Sungrazer Interview with Rutger Smeets: Two of a Kind and More

Formed just in early 2009, Dutch trio Sungrazer have become fast veterans. Their self-released, self-titled debut got picked up for wider issue via Elektrohasch Schallplatten, the record label run by Stefan Koglek of Colour Haze, and the band hit the road backed by European mega-bookers Sound of Liberation, resulting in festival gigs like Stoned From the Underground, Roadburn and Duna Jam. Their second album, Mirador (review here), came out on Elektrohasch in the first half of 2011 and has been among the year’s best.

Their formula is pretty simple, melding jam-intensive European heavy psychedelia with desert riffing and landmark grooves. Of course that balance is much easier said that achieved, but on both Sungrazer and Mirador, guitarist/vocalist Rutger Smeets, bassist/backing-vocalist Sander Haagmans and drummer Hans Mulders sculpt laid back vibes and heavy tones from warm low end and flowing rhythms. As a band, Sungrazer are able to shift smoothly between stonerly riffs and open-ended stretches that, like the Mirador highlight “Behind,” feel so natural it’s as though you’ve known them all your life.

Sungrazer hit the road in Europe earlier this year with RotoR and Colour Haze as part of Elektrohasch‘s “Up in Smoke” traveling mini-fest, and are currently on tour with similarly-minded German purveyors Grandloom. In the meantime, they’ve also begun the writing process that will take them through the follow-up to Mirador and doubtless to another level of well-deserved recognition. They are the heralds of a new generation of European heavy psych, and their organic approach can only get stronger with more time on the road.

Prior to leaving for the shows with Grandloom, Smeets took the time to field an email interview with some questions about the inner workings and processes of the band, and some of the differences and similarities in his mind between their work on Sungrazer and Mirador, as well as their time touring in support of both albums. It’s brief, but Smeets gives some insight as to Sungrazer‘s decision making process, and, fittingly somehow, the kebabs are key.

Complete Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

It seemed like a quick turnaround, but the self-titled had been self-released before it was out on Elektrohasch. How long has it actually been since the first record was recorded, and how do you feel the band has grown between the two albums?

Yeah well, it’s been one year in between both albums. We call it “the year of the sun,” and it had many many gigs, from shady bars to TV shows, from big festivals to small; we found out that

Roadburn, Duna Jam, Stoned From the Underground and Yellowstock are absolute highlights that turn out to be highly addictive. So, basically, we just kept on jamming, in the meanwhile we also did some writing, and at one point we just felt like recording, so we did! I think we’ve made a great album that shows more depth, soundscaped riffs, experimental stuff; more of the expected and more of the unexpected.

How was recording with Maurice Huyts again for Mirador, and was there something in particular that made you go back to him?

Recording with Maurice is like relaxation; he knows what sound we want, knows how to put the pure thing on tape. That’s how he and we roll. He’s like a fourth band member that thinks in the same direction most of the time, plus he tells us a lot about gardening certain flowers…

There’s a kind of jammier feel in the songs on Mirador (though the self-titled had plenty of jamming as well). Was there something in particular you wanted to develop in the band’s sound coming off the first album?

We love to jam. That’s where the songs come from: jammin’. So that’s what we do. We record jams at our rehearsal room and from there on we start shaping a song. It’s a beautiful process that I miss right now. I am already looking forward to write and jam new stuff. To be honest, we didn’t really set an idea for Mirador, all pieces fell into one along the way. We like to take our time and watch a record grow, that’s the way we also wrote the first one. No pressure, only observation and a bit of lemon added to the final sketch.

Are you conscious of balancing heavy rock and psychedelic jams in your songs? It seems like on the last record, there were riffy songs and jammy songs, but on Mirador the styles are more blended.

Yeah, we use a blender now… Well, on Mirador, we spent some more time on writing. Some songs we already played live by the time we went into the studio at the Muziekgieterij, our homebase in Maastricht. Some others, like “Behind,” our longest and most dynamic song of all, we finished just before recording.

Everything I’ve seen about both albums has been really positive. Are you surprised at the reaction you guys got from the records since they were released?

Absolutely, and still are! The amount of mails we get, from people all over the world, from Japan to Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Hungary, USA, Russia, Poland and from all the countries you always wanted to visit dudes and dudettes send positive vibes, that’s incredible good stuff!

How was it for you guys doing shows with Colour Haze and RotoR on the Up in Smoke tour?

One of the lines I picked up that tour: “Total der hammer!” I saw Colour Haze and RotoR playing each night, so that was 18 times in a row and it was one big trip! The whole crew was absolutely great and I just hope that this will happen again!

What was Roadburn like for you? You did Stoned From the Underground as well. What were some of the differences between the two fests? What’s the vibe like at Stoned From the Underground?

Totally cool! In a way you can compare those two festivals with each other and in some way they are totally different. I mean, there’s a good vibe at both festivals for sure, but Stoned From the Underground is outside at a lake with a campsite… sounds like summer, no? And for us this was the day after our release in Maastricht, so we had a party until the next morning in Maastricht, then tossed about who was gonna drive, arrived (at) Stoned and kicked ass! At Roadburn, we were already there the day before to see some bands we love (Wolf People and Imaad Wasif!) and the next day we stood there on the Afterburner to play “Behind” for the very first time, so that was a blast! It’s Roadburn, it’s THE biggest stonerfestival on the whole fuckin’ planet, it’s in the Netherlands and there’s a coffeeshop around the corner called Grasscompany, need I say more?

What can you tell me about the new 7” you just recorded? Are there any plans yet for a release?

We’re really good at making plans at the local Döner Kebab stand. It’s called Musti and Sander actually had an endorsement at it… which entitled Hans and me on free sauce, essential ingredient of a decent dürüm, of course. So yeah, at Musti’s we started off talking about making a 7” record and ended in doing a split record with a friend of ours. We never know when, how or where but it always starts at Musti’s somehow.

Any idea when you’ll settle in to start jamming for a new album? Will you continue to work with Elektrohasch?

We already started jamming for the new album, you were already able to listen to some new stuff … In case you didn’t, check this [video below -- ed.].

And we’re still very proud to be part of the Elektrohasch family, yeah!

Any touring in the works or other plans you want to mention?

We’re getting ready for a tour with Grandloom (from Berlin) as we speak. This one’s gonna hit Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Germany and Switzerland — sooooo looking forward to BBQ on the beach in Portugal!

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One Response to “Sungrazer Interview with Rutger Smeets: Two of a Kind and More”

  1. Gaia says:

    Loving Mirador! One of the records of the year I think for sure.

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