Tuesday October 24 Sun V Set’s Curious Wave, a gorgeous haunting collection of songs will be released. There is an album celebration concert on Thursday October 26th at Gallery 5. After catching several performances from last spring into summer I was able to ask Linnea Morgan about the songwriting and genesis of the band and their musical expression.
Todd Raviotta: One of the things that instantly struck me when I first was able to hear Sun V Set at the James River Film Festival Silent Music Revival 2023 was what I thought might be the diverse genre of influences, perhaps coming from the different musicians, but seemed to appear in the song structure and compositions. There is folk, alternative rock sensibilities, ethereal vocals and dreamy woodwinds, but there’s also a note of progressive metal in the rhythm section that was exciting, and if irrelevant excuse the thought, reminded me of Opeth’s Damnation album. What sorts of influences do you cite for your sound and song writing?
Linnea Morgan: In my songwriting, lyricism, and vocally, I was very influenced by Mariee Sioux’s album Faces in the Rocks, Angel Olsen’s EP Strange Cacti, and Mountain Man’s album Made the Harbor. All of those albums touched something in me that was very relatable, and they opened a portal into my own singing and songwriting.
Ethan Johnstone (Drums), Ethan Kuhn (Bass), Tristan Brennis (Clarinet), and I all have very broad musical tastes and interests, so I think hearing us play together certainly brings forth various genre influences. EJ, EK, and I really connected with the music of Grizzly Bear, Radiohead, Fleet Foxes, and Sufjan Stevens in our high school years, and I feel like we do follow in their footsteps sonically.
The heavier progressive sound you hear in the rhythm section is likely from EJ and EK’s syncopated pop-punk upbringing, and their shared love of Tera Melos, early Damiera, some Meshuggah, other richly rhythmic music such as The Books, along with EJ’s affinity for certain 70’s prog rock.
TR: Where does Sun V Set as a name come from?
LM: Well, it took a couple of years for us to find the name Sun V Set. We started off under the name Year of the Wheel, but we weren’t sold on that one. Sun V Set was one of many, many potential band names I had floating around in my head. I think originally Sun V Sect popped into my head, and it morphed into Sun V Set because it gave me nice imagery. EJ and EK liked that name the most out of others, and that’s what we started calling ourselves starting in 2020. When I was looking to see if any other artist had the name Sun V Set, only one obscure webpage had the sequence of words of “Sun V Set”. It was an intriguing page where the author was making a point of comparing the term “sun set” with the story of the Egyptian god of the sun Horus battling for control over the skies with Set, the god of darkness. Essentially, light vs dark. That resonated with me and felt like a good meaning to build on. Here is that webpage.
TR: What time frame was the music written?
LM: I wrote these songs between spring of 2018 and winter of 2020. These songs are many of the first songs I wrote on guitar and voice.
T: When and where was the Curious Wave album recorded?
LM: I will say that this album was created in total creative chaos. We didn’t start with an idea for an album, we just started recording in the summer of 2020, starting with “Ankle Biter Thorn” and then “LA Electric”. It was recorded in bits and pieces in several houses and several rooms. All by Ethan Johnstone, our drummer and my co-producer. He had recorded his own album a few years ago under the name Brother Rutherford, and used his experience from that album to bring Curious Wave to life. Some elements were recorded by Ryan Gary on “Water Curse” and Mitch Clem of Go West Recording on “Rain Falls” and “Out on a Limb”.
TR: Is there a story behind the Curious Wave album production or any notable stories of recording songs or parts?
LM: The production for this album was an experience in utilizing all the many instruments we own, as we are both multi-instrumentalists and like many musicians, instrument hoarders. We had no idea what we were planning with any song- there was no demoing done for this album. We made it all up as we went. “Water Curse” was a song that we performed major structural surgery on after I felt new parts needed to be added after we had already recorded drums and bass. Curious Wave went through several versions, and the final version was essentially a mash up, including many elements of the previous iterations. Every song has its story, but consistently we had the same approach: to turn the bones of a song into the best version we could create within our abilities, tastes, and vision.
TR: Anything that stands out or above as a proud accomplishment?
LM: When I step back, I am most proud of the grit and long-term dedication to the vision of seeing these songs through to the very end. I’ve never done anything that required so much self-motivation, leadership, and follow through. It felt impossibly long and hard. So many tears and break-downs from my end. Putting together an album and leading the band, the creative vision, and all the associated decisions and tasks that had to go into that, it feels like an actual miracle that it got done. Since we were doing it ourselves through trial and error, it was very lengthy and not at all efficient. And the reason it got done is that we all worked together to see it through. I’m so extremely grateful to Ethan J for recording the album and for supporting my music so thoroughly and selflessly through this process, and to Ethan K for staying patient and sticking with me as I went through my process of making sure everything was to the standard that I wanted. Lots of changing parts, re-tracking, feeling stranded creatively with songs, and even just finding time to do the recording amongst schedules took a lot of energy. That we finally saw it through to the end means everything to me.
TR: How long have you been performing as a four piece and solo vocal artist? How long have you been writing songs?
LM: Here is the very long answer to this question that you didn’t ask for, but it really gives the full context: I grew up playing classical violin, starting when I was 5 years old. I was very immersed in the classical world until I was 17, studying solo violin performance and playing in youth orchestras. I met Ethan J in 2013 (I was 20) and we started playing music together, him on guitar and me on violin. For 5 years we wrote instrumental compositions together under Ethan’s musical moniker Brother Rutherford, which included Tristan Brennis (our clarinet player) on saxophone and later on clarinet. The music was instrumental progressive folk with a side that was Celtic-inspired tunes and another side that was more experimental/ avant-garde and modern classical-inspired. That was my introduction to songwriting and learning to put music into structures of my own creation and decisions. Ethan really taught me how to do that just by providing me an opportunity to learn how he structured his songs, and how we created songs together. So much of Sun V Set and my writing is influenced by the 5 years we spent playing Brother Rutherford together. I never really felt like violin was the instrument I felt very connected with, so eventually I stopped playing it regularly and Brother Rutherford has been on hiatus since 2020.
I started messing around on guitar in 2016, and really developed an obsession with exploring it. I didn’t watch videos or take lessons, Ethan showed me a really simple picking pattern (that I still use all the time today) and I would put my fingers in random shapes and memorize the chords that sounded most magical to me. That’s still how I play guitar. I’m not actually very proficient on the instrument, I’m just proficient at playing my songs. I started songwriting about that time, but nothing good or notable. In 2018, I moved back to Richmond after living for several months in Moab, UT. When I came back from that trip, I was infused with all kinds of energy of living in that beautiful landscape and living really fully for all those months. I started jamming with Ethan, him on drums and me singing and playing guitar. We invited Ethan K, who lived across the street at the time (and plays in Houdan the Mystic with Ethan J) and we would just jam to my various guitar riffs and I’d improvise over them. That was really the birth of Sun V Set and who we are. We refined those jams into songs, and I continued writing more intimate style folk songs on the side. I had my first solo show and we had our first band show in June of 2019, one year after we started playing together.
TR: When did you make the decision to add the accompaniment and have this become a band?
LM: EJ, EK, and I were playing together from the beginning. Tristan started playing with us in spring of 2022, and it’s taken us about until now to incorporate him and his parts into our full set. It was great playing with Tristan again because we had played together for several years in Brother Rutherford.
For me it’s a bit of a challenge to feel comfortable with being both a solo artist and a band under the same name. I’m sure that other artists who do the same thing can relate to that conundrum. Not every song will have accompaniment. Some are just simple folk songs and I want to keep them intimate in that way.
TR: At the Brambly Park show in June 2023 there were other musicians joining for songs, is that an experiment that will continue? Are there new arrangements and different ensembles in your future vision in development?
LM: I definitely want to explore playing with more musicians and different instrumentation. I would love to go back to my classical roots and put together a chamber ensemble with strings and woodwinds and choral elements. I would love to do that in the future, to bring the richness and layering of the album in a live setting.
At the same time, it’s a challenge to incorporate other artists because the responsibility as a band leader grows, which I struggle with amongst all the many other hats I wear, not to mention my full time job. I pray for a future where I can see out my creative visions more boldly with Sun V Set and have greater capacity and more resources to bring them to life. I trust that I will grow into that over time.
TR: Where did you grow up and if not in Richmond when did you move to the Richmond area?
LM: I grew up in Chevy Chase, MD until I was 8, then Purcellville, VA until I went to college in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech. I moved to Richmond for the first time in 2015, and it’s been the place I return to since then.
TR: What is the outgrowth of the Richmond music family band tree that Sun V Set is the fruit of?
LM: Ethan J, Tristan, and I all played together on Ethan’s compositions. Ethan and Ethan grew up playing music together, since they were in 5th grade. They have been in many bands along the way, playing Blink 182 covers and then writing their own songs. They formed Houdan the Mystic in 2011 with Reid Lapierre (who Ethan plays with in Night Idea). Tristan plays saxophone in Dumb Waiter, which is an avant-noise rock band, who has shared many bills with Houdan and Night Idea.
TR: Where can people find some recordings of the music and when is the album being released?
LM: The album will be released on Tuesday October 24! It will be on Bandcamp for purchase and on all streaming platforms. We have physical CDs for purchase and for pre-order. On Thursday October 26, we have an album release celebration at Gallery 5 with other fantastic Richmond artists Jonathan Brown, Shera Shi, and Rumput.
TR: What is the relationship with water as a theme on this Album? With “Curious Wave”, “Rain Falls” and “Water Curse” coming to mind.
LM: This album was all about exploring inner waters. I think the symbolism I meant to convey is in the purity of our essence, water being how our souls move through this world. Our emotions of pain and confusion being turbulent and churning waters, and music and expression helps to direct it into a direction of play and flow. From there we can shape it beautifully and see what was once jagged and painful now a silver and slippery channel carved into stone. That is what the term “curious wave” means to me. Moving our pure essence and energy towards something that is expressive and beautiful as medicine to all we find confusing, stuck, and dark in ourselves.
TR: It has always been amazing seeing touring bands connected with local artists at shows here in Richmond and the friendships in those circles and circuits of musicians sharing music in each other’s cities and spaces. Were there any standout moments from the late summer tour places or performances? It looked like a great journey of inspiration and sharing of music.
LM: We played 10 shows on our tour, and each one was at an amazing spot with great people and a rich community. The standout moment for me was in Moab, UT, playing a backyard show while a strong wind blew in from a storm happening nearby. Moab is a deeply special place to me. I lived there in 2017, and the magic of the land and the beautiful community I shared it with while I was there brought something new and powerful out of me that became the genesis of the voice of Sun V Set. Songs like “Water Curse”, “LA Electric”, and “Out on a Limb” are about my journey moving and living out there. Being back in that land and singing to the town, and the wind, and the redrock felt the most beautiful full circle moment.