Formed at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music, when Oscar Gormley (vocals, guitar), Sam Becker (bass), Charlie Woof-Byrne (keys) and Jake Brown (drums) began noodling around together away from their formal classical training, SUN SILVA most certainly fall in the latter category.
All four members are proficient piano and guitar players, while the quartet’s various studies ranged from classical percussion to baroque bassoon. Three-chord wallops, it’s fair to say, are not their thing and even their first sonic moves out of the traps – led by debut single ‘Blue Light’ - are ones filled with the breadth and ambition of a band itching to test the limits of their own possibilities at every turn.
“I think the most exciting thing is the scope of what we’ve got. We can bring in other instruments or an orchestra or try different versions of something. There’s so much stuff we can do and seeing where that goes and what people want to get from it is very exciting,” notes Sam.
Originally coming together around four years ago, the roots of the band began in notably idiosyncratic style. For the first year, the four players didn’t really see themselves as a band, instead just meeting regularly to improvise and test the waters of various ideas, mainly “playing some really weird shit, focusing on world music grooves,” recalls Jake. “There were no vocals, you had some weird shells you were shaking about,” notes Oscar to his bandmate. “They definitely weren’t songs.” Gradually, the band starting incorporating vocals and “making songs that were comprehensible to other people”, but it would take an unlikely stint moonlighting elsewhere for the quartet to fully sharpen up and focus.
One facet of the Academy is that it also acts as an agency to loan its students out to the real world as musicians for hire. That’s how Oscar found himself playing recorder with Cat’s Eyes – the project of Horrors frontman Faris Badwan and classical musician Rachel Zeffira – when they gatecrashed a performance at Buckingham Palace.
“They said we were playing a Renaissance song that came from a clock that’s in Buckingham Palace’s art gallery, but as soon as we got there, [the guards] were like, why have you got instruments with you? I think it was basically a prank they’d pulled…” the singer recalls.
They clearly pulled it off, however, as later Oscar got a call from the band asking him to join them on tour, playing guitar and keyboards. When they needed a drummer, Oscar brought in Jake. “It was really fun and we got a great insight into playing in a band of that level, playing Primavera, Glastonbury and things,” explains the singer. “But the whole time we were thinking, I wish we were doing this with our own thing,” finishes Jake.
And so, when they finished their engagements with Cat’s Eyes at the end of 2016, the two returned to SUN SILVA with a renewed sense of purpose to make something of their own band. Heading into Wendyhouse Studios in Hammersmith a few months later, they began recording in stints with producer Adam Lunn (whose previous work includes mega pop acts such as Rita Ora and One Direction as well as rising grime star Nines) and laying down their wares.
Influenced by the likes of Radiohead, Tame Impala and the emotive, fleshed-out latter work of The Maccabees, the first taste comes in the form of ‘Blue Light’. Featuring a full brass section and built around layered, intricate instrumentation and a soaring, harmony-laden chorus, it lands somewhere between Jungle and a more cerebral, ambitious Honne. Thematically dealing with “being obsessed with all these screen-based things that were stressing me out and I didn’t even realise”, it’s socially aware but elusive enough as not to be bogged down by these concerns.
Primarily, however, it acts as a taster for the wide-reaching sonic palettes that the quartet imbues every offering with. “We enjoy emotionally intense songwriting. If you listen to a Jeff Buckley song, you don’t necessarily know what he’s on about, but you can feel there’s something going on. Same with Fleet Foxes or someone like that. The linking thing is that they’re big songs with a journey, but where you can also feel that they’re emotional people that are saying something,” explains Oscar. “A lot of the stuff we’re coming up with is quite ambitious, especially for the timeframe and the amount of money we have,” Sam notes.
If it’s a confident point, then it’s one that’s also undeniably true. Live, the quartet are insistent on replicating the multi-layered textures of the tracks to a tee (“We’re doing as much as we humanly can and if that means that Charlie’s playing Keith Emerson-style keyboards then that’s what he’s going to have to do,” jokes Jake), while the band have also been working on a series of specially-curated visuals, based on the slightly altered natural imagery that adorns their current artwork.
Having quietly crafted a bank of genuinely forward-thinking leftfield indie, now SUN SILVA are finally ready to press ‘go’ and let everyone else in. ”We’re just excited about getting going and showing people what we’ve been working on for two years,” says Oscar. “We’ve been writing for so long that we just really wanna show everyone what we’ve been up to.”