(Editor’s Note —1120 Press sat down recently with Sunday Reign vocalist and guitarist Michael Delano for a wide-ranging talk about the band’s new single ‘Falling,’ and its approach to releasing music, the craft of songwriting and finding a sense of family within a band. It was a great discussion and we’re thankful for his time. Sunday Reign is Owen Krieger, guitar; Sean Laettner, drums; Alex Cousins, electric cello, and Michael Delano, vocals and guitar. — Photos by Sarah Bruno/1120 Press.)
1120 Press: Thank you for speaking with us. Congrats on the new single, ‘Falling,’ which marks the band’s first official release. How does it feel?
MICHAEL DELANO: It definitely feels weird because for the longest time, at every show, it was: ‘When will you have music coming out? When will you have music coming out?’ We had gotten some opportunities to record for free, and we recorded some stuff, but we never recorded anything that we were going to put out first. We were just sitting on material for months, and then we finally just said, ‘You know, we’re going to make a song, make an album, we’re going to be in there recording stuff because it’s better than just sitting here with nothing.’ The original plan was to have it out before last year’s South by Southwest, but we did not. So, we went and played South by Southwest without any music out and it was a whole fucking ordeal. The show was great, but it was just like, again, going to a festival like that and playing — it’s a lot. You don’t realize it until you’re in it and then you’re like, ‘Oh my God, one of the owners of Spotify is at the show; and this guy owns United Masters…’ And a lot of these guys, they stay and watch you for 15 seconds and then they’re gone. But that experience overall was a great experience.
1120: How’d you get that gig?
MD: That was through our management: D-Jack (Derrick Johnson), he’s a super good guy, he’s been with Westside Gunn for years. He found us. We do this open mic at Gypsy Parlor… we just show up and play and we amassed people who knew who we were and knew our music, and every Wednesday we’d go and play. So, one day, we finished playing and, unbeknownst to us, this guy was walking around the bar trying to find out our name... We didn’t know until the next show when we played Mohawk Place, which was our first ticketed show through After Dark. The room was full, and D-Jack was there. He stood to the side the whole night and watched the show. Then he came and watched us at Nietzsche’s. He helped us out with South by Southwest, and ever since then he’s been a really pivotal force for us.
1120: So what’s the band’s philosophy on putting music out because with South by Southwest and the shows you guys play, and your online presence, it would seem you would have released more already.
MD: Music, for me at least, I just have always looked at it as — ‘Art is everything and everything is art.’ Everything is made in the vision of art. This building we’re meeting in was made in the vision of art. Whether we like it or not, whether it’s commercialism or not, it’s built in the ideal of art. With music I feel as though it’s the same way. We’ve always been methodical about the way we do things. We never play the same set twice. Our song ‘Right on Cue,’ has been recorded. We’ve had the opportunity to drop it but we haven’t. We think we have some better songs, so it’s like, why not hold off? We’ve built this little audience of people now who know the music and that’s just starting to come around with this release of ‘Falling.’ We’d love to release more, but some of it, obviously, is time; but also, we’re trying to take it slow. We’re in no hurry. We’re young. We have our whole lives ahead of us to play and push our music and record and put out stuff. We’re slowly releasing stuff now and we’re going to put something else out probably next month and it will keep going, and then when we have a few songs out we’ll do an EP and then some more singles. But it’s never been a rush for us. We’re playing music with our friends. The business is there in a sense, but we’re happy playing. We want to put stuff out but for us it’s never been like, ‘we need to have three singles out by this date.’
1120: How long has the band been together now?
MD: It’s coming up on a year.
I remember after I was asked to join the band, I got to the practice, meeting everybody for the first time, I meet Sean outside and he walks me down the stairs and I expected, when I heard a cello was going to be part of this band, I expected I was joining the Morphines of the world— some cool, different, low-down groove thing. And I’m walking down the stairs and I hear this crazy guitar tone and I’m like: ‘This is absolutely disgusting. It’s gnarly, it’s deep, it’s fat, it’s literally everything I’ve always wanted in a guitar tone!’ and I turn the corner and it’s a fucking cello! And I think I literally said to Alex, ‘That’s fucking disgusting!’
1120: You and Alex, it seems, have developed this great musical relationship. And
really, it seems the whole band is close and tight. Can you talk about that?
MD: Yeah, I had a lot of hardships in my last band. My last band did not end well. It was just a bad time, and musically it wasn’t fulfilling anymore. It wasn’t gratifying in an emotional way or a friendship way. I had to get out, but that meant I’d have to lose friends. And I live on Grand Island and I moved here from Vegas. So I didn’t really have any friends. And the friends I had on the Island, you know, all beat me to shit and made fun of me and that is just how it was. I was ‘that guy’ since I was 16. They tore me down and it sucked. And it had been a while since I put my faith in people. Anyway, I hit a
really, really bad time in my life and I remember it was like 3:30 in the morning and I called Sean and I wasn’t expecting him to pick up. I had been to, like, two practices at this point. Didn’t really know the guys yet. But he picked up the phone and he stayed on the phone with me until like 5 in the morning, until I was like, ‘Ok man, I’m good.’ So, I have an immense respect for Sean for that.
Alex is such a smart individual. He’s one of the smartest musicians I know. But more than anything, he’s an incredibly understanding and kind-hearted person.
And Owen — I love Owen — he’s just this goofball. He lights up a room when he walks into it. We go to Black Dots and we drink and have fun. I’ve gained a very personal friendship with these people which is something that I haven’t really ever experienced.
1120: What does having a cello in the band, and especially a cellist of Alex’s caliber, allow you to do musically that you might not be able to do otherwise?
MD: He’s able to do things that are incredible. It’s kind of freeing. In my last band I was the lead guitarist and only guitarist and had to hold everything down. With Alex, though, he can fill spots for me. We have a song called ‘Beauty and the Letter M’ and it opens with a cello intro and he uses a Helix. That’s all. He doesn’t use a bass amp. He uses a Helix and it goes direct into the PA. And he’s made this tone with like six harmonizers that makes it sound like there are these ginormous chords just playing one string on the cello. And it’s a beautiful intro and it leaves things so open for me.
I gain so much pride knowing we are doing something that’s different. I like music that’s different. Morphine, and A.K.A.C.O.D... these bands that are creating these different things and doing music differently. And that’s pivotal because you need ‘different’ to create change. And that’s what I care about most: changing people’s mindsets.
1120: Going back to relationships, you have a song you wrote about your biological father, who was abusive, and you just spoke about your experience of how you were treated on Grand Island. We’re curious, because a lot of your music is so personal: is music therapeutic for you?
MD: I don’t know if the music is as much as the writing is. Music is definitely therapeutic, but the writing itself in my opinion is more therapeutic. My father left when I was very young. He was abusive. He was not a good father. I have an amazing stepdad who I consider my dad. He raised me. I was never able to come to terms with those things until started writing and I was a lot more troubled until I started writing.
1120: What was the recording process like for the single?
MD: So, we worked with Raphael Estrada, a great, great guy. He was my teacher in audio production. We had done some stuff at GCR and it was great stuff, but we felt like we wanted a change. We were kind of moving away from that realm of bands like the Deftones and Filter to brighter sounding rock like the Foo Fighters, which isn’t bad by any means but we wanted to sound deeper and darker from a recording aspect. I’ve recorded at Black Rock a lot and they’re good friends and Raf works at Black Rock. And we went in and we laid down the drum tracks for six or seven songs, and I had no voice that day and I tried to lay down scratch vocals but I couldn’t. So we laid down guitar and cello. The difference, though, was we did it all live. Everybody played at the same time to a click because we wanted it to have the feeling and the liveliness like it would sound live. We came back and did final cuts and the vocals, it’s all Raf. It’s all his expertise. There’s more reverb on the drums. The cello was EQ’d really weird to make it sound huge. That was really the process. It felt like hanging out with old friends.
1120: What inspired the song ‘Falling’? When we listen to it, we hear anger, we hear guilt and we even hear this sense of hope toward the end. It drives across a range of emotions and so we’re curious about the inspiration.
MD: That song came at a time when I went through a really bad part of my life, with a girl — that’s how they all start (laughs) — but I really felt betrayed, and I really felt down, and I had nowhere else to go. I was at rock bottom. I didn’t know what to do. Obviously, I built myself up from the help of my band and the people I really consider friends, but there was a point I just didn’t know what to do. So I just leaned into it. I just wanted to write something that felt like everything was falling down on top of me. It’s definitely about hitting rock bottom, falling down and feeling the worst you’ve ever felt, but at the same time it’s like knowing still after everything that happened, the person who caused this all to happen you’d still do anything for. You know, I try not to tell people at our shows what our songs are about…
1120: Exactly! Which is why we hate asking this question because people should be free to interpret songs their own way and make them their own. But by the same token, we’re curious about what inspires the music …
MD: It’s not a bad question. The writer is always the first listen. Everybody says you can’t write for yourself, but you need to write yourself. If you don’t write for yourself, nobody else is going to fucking care. You are the first listener.
1120: It’s interesting where you take the song vocally at the end. There’s a sense that as you are repeating the line about falling, the vocals actually sound like you are falling from the sky or something. Did you intentionally take the vocals there for that reason?
MD: I knew I wanted to scream at the end because I like screaming and I’m decent at it. I knew that I wanted it to end with this huge climax. But then I heard it in the mix and it would be cool at the end if we added a shit-ton of reverb and made it sound as if I was falling out of a plane.
1120: We knew it! (laughs)
MD: Yeah, it just works with the song. I think it took, like, two takes. And it definitely sucked because I thought I was going to pass out during one of them. (laughs)
1120: So you mentioned you guys have a bunch of recorded material. What is the band’s plans moving forward?
MD: Like I said, we want to put out a couple more singles, and build a little bit more of an audience. And then an EP. We’re going on (a regional) tour in January: Rochester, Syracuse, Toronto, Cincinnati, Cleveland… But now that we have something out there, it makes it that much easier to go out. We’ve been writing new material for weeks now because, really, we have nothing better to do. So we get together, and we write and it’s easy. It’s fun for us.
1120: Before we wrap up, is there anything you want to add about the band that we haven’t covered?
MD: Sunday Reign is weird. We have never really had a normal way of going about things. Everything we do is different. So, if you genuinely like different music, if you genuinely like listening to things that don’t sound like every other sound that’s been made, listen to us. It’s life changing. And art is everything, and everything is art and that’s all.