of climate cooling. If their album as a whole is a prom dance, then, according to Colwell, the dreamy track “Once In A While” would be the night’s slow song. “It is a heady song, but also full of heartbreak and drunken stupor — which is all of what prom was,” Colwell says, continuing to set the scene. “The ball is spinning. And you’re in a hypnotic state when everything around you is just falling apart.”
Little did they know it at the time, but Somewhere is being released at a time when everything does feel like it’s falling apart. Nevertheless, it has arrived at the perfect moment. From start to finish, listening to Somewhere is therapeutic. It’s a lesson in patience, both with yourself and with the world, and it’s a thoughtful reminder that sometimes romanticizing the most monotonous moments is also a beautiful study in staying present.
Somewhere is out now via Run For Cover/Kneed Scales. Get it here.