It’s hard to imagine a worse time for an indie rock band than right about now. Most bands rely on touring and merchandise sales for a large part of their revenue; streaming royalties reward artists with large fan bases, not independent groups. But for Sun June, an indie band based in Austin, the impetus to shelter in place fits perfectly with an ethos the group developed long before the pandemic.
With touring venues closed, and songwriter and guitarist Stephen Salisbury off pursuing a doctorate in microbiology in North Carolina, the members are using this time to virtually promote their new LP, Somewhere, take some time away from the band, and then return to plot their next body of work. Songwriter and singer Laura Colwell imagines the group as a collective, with its five members spending time apart and growing independently, then returning together to write, record, and, eventually, tour.
Colwell and Salisbury met in Austin, where each moved to pursue music. “I grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York and I went to school in Boston,” Colwell says. “Stephen was in Rhode Island for school. We both had a similar college experience of just cold, wet Northeast, and we both came to Texas to get away from that.” Colwell and Salisbury met in 2017, in an Austin postproduction office while working on Terrence Malick’s Song to Song. During long, arduous nights sorting through hours of material—Malick is known for his willingness to let the camera roll on and on—Colwell would occasionally pick up a guitar.
“We started writing together and went out to shows,” she says. “We realized, ‘Oh, this is something that we could probably try and do.’” The duo, who are now dating, recruited some fellow Texas transplants: guitarist Michael Bain, drummer Sarah Schultz, and bassist Justin Harris. The band immediately began recording their stellar debut Years, which they released in 2018 and supported with a relentless touring schedule. Now, with the option of touring off the table, the group has released Somewhere, a follow-up album in their cheekily named style, “regret pop.”
The term, though catchy, is too simplistic to encompass the album’s depth. Somewhere’s eleven wistful, gloomy, and glossy songs conjure the feeling of a memory you can’t quite recall happening. The record is nostalgic, but it’s also deeply cinematic, an aesthetic that feels informed by Colwell and Salisbury’s work in the film industry.
Colwell became a musician almost accidentally, keying in on music as a hobby while she pursued a day job as a film editor—a gig she still works when not occupied with Sun June. “Film was always something I pursued in a professional sense,” Colwell says. “Music was always something I just did. I had a dumb band in high school and recorded stuff in college, but I never thought I could seriously do it. I think Stephen felt the same way.” The reluctance to focus solely on music prepared the band for the inhospitable landscape of indie rock in 2021, when artists are more likely to need day jobs than ever.
With the band members interested in all sorts of professions, it’s easy to imagine a lack of focus on the music or the dread of a looming band breakup. For now, Colwell is intent on keeping the group going even as Salisbury transitions into a new world. (One option might be bringing along another guitarist on tour when venues reopen, as Salisbury can’t imagine balancing lab work with a grueling tour schedule.) Colwell isn’t bogging herself down with uncertainty about the future. What she can confirm, though, is her excitement about checking out the North Carolina music scene.
Salisbury’s choice to relocate to North Carolina was intentional. “North Carolina was the pick for him because of the music scene in Durham, which is right next to UNC. We saw it as a way to expand our environments musically. The dream is to be able to have these excursions with the bandmates to write and record in different areas.” Though the group has been a part of the Austin music scene since 2017, they view it as one part of their ever-shifting identity.
As a collective, Colwell takes inspiration from the Brooklyn-based Big Thief, who splinter off and do their own things before reuniting and living together communally to write and record new albums as a whole. “We want to always have a collection of songs running and to be able to make a lot of different records in a lot of different places,” Colwell explains. “It’s our dream.”
For now, Colwell and the members of Sun June are firmly focused on Somewhere and continuing to expand their already-wide vision and scope. “With this record, we wanted everything to be bigger. We used our studio time more wisely and diligently, and we wanted to make everything as strong as we could,” she says. “The first album was very quiet and was recorded live to tape. We felt like we needed to take a step in a different direction.”
On Somewhere, the band’s vision is clearer than ever, though highlighted by the way Colwell subtly blends imagery and narrative, and the way guitarist Michael Bain’s clean tone interacts with the haze that envelopes the entire album. Sun June sounds intimately familiar but from some far off, undefined world. The group started as a sort of happy accident, among “carpeted floors and fluorescent lighting,” as Colwell says. But now, more assured than ever, they’re ready to present Somewhere: a Texas record intimately tied to no place at all.