A few weeks back I had the pleasure of reviewing the newest release of Chris McCaughan’s side project, Sundowner. For those of you who are not familiar with McCaughan, he is a guitarist and vocalist in The Lawrence Arms. Having been a fan of The Larry Arms for quite some time I was really impressed with what he had to offer on We Chase The Waves It stuck to me in a good way thanks to the mellow feel throughout along side McCaughan’s storytelling. It’s been, hands down, one of my favorite releases to date this year.
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with McCaughan about Sundowner and just plain old randomness. He was more than kind to answer some questions for me and actually made me hungry by the end of the interview – a first for me.
Let’s do this…
Sundowner started in the attic of my parents house as acoustic songs recorded to an old four track which I posted to a myspace page. Then eventually there were enough songs to actually consider the idea of making a real record. So, it was born out of wanting to share some songs and enjoying playing the acoustic guitar and singing with it. I didn’t start it with the intention of a fully realized project, just a way to create and have fun.
I know mostly it began with just you during your free time but you have some friends as well who chipped in and soon were playing intimate shows in the Chicago area. Who all did you recruit or did they sort of just blend in naturally?
It began as a solo foray but as I prepared for making the first record I enlisted Neil of The Lawrence Arms and Jenny Choi, who is a talented musician from Chicago to play on 4152. Only Neil played on We Chase the Waves. My friend Eli Caterer plays electric guitar live sometimes and adds a really unique element when we have the chance to do that. Now I play solo most of the time but occasionally Neil and Eli join me.
Where did the moniker come from? Why Sundowner? Which sundowner do you refer to with your band name?
It was the original name of a song on 4152 called “Midsummer Classic” but at the time I didn’t want to use my name because it didn’t feel right and I wasn’t certain of where I was going with all this. So I adopted Sundowner and changed the name of that song. I like that the word refers to different things. My initial associations were drinks and sunsets which seemed fitting. If I had to choose the meanings I like the most I’d go with ‘hobo’ or ‘trade wind’ over some of the other references.
I figured I had one in me but it wasn’t till I was about three quarters of the way through writing the second record that I actually knew I had another one in me and that I wanted to make it. I feel like I’ve just followed where my instincts have taken me and tried to make records that were authentic and genuine. Like I said, I didn’t initially start making acoustic songs as a way to start making records.
Was there any inspiration behind your solo material or was it all you?
Inspiration comes from everywhere, man. I know it sounds funny but for me it’s true. I kind of feel like the songs are a way to filter and understand my experience in the world. It seems cheesy but that’s where it comes from.
I totally get what you are saying. So what can you tell me about the new album We Chase The Waves that recently dropped on August 10th?
It’s a collection of material that was written, put together and recorded over the last couple years. It’s a homemade album. My friend Neil Hennessy helped me make and played the bass on. I think it exhibits a progression in sound for me. I think it offers what a lot of fans of the Lawrence Arms have come to expect from me but my hope is that it displays some kind of evolved focus.
Is it true that it was recorded in eight months at someone’s pad?
Yes, totally true. We recorded some of it at my house and a bunch at Neil’s place. It’s what made the experience so unique and different than any record I’ve ever made. Borrowed gear, just hanging out together making a record with the resources we had and no time limitations or deadlines. It was a super cool process. We were trying to capture the natural feel of the songs and felt like making the record in its home environment was a good way to try to make that happen.
If I had to choose I would pick “In the Flicker” “What Beadie Said” and “As The Crow Flies”. Those are the songs that I see as the pillars of the record – that hold it all together. “Mouth of A Tiger” is also a song that I think really illustrates what makes the record new and exciting.
Not that I am complaining, but is there any reason why you did your own rendition of “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”?
I did it cuz it was fun and I’m a lifelong Cubs fan. I like the vintage ditty feel of it. My friend Ryan Suma played the lapsteel on it. It was a blast. I love baseball.
Any offers from the Cubs yet to play that for the fans? I know Dropkick Murphy’s were asked to play “Tessie” in Boston before.
Not yet but I’d love to sing the seventh inning stretch. Of course I’d probably destroy it. Eh, couldn’t be as bad as Ditka and he’s a god in this town. I’d like to see a bunch of drunk old Cubs fan[s] sing it polka style.
I saw your blog about LeBron James and Chicago a few weeks ago before the final call was made. I loved the title of the blog – “I just hope he remembers to wipe the blood off the knife when he pulls it from Cleveland’s back”. I am assuming you are a huge sports fan based upon what you wrote. Are you bummed he did not go to Chicago?
Sure. It would’ve been great. He’s a one of kind talent. But I never really thought we’d get him. We did alright in the off season though and just because the Heat are stacked doesn’t guarantee anything. That’s why they play the games.
Do you agree with me and feel that his stupid ESPN decision special was not needed?
It was poorly executed. I think when everyone tells you you’re a king you’re decision making becomes cloudy. He should’ve gone about it the same way all the big athletes do. It was painful to watch and made him look like kind of a self congratulatory dork.
Seems like a lot of punk rockers turn to folk/acoustic projects as age catches up with them. Who are some of your favorites?
Of course Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry do great folk punk. I love Joey Cape’s solo stuff a lot. I really love Jose Gonzales. I like to think this new record of mine isn’t really folk/punk. I don’t know entirely how I’d classify it. I think that’s a good thing.
Do you see that movement as a trend or something much more than that?
I don’t know man. I’m not one for identifying movements and trends. I think time and history makes those judgments.
What about in general? What bands are you currently in to?
I’m not really into a lot of bands. I haven’t really discovered a lot of new music lately. I like Neil Young and Leonard Cohen a lot.
If you had to pick Sundowner or The Lawrence Arms who would you go with?
Picking Sundowner would be quiet, kinda lonesome . . . picking the Arms would be loud, kinda drunk . . . I guess there’s a time for both.
Are you planning on taking Sundowner on the road?
No plans to do any heavy touring but I will get out and play some shows here and there. It’s tough right now to get out for long runs for a lot of reasons but we’ll see how it all goes.
Technically you could open for yourself. Has that happened yet?
Yes. Sundowner and The Falcon opened for The Lawrence Arms in 2007. I think that’s something you only try once maybe. I dunno.
During past live Sundowner shows you have covered Lawrence Arms songs, is that something you see happening again when you do get to play out?
Occasionally I play Arms songs, which is fun. I have a lot more Sundowner songs to choose from now so that all depends on timing. I leave those decisions up to the moment and let that happen as it happens.
Why should someone check out Sundowner?
I think fans of the Lawrence Arms will hopefully find something they already kinda like, although it is very different. I think there is something very universal that music fans may be drawn to, melody, lyrics, themes, sounds. I feel like it’s an honest and genuine record and my hope is all types of people will enjoy it. Cheers.
Finally, what’s next for Chris McCaughan?
Omelettes. . . and some more coffee