Photo by Jon Kristiansen.
Sunn O))) may shatter your notions about what makes a great musical experience. Their live show can consist of 40 minutes of abrasive, detuned drones devoid of identifiable harmonies and rhythms—it can sound like Leatherface’s chainsaw wreaking havoc with a broken stop button. The tension builds and builds, broken only when a scary-ass guy in a robe emerges from the stage fog and starts chanting.
Skeptical? Well, Sunn O))) has amassed a vast cult following over the course of their two-decade career. Guitarists Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley met in Seattle around 1990, just as the grunge movement was burgeoning. Bonded by a mutual love of groups like the Melvins and Earth (a seminal drone band), the pair formed Thor’s Hammer, a doom metal act, in 1994. By 1998 Anderson had formed Southern Lord Records, and Sunn O))) was born.
The latest Sunn O))) project, Soused, is a collaboration with Scott Walker, the U.S.-born, British-based singer/composer who has been creating moody, iconoclastic solo albums for nearly half a century, influencing such artists as David Bowie, Nick Cave, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, and Goldfrapp. Sunn O))) originally reached out to Walker around 2008, proposing a possible collaboration. When they didn’t hear back, they assumed nothing would come of it. But unbeknownst to them, Walker became a Sunn O))) convert and began writing music with the band in mind. Anderson, O’Malley, and Walker convened last year in a London studio to record Soused.
Premier Guitar caught up with Anderson to discuss Soused, learn how the band developed, and talk RAT pedals and Sunn amps—the secret ingredient to Sunn O)))’s infinitely perplexing sound.
Photo by Gisele Vienne.
How did you and Stephen meet?
We grew up in the same neighborhood in Seattle and went to the same high school. We met through mutual friends around 1990 or ’91. We bonded over mutual musical tastes. He was into underground metal. I was into hardcore and punk rock, but my tastes were expanding, and I was getting into jazz and experimental music. He turned me on to a lot of underground metal and I turned him on to experimental and jazz stuff.
What music were you both into?
We were really into the Melvins, especially during that period, when their records were denser and heavier than they’ve been in the last 15 years or so. We were also into Earth, a band from Seattle. The first two records they released on Sub Pop were very important for the formation of the sound of Sunn O))). It was a catalyst: We took their concept and built off it.
Did Sunn amps inspire your name?
There are a few meanings, but mainly we were both fond of Sunn amplifiers, and took the name straight from them.
You grew up in the grunge era. Was that an influence?
We were definitely affected by some of the bands coming out of Seattle at the time. We were huge fans of Soundgarden, Tad, and Mudhoney. But we wanted to make music more along the lines of what the Melvins and Earth were doing. Not so rock-oriented. We started playing together in 1994 and formed our first group, Thorr’s Hammer, a slow doom metal band.
Tell us about making Soused.
It’s a collaboration record with Scott Walker. Initially we were under the impression that it was going to be a Scott Walker solo record, and that we’d be a backing band. But after the record was mixed, Scott decided he wanted both artists to be in the title. It’s not a proper Sunn O))) studio album, but it’s definitely an important album for us.