The Hudson Valley has a rich history of bands willing to explore the far corners of the psyche and often add a little psychedelic flavor into the mix. From the pyro-enhanced alt rock of SpinCycleLava to the delicate psych folk of Globelamp to the anything-goes jazz-influenced mind romp of Ultraam, many bands who have graced local stages over the years have been unafraid of venturing into parts unknown.
The downtime during Covid was hard for everybody. An outfit called Sun Voyager is the band I think consistently exemplifies the best of the current and vital Hudson-Valley-to-New-York-and-back-again pipeline of stoner-rock-influenced brain-delvers. As we enter into the sunniest time of year, Sun Voyager seemed to me the best-suited group to speak to about embracing the season and getting back to this new shared reality we are all inhabiting.
Stefan Mersch, bassist and backing vocalist, checks in with me here to explain how his popular band came back from the brink.
MYE: How long have you been a band?
Stefan Mersch: I think it has actually been ten years. We put out our first demos in 2012 and we were playing up in Albany before that, so 2021? Yep. It’s been a decade. Time flies.
MYE: I hear a lot of Hawkwind and boogie rock in your sound, a healthy mix. “Trip” comes to mind. Would you say most of your influences are from yesteryear? There is also modern stoner and heavy-blues stuff. Who are some of your heroes?
SM: We listen to a fair amount of modern psych-rock and heavy-stoner rock and desert stuff, but all of those guys pretty much come from the same places we do, inspirationally. I would say Fu Manchu is the one band that stands out who still consistently dominate on all fronts for the three of us.
We went to high school together and kind of bonded over Rage Against the Machine. We all have Thee Oh Sees, Fuzz and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard on repeat, but I think a lot of our sound comes from a mutual love and respect for Ecstatic Vision. We heard a demo of theirs really early on, and Doug was huge influence on us even before that. We recorded with him in Philly back in ‘09, and the one piece of advice he gave that stuck with us to this day is that when you find that riff that just hits, you can play it forever.
Finding the riff is where we really draw more inspiration from the stuff of yesteryear. Bands like Budgie, Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple, Captain Beyond, Iron Butterfly, UFO, and of course Black Sabbath are all constant. There are also krautrock bands like Can, Neu, and early Kraftwerk.
When it comes to songwriting, though, we always come back to blues and rock: Creedence, Skynyrd, Freddie King, Rolling Stones, Zeppelin. All of the above — and their live albums, too.
MYE: How was the lockdown period of the pandemic for the band, and how do you feel like it brought you closer together?
SM: Probably the opposite. We’re a band when we’re playing. When we’re not, we’re not. Lockdown was pretty tough, especially because we had just recorded most of an album. We were gearing up to finish that, actually had three or four dates in the studio booked, but then the pandemic hit, and we had to sort of figure it out. I put a bunch of gear on a credit card and we ended up finishing it ourselves in my garage, but that took forever because the rules just kept changing.
Between all the mixed messages and the rise and fall of new cases and deaths, it was just hard to plan, so we were acting mostly in the spur of the moment. What was nice, however, was that we ended up getting better at songwriting, because when we did get together we were making the most out of that time.
MYE: What do you associate with summer in the Hudson Valley? What do you love about our music scene?
SM: Barbecues, hiking, whirlpools, fireworks, and beers. Hanging out in the backyard. Making fires. Hitting breweries. Summer festivals. Linking up with friends that are up from the city for a few days. It’s a great time in the Valley. Constant partying.
I think what’s great about the Hudson Valley scene, though, is just the pockets, and how awesome each of those pockets is in its own way. Kingston was really, really good to us in the months leading up to the pandemic.
We were playing Tubby’s every other month, and that place is the ultimate. Small back room, where you just cram in and get your face melted. That’s the kind of spot where we thrive. But there are a lot of places like it that just didn’t survive this whole ordeal. We’re lucky to have them and other places like them in the Hudson Valley.
MYE: I love Tubby’s. I sat in on trombone with Gridfailure there once, and we got to blast the heads off some hipster Vampire Weekend fans who stumbled into the demonic noise show, ha ha. How was your first show back and where was it?
SM: Rushing Duck Brewing in Chester. That’s kind of a hometown spot for us. We all went to Monroe-Woodbury and have been going there since it first opened. They asked us to play for two hours, which is funny because normally we don’t even play half that long, but we did and it was great. Outdoor show. People were standing, coming up to the stage, hanging at the merch table. It was just great to play and be able to hang and meet people again.
Also, the preparation that goes into playing a two-hour set gets you back in the groove pretty quickly, so we’re pretty much ready to go from here.
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