20 Questions: Sonen

Inside the Sun
Hidden Muscle Music

Atlanta’s electro-pop duo Sonen has made waves down south for years, becoming both a critical and popular pick for those searching for an electronic revolution. Not that it should surprise that the region’s scene would be pioneering the launch of forward-leaning pop music; just look at what the Athens scene did for bands like REM in the eighties. Still, you’d be easily forgiven for not having heard of Sonen’s debut full-length Inside The Sun, though not as easily forgiven for not giving it a once-over now that you’ve been put on the right track.

Sonen, the brainchild of Keith Evans and Holly Mullinax, has been twice named Atlanta’s “Best Electronic Band” by Creative Loafing. The duo tries to capture the excitement of their live shows on the LP, drawing together a deep appreciation for layered electronic textures while smoothing out the hardest edges via all the synth-fueled melodies you can possibly handle. As a result, Inside The Sun plays effectively as an album of ready-for-the-dance-floor anthems, even as the strong hooks seem likely to propel the band to hit-maker status in the burgeoning EDM scene.

Keith and Holly sat down with PopMatters to take on the “20 Questions” challenge, opening themselves up to a full-scale dissection while exposing their affinity for the Keytar, live performances of electronic music, and plans for a follow-up to their debut even as they recover from the act of its creation.

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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Holly: I watched E.T. again recently for the 100th time. Its been choking me up for 20 years.

Keith: I can’t remember the last time I cried over a book or movie but I did get a little teary eyed when LCD Soundsystem called it quits.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Holly: This one stumped me so I took an online “reveal your literary character” quiz. It said Peter Pan. Infer what you will.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Holly: I’m not one for absolutes.

Keith: Me either…but my favorite album of 2012 was the Van She LP Idea of Happiness.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Holly: Classic Star Wars.

Keith: I agree, but the new Star Trek movies trump the new Star Wars Trilogy.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Holly: Natural beauty. We recorded part of the last album at a lake-house in North Carolina and going out to the middle of the lake surrounded by mountains, blue skies and utter quiet makes my mind feel free. I can literally feel my thoughts coming out of my head and floating up into the sky. Freedom in general is brain food for me.

Keith: I’d agree with Holly about nature — it makes me feel small and that’s when ideas begin to flow, knowing that there is something bigger than me, my problems, my to do list etc. But on the flip side city energy feeds me in a way the country can’t. I feel the movement, the chaos, the grit. That’s where the dirty bass lines come from.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Holly and Keith: We are so very proud of the latest LP for many reasons, one being that it is completely and utterly DIY, from the writing, recording, production, and mixing all the way down to the actual release of the album. We did it in a home studio with our own equipment, on our own time, with our own hearts and souls.

Also, After the last album there was some creative struggle with exactly how to make the album we wanted. The depths of “electronic-ness” was in question as the first EP was meant to be an electro-rock album, though in hindsight it was heavier on the rock than on the electronic. We wanted to really get down to the electronic aspects of music we both love to make and to listen to, to utilize the things we love, like analog synths, dirty bass lines, warm and fuzzy strings, epic and emotional buildups. And we wanted to make people dance without compromising the depth of the music. Inspiring people to move and think can be a hard combo to pull off, but we think we did it on this album.

7. You want to be remembered for …?

Holly and Keith: Naturally for our music. Leaving a mark on the world that will be around a lot longer that either one of us.

On a smaller scale, we would like to be remembered for being that electronic group which actually played live electronic music. Pressing play on a laptop and leaving the rest to the lights and lasers is a growing epidemic in the electronic community. Believe me, we understand the difficulties of recreating something live that was done in a studio but we try to play as much with our hands and instruments as possible during live shows. For us, that’s part of the magic.. Watching someone recreate the sounds with their bodies, hearing the imperfections, the small things that change every time you play it. It brings humanism to the live show which can be lacking in our genre.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Holly and Keith: The classical composers. Modern electronic producers and classical composers have so much in common including the ability to conceive so many parts without having access to those instruments. Having to understand each instrument’s contribution one step at a time gives us a base of musical understanding many don’t expect from what’s supposed to be a “just press play” genre.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

[Question asked, but not answered.]

10. Your hidden talents …?

Keith: I’d say wake-boarding and cooking.

Holly: Cooking for me too, and gardening.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

Keith: My father told me once to choose the people I surround myself with by the following criteria: would the world be a better or worse place if that person could be multiplied? I’ve used that as a friend-meter and a personal standard for myself and my own actions over the years.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

Holly: My Keytar is up there, it opened me up to being a better performer on stage, getting out from behind the keyboard and being able to connect with the audience when I sing.

Keith: My first analog synthesizer was an Oberheim Matrix 6. It started a love affair with analog synths that for me has never subsided.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or …?

Holly: I feel best in jeans or shorts, a t-shirt and bad-ass boots. But I usually wear a dress on stage because Keith gives me shit about looking like a tomboy. I refuse to wear high heels on stage though — it’s my own personal rebellion.

Keith: I’m a jeans, t-shirt and sweater guy. Levis 511s to be exact.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Keith: Maybe the guys from Underworld. I’d love to pick their brains about equipment.

Holly: I’d like to get Camille Paglia and the Pope in the same room. It would be an intense conversation. I doubt they’d agree on much but I’d be heavily entertained.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

Holly and Keith: Future time travel would rock. Seeing how far technology has come in the last 10 years in the music production arena has been mind-blowing. I can’t even imagine what synths will do in 2050. Maybe we’ll be able to think about a sound and the synth will interpret the brainwaves and produce that sound on the spot. Oh, and make you dinner afterward!

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Holly: I’ll go with red wine and a hot bath. Though a spa vacation would work too.

Keith: Exercise. A hard-core bike ride always does the trick for me.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or …?

Holly: Caffeine, wine, bobby pins and constant stimulation. I get bored easily.

Keith: Coffee first thing in the morning, alone time, studio time and scotch, in that order.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Holly: a good mix of both. Too much country and I get restless. Too much city and I get overwhelmed. I’d love to live in San Francisco again someday. It’s such an inspiring place to be, the best of both worlds there.

Keith: I also like a good mix but more city than country at this point in my life. The ideal city environment for me would be Berlin (that grit factor coming in again), or Stockholm (I’m Swedish).

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Holly: Good luck!

Keith: Keep on keeping on.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on now?

Holly and Keith: We are finishing up the details of the Inside the Sun release, touring, and trying to take some personal time to enjoy life (writing/recording/releasing an album can be all consuming). We’ve already started writing for the next album and hope to have another EP (or possibly LP) by year’s end or early next year.