This Friday, December 9th, Sunn O)))’s Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley will kick off a tour as Shoshin (初心) Duo in Atlanta, which includes a December 16th stop at our very own Union Transfer. Last month the experimental metal band and EarthQuaker Devices released the third incarnation of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal, and October saw the re-press of their long out-of-print 2002 Flight of the Behemoth album for Bandcamp Friday. I recently got a chance to chat via phone with Sunn O))) and Southern Lord co-founder Greg Anderson, about performing live and a big upcoming anniversary for both the band and record label.
“That’s how it started in the beginning,” says Anderson of the lineup for Sunn O)))’s upcoming tour. However, he tells me that the reasoning behind bringing back Shoshin (初心) Duo started out as primarily circumstantial: “It’s been such an interesting and challenging time, in recent years… We were really wanting to go out and play again, and we were like, ‘How do we do that?’ It was baby steps, like, ‘Let’s start here again and see what happens,’ which was a great moment to reflect and see where you came from.”
Sunn O))) have played a plethora of Philadelphia shows in the past two decades, including gigs at First Unitarian Church (“We’ve played several shows there that were always memorable.”), Union Transfer (“We like Union Transfer, and that’s a great venue, and we love R5 and have been playing with them for years.”), and one particularly noteworthy gig at the Khyber.
“The most memorable experience was when we played the Khyber Pass in 2005-ish. That was a memorable night. It’s a pretty intimate venue, and it’s a pretty busy street for people going nuts and acting a fool… A group of young people gathered outside to see what was going on, because the glass on the building was rattling… And some dude’s trying to do some interpretive dance to what they were hearing inside. I guess it was a spectacle for a moment.”
However, the last time Sunn O))) were in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection was in 2019, when they were touring behind their Life Metal album and played Underground Arts. And while Greg admits to enjoying venues like the Eraserhood basement, he tells me that it didn’t quite work for the show they had in mind.
“I think Union Transfer was booked and Sean might’ve even been out of town… Underground Arts is a great spot for punk and metal, and we grew up going to places like Underground Arts, and I still love those spaces and support those spaces, but they’re not really what we’re doing… This time we’re excited to be back at Union Transfer.”
Despite the show and the venue not making for a perfect fit, Greg tells me that it did give the Philadelphia audience a chance to see the band as a duo for the first time in a while: “That show was a duo show, because we couldn’t fit the entire band onstage… We said to the band [which was comprised of five members, with keyboards, horns, and bass], ‘We can’t even fit on the stage! I guess we’ll play as a duo, and I guess you have the night off [laughs].’” He does admit, however, that the experience did prove to be a bummer: “We were like, ‘That sucks, because we love Philadelphia,’ but this was not the right space to see that group, which was sad because all of the concerts we’d done had been great… I wanted to perform that show, with that group of people, for Philly.”
We spend a good portion of our chat discussing Sunn O)))’s live shows (“Our production – which I keep blabbing about – is complicated.”), which have become famous for exceptionally high volumes and a profound abundance of fog, which Greg admits to me can sometimes be tricky when it comes to finding suitable venues: “The production that we do is rather complicated: the volume, the amount of gear, and also the fog. The space has to allow that. I like something that’s unique, but can also handle our technical requirements, which is not easy, because we’re not a typical band.”
The upcoming Shoshin (初心) Duo tour dates – which run through December 17th in Brooklyn, before picking up January 24th, and ultimately wrapping February 4th in LA – will be the first real concerts that Sunn O))) have played since the pandemic, which Greg tells me he and Stephen are really anticipating after a single performance in the UK over the summer: “We can’t wait to perform again. We did a one-off show in London to celebrate a friend of ours, Savage Pencil. It was an exhibit of just his drawings that he’s done for Sunn O))).”
While Sunn O)))’s origins are in Seattle, Greg and Stephen have been geographically pretty divided for some time now, which can make it a little bit difficult to coordinate their live show: “It’s not exactly easy for us. Stephen lives in Paris and he’s lived there for a while, and I’m in LA most of the time.” Although he tells me that the kind of music they play does make things a little easier: “A lot of what we do is based on improvisation, so we don’t do a ton of rehearsing. The rehearsals are really just making sure the gear works [laughs].” He also tells me that the fact that they’ve been doing this since 1998 certainly helps: “It’s based on many, many, many years of doing this. It’ll be 25 years next year, so that chemistry’s always there.”
In addition to being excited to get back to playing live, Greg tells me that he and Stephen are excited to just be able to still play live shows: “I’m really grateful that we’re still here… I’m excited to still have stuff going on, and have something to celebrate. That’s an achievement!” He adds that doing these shows as Shoshin (初心) Duo only adds to that excitement: “This is a focused meditation on where we’ve come from, a celebration. It’s about celebrating the fact that we’re still out there.” He also goes on to say that these shows will likely only be the start of the celebration.
“It’s interesting to see what comes out of this… 2023 is gonna be the 25th anniversary of both Sunn O))) and Southern Lord. We’re still doing this, and people are still enjoying this, which is great. So, this is an opportunity to share with people, celebrate with people: We’re still around! You’re still around! Let’s celebrate that!”
*Get your tickets here.