Frontman Christo Bowman speaks about wanting to grow on Bad Suns’ sophomore album Disappear Here, why making it was kind of like dating, and writing more directly this time about the darker sides of life.
How are you doing?
Good. If it gets weird in a second, that’s because I’m brushing my teeth. I’m getting ready for rehearsals. We’re getting ready for this tour coming up. We’re expanding our whole production a lot for this new tour, so there’s been a lot of work, but it’s been really fun.
How does it feel to have album number two out now?
It’s a huge relief. We’re super proud of it, we’ve been working on it for so long, but also it’s been done now for so many months. You can kind of drive yourself crazy when you’re the only person who has their hands on it. You’re so desperately wondering what people are going to think, or you just want them to hear it and enjoy it.
So for that now to finally be resolved, and to have people listening to it and seeing the reactions, I think that’s the best feeling.
These last two years have had a lot of firsts for you. You released your first album. You went on your first extensive touring and all that. What has that experience been like, just doing all this stuff for the first time, and now you’re going to start doing it for the second time here?
It was pretty insane. Like you said, it’s a lot of firsts, and at the same time it’s one of those things to where in order to get to that point where you’re finally doing these things for the first time, you don’t just get there. For us at least, it takes years and years of hard work and thinking obsessively about what that might eventually be like.
Then to be at the point where it’s actually happening, like I said off the backend of years and years of searching for this thing. First of all, it’s amazing, and then also other times it’s not whatever you expect. That’s kind of a theme in life, especially when you do think about the future for so long. It doesn’t always turn out exactly the same way.
There’s a bit of a learning curve a lot of the time, and you have to figure out how to adjust your life to fit in this ridiculous schedule that not everybody else is on. But there’s so many more benefits than there are downfalls. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
From doing Language & Perspective and touring off that record, was there a main thing you learned that you wanted to then apply to this second record?
Yeah, when we were writing the first album there wasn’t any sort of listener base or fan base or anything like that. It was just these notes or these lyrics that I was writing. But this time around, seeing the way certain people have connected to certain songs and actually really totally connecting to our audience and talking to fans and everything, I think it gave me the confidence to be much more direct writing the lyrics. I felt like I had something to live up to and to improve upon.
Stylistically, it feels like this record is a very natural continuation from what you were doing on Language & Perspective. There’s not any huge left turns and you’re not doing something drastically different than what you did on that first record. Was that how you went in to approach it?
Different artists approach their craft differently. For us, our band is built upon the sound, which is the four of us. That is inherently what is our band. If anyone likes our music, that’s what drew them to it to begin with. We didn’t feel like we had any reason to abandon that. We just felt like we had room to get better and to grow. I think that’s what this album is.
We didn’t make that first album on accident. We did it because that’s the shit that we love. With this one, it was about nurturing that a little bit more. I love this album even more than the first one and I think it’s us getting better. That’s all we wanted to do.
I don’t give a shit about just because our first album had guitars on it, pulling some move where the second album is all electronic now and wow, that’s an interesting discussion point. But if it’s not good music, who gives a fuck? I don’t really care about the discussion point. We just wanted to make an album that’s good. This is the only way we know how to do it right now.
I don’t know if it’s because you have a song called “Daft Pretty Boys” or not, but it seems like there might be a touch more of a British influence on this record. Was that something you tapped into a little bit more or just coincidental?
Yeah, I think we definitely tried to further reach out into our new wave influence a lot with this album. The title of that song was a lyric I had that was originally just going to be a closing thing to the song. Eventually, people were like, “That should be the chorus, that daft pretty boys line.” It was Miles’ idea to make that the title. I think it was originally even called something else.
To me that song sounds like the Police with the Smiths, with like a dancy backbeat and these other elements coming in. So yeah, we definitely do draw from British acts a lot. Our sound is very much a contrast between what we like about American rock history and culture and then British rock history and culture. Maybe it leans more towards the British side, but you also got acts like Tom Petty really making their way into our sound as well and serving as a huge influence.
There’s that famous saying of how you have your whole life to write your first album and then only a limited time to write your second one. How did that affect what you decided to write about, being this was a more concentrated time period you had to work this time?
It’s interesting because this album features some songs that are older than any of the songs on the first album. There are a couple songs on here that I wrote when I was 15. We’ve always been writing and collecting songs. It’s a matter of when’s the right time to release them.
For this album, we were so aware of the potential of having a sophomore slump, because every band seems to find themselves in that situation. The influence we were drawing on was we were looking at the acts and the bands who we felt had established themselves with their second album even more so than on their debut. Bands like Nirvana or whomever else. I think that was our biggest inspiration, to prove that we were going to get better and not worse.
You decided to call the record Disappear Here, which is taken from the name of the first single. What about that song and that title resonated with you so much that you wanted to then name the whole album after that?
The title comes from a book which I was reading last summer. It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. It comes from the book Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis. There’s a billboard that appears in the story a couple of times. It has this elusiveness and just says “Disappear Here.”
I remember reading that a few times and thinking, “Wow, what a great prompt for a listener for an album.” It just seemed to capture what we wanted, and also phonetically everything about it seemed perfect. We knew we had a gem.
You look through some of these song titles and you have songs like, “Even in My Dreams, I Can’t Win,” “Defeated,” “Maybe We’re Meant to Be Alone,” “How Am I Not Myself,” and you get this theme of self-doubt, self-criticism and that kind of stuff. What all were you trying to wrestle with and get to the bottom of on the lyrics for this album?
The major themes of the album have to do with riding this line between pessimism and optimism. So many times the reason why some songs will often get lost on me is if there’s too much of a positive message without even addressing the darker points that have to come before that.
This album is really about acknowledging that some shit sucks. Everyone is going to go through some things that are really tough to go through. There is darkness and self-doubt that comes with that, but we wanted there to be this beacon of hope, which I think appears and reappears several times throughout the album. Before and after those moments, it is like a wave back and forth. I think that’s representative of the way I’ve felt the last couple years.
There’s also a few songs about relationships and love gone wrong. Was that another key theme you wanted to explore as well?
Yeah. Sure, there have been so many love songs, but I think there’s always room for another good love song. We wanted to make our love songs or whatever. We wanted to tackle those topics of love and loss of love because I think it is important to our listeners. Those songs are inspired by true events and they’re really pure. It’s always going to be one of the most important topics.
You had a cool description of this album where you said the first was a daytime record with some nighttime songs and then this feels more like a nighttime record with some daytime songs, which I thought was pretty apt. Can you talk about why that felt right to do on this record?
So many of the things people would come to us and say about our first album was it was reminiscent of the beach or a great summer’s day. We felt like that album captured that and that was great, but we also felt like there was no point in trying to reproduce those same exact emotions and visions and imagery with this album.
Like I said, we wanted to take a sound, which at this point is a little bit familiar, and go into new territory. I think this album is more inspired by the nighttime. I don’t know. I think it’s a really nice complement to the first album.
On the first album, you did a little bit of character-based writing, like on something like “Sleep Paralysis.” Did that also show up on this record?
Yeah, I think there are certain instances, like “Daft Pretty Boys” comes from a narrator’s perspective and there’s these people you’re chronicling the story of. But character-based, I’m trying to think. I guess not in the same way as David Bowie or something like that, or even on our first album with a song like “Salt” where I was really trying to put myself in somebody else’s shoes. That does happen on this album, but I don’t think to such an extent necessarily.
One of the most different songs you did on this record is “Maybe We’re Meant to Be Alone,” which is the first slow song you’ve done before. What was it like coming up with that one?
That’s one of the oldest tunes. That song came about like six years ago or something, and it’s always been one that we’ve enjoyed and liked. For our debut, we didn’t want to put a slow song on there. Our mission statement for that time was we wanted to make an album which we felt was representative of this new band and their sound. We wanted to be upbeat and highlight those aspects of our band first.
With this album, one of the things we talked about in the studio was relating it back to dating. You go on the first couple dates with somebody and you’re showing all the best sides of yourself. You have your persona down and the way you want to represent yourself, and you’re really conscious of that the whole time. In that sense, there’s some of that going on with our first album, where you’re trying to make yourself likeable to an extent.
Then with this album, the next stage of the relationship is you got to kind of show your darker sides to somebody else to figure out whether or not they can handle that. And that goes one way or the other. So we did want to put a different side of our band on the line here. That was a really inspiring point for us, and I think that song was a perfect introduction to that idea.
You’ve mentioned a couple times that some of these songs are quite older. Do you still have a lot of old ideas and songs still sitting around, or have those all kind of been explored at this point?
We’ve all been writing music and parts for years and years and years, so we have so many pieces that we’ve collected. Oftentimes you’ll write a song, and maybe not the whole thing’s great, but usually there’s one idea or something. If an idea was inspired by something, that usually means there was something you were trying to chase.
So we’re constantly digging through the past and recycling things, because there’s so many ideas that often get left untapped and it’s not for good reason. It’s just that they get forgotten about. There were days when we were in the studio where I would just dig through demos in the computer and a certain instrumental would come up, like on “Even in My Dreams.”
That was a demo I found on accident from three years prior that I opened up. It was the basic instrumental of that song. I remember going, “I don’t even remember doing this or what this is, but this is cool. This can work for something.” Just in the way we like to create, we’re always pulling from whatever excites us. That’s all that matters.
Do you do the same thing lyrically as well, where you’ll jot different things down over time and go back to them, or is that more musically?
Yeah, it depends. I’m always jotting things down and I have a notebook that I carry around that I’ll always write down things that might work down the line. I’ll go back and dig through it, and songs will come from things like that. So I guess you could say the short answer is yes, it applies there too.
One of the other things you wanted to do on this album is record the tracks separately and experiment with a different studio approach, while on the first record you tried to do a lot of it live. How do you think that paid off for you and how did you like switching it up like that?
I think we were all caught off guard when we showed up to the studio a couple years ago and our producer first said, “Look, I think we should record this album live to tape.” I don’t know if that’s exactly what we all had in mind.
It was a really, really scary and daunting task at the time and idea. We were trying to figure out how to make an album to begin with, and now to do it live, we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to fill those shoes. But it was such a learning experience for us and I think it made us such a better band. It was a healthy experiment.
This time around, having done that and having toured for a couple years and playing so many shows, we felt like we had gotten to this point where it had paid off and now we can move on and approach it in a different way. We had a little bit more time this way too, which I think had something to do with it.
Where do you go from here? You’ve got this headlining tour that you’re rehearsing for right now. What’s after that for you?
Right now, it’s just about letting the music resonate. Each day goes by and more people are going to hear it. That’s an exciting thing that’s happening, so it’s just bubbling and brewing at this point.
We’re working on our live show and getting ready to leave for a tour. We’re going to be really busy for the next I don’t know how long. We’re just going to be playing these songs. And then we’re always writing. We’re always thinking about the next thing at the same time.
Thinking about Disappear Here as a whole, what is the thing you’re most proud of about this record and would like people to take away from it?
OK, good question. I think I’m most proud of all the work that went into it. What was special about this album was it felt like every day in the studio everyone was showing up excited about what they were doing. It all felt like we were in on something special together. We were sharing this experience and this ability to create an album, which now at this point can expect people to hear.
We didn’t want to let anybody down. It really brought us together and was a unifying thing. I’m really proud of the result. I remember how excited we were on all those days. We really wanted to do something really cool, and now I listen to the album and feel like we did that. We were right and stuck to our guns the whole way. I’m proud of that.