For Suburban Living (aka Wesley Bunches), the creative process and life decisions follow the same principle: have a plan, but be open to whatever happens in the moment. He follows this idea not only in the studio, but also in major life choices, like moving to Philadelphia to pursue the full possibilities of Suburban Living. Following the release of the Cooper’s Dream EP back in 2012, Wesley recorded his full debut album, racing to finish it just prior to moving to Philadelphia five months ago. Recorded by his friend and engineer Mark Padgett, the album explores Bunches’ penchant for dark pop with personal, ethereal lyrics.
Poised to release this self-titled debut album at the end of this month, Wesley paints for us the current Philadelphia music scene, how his move influenced the creative process, and the importance of dual sounds a band should have from the studio to live performance.
StageBuddy: You really establish your unique sound on your debut album, how did you arrive at this initially?
Wesley Bunches: A lot of stuff on Cooper’s Dream was bright and poppy, especially with the guitars being so shimmery. With this one I wanted to take a darker approach with more synths, kind of like early Cure type stuff. I definitely wanted to keep elements of my previous EP, but work it into something a little bit different.
This seemed to involve a subtle minimalism in the instrumentation. How were you able to maintain the expansiveness of your previous sound in this way?
I really wanted to strip down the instrumentation on the record to just guitar, bass, drums, and synths. The best way to describe this record for me is that it is very ‘true’. It’s quite transparent in that you can clearly hear all of the sounds. Part of that was because I just like that sound, and partly it was because I was thinking about the complications of playing these songs live.
It certainly comes across as a very ‘true’ album. Could this in any way be due to your recording of it in your hometown of Virginia Beach?
Yeah, I actually finished the recording in Chesapeake, VA, which is a neighboring town to my hometown, about a week before I moved to Philadelphia. I was definitely getting down to the wire to make sure I finished it before I moved. The guy who engineered the record is a really good friend of mine, Mark Padgett. I remember staying up really late him thinking, “man, we have to finish this before I go.” It was a really big, life-changing event in moving to Philadelphia. Most of the songs I had written before deciding to go there, but the move definitely did impact the last few sessions that I had.
Though you only just moved, have you been able to get a real feel for the music yet in Philadelphia yet?
Yeah, there are definitely pockets of very cohesive scenes. West Philly is very DIY with punk and garage rock. I live in a neighborhood called Fishtown, which is where all of my friends I had before moving here live. A lot of them are friends who had bands I’ve played with before, such as Dream Safari and CRUISR. I guess there is more of a pseudo-cohesive scene because it’s different in various parts of the city. What’s really cool is when you have a show that has crossovers from different scenes.
What was it about Philadelphia that drew you there as opposed to other cities?
There were a few things: I had friends here and I wanted to get out of my hometown. I would love to live in Brooklyn, but who wouldn’t want to live in New York? It’s so expensive though, and just so big and insane. In Philly you can have your own space for half the price, and it’s got as much going on as the other big cities. I was actually talking to someone last night about how a band will play a venue like Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, which is a really big spot, and then they’ll come here to Philly and play a 120-cap room. You can see them in a smaller space which provides a much more intimate experience.
When I listen to your music, there’s a strong sense of patience and control. Do you hear this when you listen, or are you reminded of the time constraints and stress leading up to your move?
It’s a little bit of both. There were a few things that came to me right on the spot in the studio, but there are also a lot that were more intentionally orchestrated. On songs like “Drowning”, I knew the exact sound I was going for, with the bouncy synth part in the background. Then there’s “Different Coast” which I had a loose idea for, so I just laid down the drums and guitar without knowing what the song, besides the vocal melody, would sound like. It almost didn’t make it on the record, but I sat on it for a few days and figured out what I wanted in the studio. If you listen to demo of “Different Coast” and then the final version, it’s almost a completely different song.
How did you figure out how to play these songs live?
When I moved to Philly, I got in touch with these two guys that are really great musicians. When we played for the first time, I hardly even knew them and had no idea how it was going to work out. We just started playing though, and I didn’t have to teach them anything because they learned everything on their own. It was as if we were already a band, especially because I have never played with a band before that I didn’t have to teach the songs to multiple times. The live show is definitely very different from the album, with a lot more rock’n’roll and loudness. I like having those different personalities as a band of the polished recording, but also the gritty live show.
Be sure to catch Suburban Living at Cameo Gallery on 1/28. Shows starts at 10pm with tickets being only $8.