We’re sitting down with Star and Neumi from the Sunset Kings to discuss what’s next in their journey as they step onto the stage as a duo. As you know, The Sunset Kings are an Indie rock band based in Boston, who are known for their genre-blurring music and sound.
They have gotten back to work with their self-produced mixtape tilted “Shadow Work In Technicolor”. We will learn about the struggles and sacrifices made and how they have fought together to keep making music and leave it all on the line.
What is the story behind the band’s name The Sunset Kings?
STAR: When I met the band, I had just finished working at a studio in Boston and my side hustle was pitching songs to indie artists. I’d show the band the songs, and then we’d all jam it out, learn the songs, spend all night recording them, coming up with ideas, really getting to know each other, and just stay up all night.
Then we’d pass out in the mornings, sleep through most of the afternoon and do it again. I started calling the guys The Sunset Kings to make fun of how fucked up our sleep schedules were and when we started recording my songs we just went with it.
If you could go on tour with any band or artist, who would it be any why?
STAR: Umi. NEUMI: Definitely! For the vibes. Obviously, I’m a big fan of her music but past that, I really like the vibe she brings to everything. It would be cool to be tourmates because I could definitely see us having cool conversations about astrology and meditation. Also, would love to know what songs she vibes to regularly.
What’s your band’s philosophy behind the music you make, and what continues to inspire you as a band?
NEUMI: I think our music is both a rebellion and a story. From the very beginning, our music has been a pushback against the world trying to suppress parts of who we are. It’s every scream in the bathroom while you’re at work and the refusal to be normal in public. Everything we do is part of that writing process. The conversations we have with others, the places we go, and our childhoods all are woven into these songs.
STAR: For sure. I see our music as basically a vehicle for telling our story. “Shadow Work in Technicolor” was really fulfilling and inspiring to produce because, for me, it was an opportunity to reflect on the ways I’ve grown from being in a band and meeting so many people who all got heavy Protagonist Energy.
Getting up close and personal with The Sunset Kings
The value I want to add in the music industry is my strength at recognizing certain moments as significant and being thoughtful and vulnerable enough to tell those moments as stories. I know I’m not the only one out there that thinks like that, and the thought that maybe the way I approach music will have an impact on someone somewhere down the line motivates me.
You have been compared to bands such as The Doors, Mars Volta, The Beach Boys, and Snarky Puppy which are some heavy hitters in the music industry.
Who do you personally think you should be compared to and why?
NEUMI: The common thread between all those comparisons is that even though they vary in genre, they all have a strong aesthetic, style, and story. These are the kinds of criteria I think of when I compare myself to artists I aspire to be like. The best example I have of what I’m doing is Jaden Smith. Thinking of our mixtape “Shadow Work in Technicolor”, I immediately think of the production and cinematography of Jaden’s video for his song “Ninety”. There are so many layers to the story being told that are conveyed in voice notes, laughs as textures in the song, and how it all fits into his whole album SYRE.
STAR: Comparison’s a weird game because I feel like inspiration’s a process of curation. I listen to a lot of mainstream, just to see what’s trending in the sense that there are songwriters like Julia Michaels or HER who have such strong voices and are influencing the way everyone writes. But then more than that I listen to people who I’ve met and got good music.
It’s easier for me to understand why my friends made certain decisions with certain lyrics or production than it is for me to know how Rihanna curates songs to record or why Tame Impala arranges their tracks the way they do— I don’t know who they are listening to, I don’t know how they figure out how to make musical decisions that define them. I feel like we should be compared to the people in our scene that we’ve come up with.
What is your writing process, does one member of the band write the majority of the music or does everyone bring something to the table and collaborate to get a song on paper?
NEUMI: I’m a very visual person, even as a musician. When I listen to music, I see a scene in my head playing out to match the music. So when I’m writing my parts, I think of the context of what I play and what it adds visually.
As far as the collective writing process, we all add a different perspective like that. Star and I share a lot of that visual take on the world but come from a few different musical backgrounds. I think bringing those perspectives, influences, and cultural vibes into the process makes things so much more interesting.
STAR: So far the way it’s worked is I’ll come up with chords or production, kind of mumble a melody on top of it into a microphone, write to that melody, and then when I take it to show someone I’m working with, I’ll have it sandwiched in between a bunch of other songs that I feel match the vibe I am trying to get out of the track. Lots of convos.
What made you and Neumi decide to venture out on your own?
NEUMI: A lot of different factors really. The last two years have been a crazy rush of changes. As a band, we all dealt with grief in different ways. Touring during the winter led to recording a new single and eventually a music video all in 2019.
You add COVID and Quarantine into that and things get crazy real fast. Some of our bandmates wanted to take the time to work on their solo projects and we wanted to create space for that and also continue The Sunset King’s story.
This past year has been filled with grief and turmoil for so many people. How have you managed to block out the noise and put together “Shadow Work In Technicolor”?
STAR: I don’t think it was as much “blocking out the noise” as it was sitting inside the noise, slowing down, and saying “Okay, what am I actually hearing right now?” Me and Neumi— we were born in the noise. Molded by it. NEUMI: Shadow Work is all about facing the “ugly” parts of ourselves and our experiences. One of the hidden upsides of quarantine was finally having the time to be able to let those thoughts and emotions flood in.
It isn’t about being picture-perfect or making yourself flat to keep up productivity. Taking breaks from the chaos of the outside world and taking the time to have deeper conversations with others and ourselves helped mold this project.
STAR: For me, specifically, I found myself leaving Boston to take care of my father in Texas after a bad case of coronavirus. Being so close to his recovery, seeing the difference between measuring progress day to day vs month to month, and just learning how to be a little more patient with things informed a lot of “Shadow Work In Technicolor”
by giving me space to reflect on an experience means something totally different to us the day after it happens then it does months or years after it happened. For better or for worse, I’ve always challenged myself to cope with the struggles in my life by buckling down and asking what a situation I’m going through is trying to teach me.
You touched on the sacrifices you have had to make and struggle with. What are some of these sacrifices and looking back, would you make them again?
STAR: We’ve been through a lot together. Sometimes I wonder if other bands do the same. Like me and Neumi know each other’s family, have been each other’s emergency contacts, looked out for one another when we didn’t have a place to sleep. We’ve grieved through the death of our bandmate, one of our best friends, together.
I think about the time’s romantic relationships wouldn’t work out or I would miss out on a family get-together because I struggled with balancing the needs of my bandmates and my availability to them. It may not have been the healthiest thing, but I made my choices and I grew from them, and that’s all I could ever ask out of my life.
NEUMI: One of the hardest things early on that held true for a long time was how much I sacrificed sleep. Trying to balance school, work, band practices, and shows was a lot of stress and pressure, so I slept very little. After Nick’s death, that became even tougher because I began having trouble sleeping in general.
Being that sleep-deprived and depressed, I remember still trying to do everything in my power to stay connected to people. It led to a pretty large fallout when it all caught up with me but the efforts I put in during that time helped me get here. I wish I could say I would have better habits now but I’d probably do it again.
What has been the hardest part of being a band in today’s music industry?
STAR: The hardest part of being in a band is understanding branding. It’s such an ugly fucking word, but the first thing you see everywhere about starting a business or releasing music is about “knowing your brand”.
For me, the story I want to tell has nothing to do with the specific experiences I get to have and everything to do with focusing on my character, who I am as a person and an artist, and understanding that no matter what I go through I will always tell my story from that lens.
To me, that’s as real as I can get and “branding” has to reflect that, and when you’re working with other people who don’t understand that, it can get really hard to come up with a decision on anything.
Most bands work around this by generalizing the content of their music or making it more abstract, but to me, music is such a personal thing, and holding the perspectives and feelings and statements of multiple people in mind when we are writing and creating is how I and Neumi have decided to tackle it.
What legacy do you want to be left by The Sunset Kings?
NEUMI: The most important legacy I want to leave with The Sunset Kings is that I never stopped fighting. That doesn’t mean that I’m some prodigy or genius, I just never stopped trying to learn and grow. I didn’t do it alone and I wouldn’t be who I am without all the people in my life. So, I’d love to have the music reflect that in history. It’s not a silent protest, it’s a scream from deep in my chest that I want to live and uplift those around me.
STAR: I hope one day wherever life takes any of us, others will be able to look back on what we’ve released and understood that we’ve always been the people we are. The thing that’s actually changing is the world around us and how we relate to everything in it, and we’re just trying to stay as open to it all on our own terms while figuring out how to do this life thing a little better.
IG and Twitter: @thesunsetkings