As COVID-19 ended their tour, Utah band Sunsleeper overhauled their sound

Indie rock band Sunsleeper returned to the studio to see “how far down the rabbit hole we can go”.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Indie rock band Sunsleeper in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 11, 2022. From left are Jeff Mudgett, Jacob Lara, Matt Mascarenas, Cody Capener and Scott Schilling.

Utah-based indie rock band Sunsleeper were on tour in March 2020 and had already wrapped up shows in South Dakota when news of another Utah group on a road trip shook the world.

That other group was the Utah Jazz, and their March 11, 2020 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder was abruptly canceled — because jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19. Within a day, the NBA season was suspended and other activities – like rock shows – were canceled across the country.

“We’ve really spent most of the year touring,” said guitarist Matt Mascarenas.

After the tour was off the table due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the band regrouped, expanded their line-up and began writing and recording new music. Listeners are starting to hear the results with their most recent single, “In the Clouds.” The band’s second album, whose name has not yet been announced, will be released later this year.

“If we were on tour, we wouldn’t have done it [had] Time to write and tour as well,” said guitarist Cody Capener, one of the newcomers to the band. He and bassist Jacob Lara joined the three original band members: Mascarenas, drummer Scott Schilling and guitarist/vocalist Jeffery Mudgett.

“With nothing to distract us, it was just like being creative and seeing how far down the rabbit hole we can go,” Mudgett said.

A “collective” approach

The band’s new music featured all five members of the band – compared to Sunsleeper’s debut album You Can Miss Something & Not Want It Back, which featured songs mostly written by Mudgett and Schilling.

“We all wrote just for ourselves, [brought] pitched an idea to the collective and built it from there,” Mudgett said.

In the studio they built each song both vocally and instrumentally. This could sometimes be an act of juggling three guitars in the mix, making overdubbing easy. Lara said the band stuck to a mantra: “The song is king,” meaning they would do whatever it took — be quiet or coordinate riffs — based on the needs of the song.

That carries over to the band’s live performance, Mudgett said. “Now we intend to have a really nice mix of all our instruments [to] Let everyone shine,” he said.

“In the Clouds” is a nod to the band’s new upscale sound. In press materials, Mudgett said the song was inspired by the summer of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest dominated headlines. “A lot of people’s true colors came to the surface,” he said. “This song is about the realization that many of the people I held dear in my life weren’t who I thought they were, myself included.”

The songs the band created during the pandemic are “not as vague” as what they did before, Capener said. “I can look at any of the songs that we’ve recorded, and each one is either a person that the song is about or something specific,” he said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Indie rock band Sunsleeper in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 11, 2022. From left are Matt Mascarenas, Scott Schilling, Jacob Lara, Cody Capener and Jeff Mudgett.

Play local, stay local

As the music industry begins to resume regular cycles that have been disrupted by the pandemic, Sunsleeper members say they appreciate their work more.

“Culturally, we all appreciate art more [on] this side of the pandemic,” said Schilling.

Mascarenas said the bandmates pay more attention to the little things — like noticing how they stand on stage or if their shoulders hurt in a certain position. It’s about being more present in the moment.

Lara agreed, saying, “You never know when it’s going to be taken away from you.”

They’re proud to be from Salt Lake City and motivated to be part of a thriving music scene. They say their versatility is their forte because it allows them to fit almost any bill.

They agree that Kilby Court – where they are set to open for Slow Crush on May 9th – and The Urban Lounge are their favorite local venues, although they also appreciate a good house show.

They will be playing some festivals later this summer and another single will be out in May. In addition, the band has a list of bands they would like to play with and places they would like to perform – with Tokyo being a specific place where they would like to make music one day.

Wherever they go, it’s “some kind of a dream” for each of them to even make music.

“It feels like a trick,” Mascarenas said, “like we won for a second.”

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism. As COVID-19 ended their tour, Utah band Sunsleeper overhauled their sound

Justin Scacco

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