Tag Archives: Sundowner

Interview: Chris McCaughan of Sundowner / The Lawrence Arms

A couple of months back, I remember getting an email from the good folk at Fat Wreck Chords stating that Chris McCaughan of The Lawrence Arms would be delivering another installment of his solo material, also known as Sundowner.

I was beyond stoked to learn of this as I was a big fan of McCaughan’s last Sundowner release and maybe dig The Lawrence Arms a whole lot.  Hopefully there are a few of you out there who can agree with me on both statements.

Anyways, Neon Fiction is just an amazing release and I can not stop listening to it.  I have not had time to do a proper review of the album on there here website, but I was asked if I wanted to chat with McCaughan about it.  Of course I said yes to that.

Chris and I were able to catch up on the good ol’ Internets and he was kind enough to talk about his new release.  Check it out:


BHP: So the last time we chatted about 3 years ago,  LeBron had kicked Cleveland in the nuts and you just released We Chase The Waves. I guess what I am trying to ask is, what the heck have you been up to?

CM: I remember. Nice to chat again. Not sure I can condense the last three years of my life into a brief synopsis of what have I been up to? So, let’s just say I’ve been livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.

I heard you no longer live in Chicago these days.  Is that true?  What prompted the big move to the West Coast?

True. I was born and raised in Chicago. So I take that place with me where ever I go. And, anyone who knows me knows how much I identify with and love that city. But I was ready for something in my life to change and felt like a new surround would be good for me. Also, my girlfriend is from the West Coast and, after having lived in Chicago for several years, she was ready to be closer to home and out of the harsh winter. So that was part of it. But, having toured and traveled extensively in my life I wanted to know what it was like to actually live in a new place. It’s an entirely different experience. I still spend a lot of time in Chicago though, so I feel a bit like a habitant of multiple places.

You just dropped an all-new release on Fat Wreck Chords titled Neon Fiction. Care to tell me about it?

Neon Fiction is the culmination of songs I was writing somewhere in the span of Fall ‘11 into the Spring of ‘12. It’s hard to remember the exact time frame. I didn’t write this with specific intentions or deadlines or ideas about how it would all come together. It may sound ridiculous, but I really was just writing the songs I write. I’ve gotten questions over the years like how do you know when it’s a Sundowner song or a TLA song? And the truth is I just don’t think about it in that way. Or, perhaps, a bit more accurately, I just know innately. This is, simply, me and these are the songs I write. Some people ask if this is more than a side-project now and, again, I don’t think in those terms. This is part of what I do and my goals are to try to write great songs and make cool records. That’s the part I can control and that’s what Neon Fiction is to me.

I guess, in some ways, I feel like I’ve had this record in me for long time, but it took certain conditions in my life to write it. Part of that was letting go. There was definitely a time when I felt like no one would ever hear any of this and that didn’t bother me at all. I was completely at peace with that.

But, when I was finally ready, I fronted the production so we wouldn’t have to make hard decisions on the front end. We could focus on the songs and the work. We tracked it at Atlas Studio in Chicago. As usual, I teamed up with Neil Hennessy on the record. The goal was to try to make an awesome album, with cool sounds. We consciously tried to shift the perspective from the previous Sundowner albums. I felt like that was essential. We wanted layers and different kind of landscapes for the songs, and for each song. I wanted to challenge myself but work within my range. I wasn’t trying to reinvent anything.

I feel very fortunate to be working with Fat Wreck. And it meant a lot to me that everyone over there liked the songs and the album. I’m so grateful for so many people in my life who have made this possible and who have continued to be supportive over so many years. So, it’s been an amazing experience and I’m so stoked it’s out.

Does the title of the album have any hidden meaning behind it? Sounds like a typical Vegas adventure to me.

For me it just captures the nature and vibe of the collection. That was the primary goal of the title. Admittedly, I struggled naming the record. I asked my friend Ben Pier, who is a photographer living in NYC, to shoot a bunch of stuff for the album. Once we chose the cover photo it started to all make more sense to me. It’s a city record. The songs are heavily influenced by my sensory perception and how I specifically interact with environments. So lights and sounds are heavy contributors to the overall landscape, the lyrics and sonic qualities. And, honestly, I just like the way it sounds. That’s a hugely important factor to me in a title. Also, Neon Fiction has some origins for me. It’s a bit of a tip of the hat to Chicago writer, Nelson Algren, who wrote a book called Neon Wilderness. And it’s a bit of a play on Non Fiction, as the record is full of half-truths.

SundownerSo when did you start writing Neon Fiction? We you looking to write another Sundowner album, or did you just find yourself with a bunch of songs that needed a home?

I didn’t sit down to write a record. But I wouldn’t say I just found myself with a bunch of songs either. I was writing with no real goal in mind. Just writing to write. I wasn’t thinking about how or where or why. I wasn’t focused on some kind of end game. I guess somewhere in the process, when the songs began to accumulate, it occurred to me that I felt strongly about the material. At that point things felt more magnetic. I was being pulled to some kind of end and then I felt compelled to figure all the other things out so that I could make it. I’ve thought about this in a lot of different ways. In terms of the song writing I would say it this way: It’s like I was a kid out in a field in the evening with a mason jar and a lid trying to catch fireflies. Got one. Here’s another. And at some point I’d caught so many I was excited enough to go show someone.

I swore that you stated before that you were not really going to go the solo acoustic music route in the past, but here you are. Has the popularity of punk rockers following this trend changed your mind?

I’m pretty sure I never said that. Certainly not in that way. I’ve been playing as a solo acoustic artist since 2005 or 2006, when I first began writing acoustic stuff and the first Sundowner record started to come together. So, no, the popularity of the genre has nothing to do with my choices or decisions as an artist. I’m just trying to write and live a life that’s authentic and genuine to me. That’s it, man.

Can we expect you to be onboard the next Revival Tour then?

I have a great amount of respect for Chuck Ragan. He’s just an amazing guy. I first met Chuck years ago when TLA toured with Hot Water Music and I’ve had the good fortune of performing on Revival tour and doing shows with him here and there over the years. It’s always an incredible collection of talented and passionate artists he puts together for Revival and I always feel honored when he reaches out to me in any way.

I thought “Concrete Shoes” was exceptional. What made your feet so heavy that you had to write a song about it?

We live in a sticky world, man. And, I guess, at times my feet felt pretty heavy against the pavement. Just trying to get off the ground.

Was there a certain track you favored over the rest on Neon Fiction?

I’m proud of the record as a collection of songs. They belong together and I think they make each other better. And that was the goal. If I absolutely had to pick one maybe it would be Poet of Trash? Maybe My Beautiful Ruins? Grey on Grey? I don’t know, man. I have an array of feelings and connections to them all.

Overall, was there a theme surrounding all of the songs on this album?

There are a lot of themes and sub-themes. But generally speaking, it’s a record about self-acceptance and self-actualization. It’s about letting go of the things that you can’t control and being honest with who you are, embracing your nature.

Seems like I am not the only one who is digging Neon Fiction. How are you taking the feedback so far from everyone who pre-ordered the release?

It feels great to have such a positive response to the songs. And, of course, I’m happy it seems to have had some impact on listeners already. But I try not to worry too much about all of that or read into it too much. I just continue to be thankful that I’m in a position to share the work, keep believing in the craft and the process.

Who all helped you this round on Neon Fiction? How much did Neil Hennessy pitch in again?

Neil played bass and drums. I did all the guitars and vocals. That’s it. Neil is an incredibly talented musician and has been an essential part of making the Sundowner records. This record was no different. His contribution to Neon Fiction was enormous. He helped catalyze and actualize so much of what was in my head. I feel lucky to have a partnership with him that has created conditions to work in this way. Justin Yates, who works with Matt Allison at Atlas studio where we made the record, engineered and helped produce which allowed Neil and myself to really focus in on performance. Neil is a true craftsman, one of the best dudes, and we’ve had a, sort of, musical kinship for a long time. He has a sharp and sophisticated ear and what he brings to the studio, or to any project, is invaluable.

I know you hardly toured with the last Sundowner release, but that is all changing this time. How does it feel to be hitting the road without your full-time band? Any plans on expanding that tour?

Over the years I’ve played solo quite a bit, so I don’t anticipate it’ll feel too strange. This fall I’ll be doing some small runs of shows here and there and we’ll see what happens. Not getting too far ahead right now. I try to do this in the way that works best for me and not get too concerned by others expectations.

Just curious, but were you asked to cover a Tony Sly song for his upcoming tribute release? I didn’t see you on the track listing and was curious if that was due to your own choice.

Tony Sly was a great guy and an amazing songwriter. TLA and No Use toured together a bunch and I was fortunate enough to get to know him and spend some time around him. He’s deeply missed. If it’d worked out that I could’ve contributed a song that would have been awesome and an honor. But it didn’t. Don’t read too much into it.

Rumor has it that the Lawrence Arms have new material recorded. When can we expect that to drop?

There’s a new TLA record. It exists. We’re excited. That’s about all I can tell you.

So, what’s next for Sundowner?

It’s September. Neon Fiction is out. Shows ahead. I’m stoked and thankful. Just trying to live in the present moment and do the best version of me I can.

Pick up the new Sundowner on Fat Wreck Chords.

Sundowner is playing Now That’s Class in Cleveland on Sept 26th. with Meridian and The House Of Wills.  Tickets are only $10.  Do not miss out on this show!!!

Sundowner @ Now That's Class

Interview: Sundowner (aka Chris McCaughan of The Lawrence Arms)

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…

So let’s start things off…  How did Sundowner start?  Was it something that you wanted to do for a while?

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.

Did you ever think that your solo material would make it onto an album, let alone two?

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.

Are there any songs off the new album that you favor over others?  My favorite is easily “Mouth Of A Tiger”.

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

Sundowner – We Chase The Waves – CD Review

A sundowner can be a lot of things (a car, drink, plane, type of wind), but in this case the Sundowner I am referring to is an amazing solo project by Chris McCaughan, the guitarist and vocalist of punk act The Lawrence Arms.  

We Chase The Waves is Sundowner’s second album and like the first, it is far from punk rock and more of a brush with folk music that brings forth good moods and instant sing alongs.  Recently dropping on Asian Man Records, We Chase The Waves might just be the album that gets me through the rest of the summer.

Starting as a side project, McCaughan wrote a few songs in his free time and played intimate shows around the Chicago area taking the moniker Sundowner.  With help from fellow band mates and friends the project turned into a band of sorts with Sundowner’s debut being released in the spring of 2007 on Red Scare Records.  Just three years later McCaughan and friends decided for a follow-up and recorded We Chase The Wave in their homes, literally, in just eight months.

Passionate and compelling are the two words that describe McCaughan’s wiring styles on the CD.  The guy is a natural storyteller and just has a way with words. From the moment “In The Flicker” started off the album I was beyond mesmerized.  The song was nothing more than an acoustic jam amongst friends but I was addicted, I wanted more, and before I knew it the ten track album was wrapping up.

Tracks like “As The Crow Flies” impressed the hell out of me even though the song was nothing over the ordinary.  The way the song presented itself to the listener, told the story, and ended it on a positive note not only begged for another listen but might have very well inspired a certain someone typing out this review…

“Baseball’s Sad Lexicon” took words from the 1910 poem of the same title by Franklin Pierce Adams telling the tale of the Cubs succeeding over the Giants thanks to a game winning double play (the only way I ever would have known this was by reading the CD insert and Google).  As an ode to McCaughan’s beloved Chicago Cubs he did a great job rendition of the classic poem.

“Mouth Of A Tiger” was a stern and ever so low opinionated track with lyrics like “I’m as lucky as a funeral” and “I’m not looking at the glass half full”.  I adored the singing style on the song match up with the acoustic and lap steel guitar playing.  Full of everyday truth and plain old honest opinions, the song begged to be played on repeat.

We Chase The Waves was an amazing start to finish album with no lulls in between.  McCaughan nails it dead on with his catchy melodies and fine storytelling that will grow on you regardless if you are a fan of him, The Lawrence Arms, or not.  Don’t look at Sundowner as a side project by a punk rock guy, look at it as a talented musician who has created something that more people need to know about.