A Chat With: Sun Mahshene

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We caught up with Nathan Henderson from Sun Mahshene  last month after their set in  Sin É Dublin, to get to know them a little better and try and decipher the inner workings of those blissful psychedelic tunes

Tell us a bit about yourselves?

N: My name is Nathan Henderson and I’m the chief songwriter, vocalist and guitarist in Sun Mahshene. Myself and the other core members of the group make up a 6 piece indie/psych rock n roll outfit from Dublin. The other members are Ian McGinn on guitar, Ryan Daffy on Guitar, Darren Hughes on bass, Dave Murray on drums and Ray Burke on percussion and backing vocals. We also have some other players who stand in if we’re short. They are Stephen Mooney on guitar, Graham Matthews on guitar, Martin Fagan on bass and Tom Moylan on drums.

How did ‘Sun Mahshene’ come about?

N: It originally started out as a bit of a “bedroom” project for me back in 2014. I was in between bands and putting down ideas in my home studio to keep myself entertained. But once I put some demos up online it soon grew legs. There was a good bit of positive feedback coming in so I decided to work on taking it to the next level. The early incarnation of the band consisted of friends who I had previously played in bands with, who agreed to helped me to get the ball rolling. Dave is the only one left in the current line up from those early rehearsal sessions. There’s been a bit of a revolving door of members but we’ve a settled core group of players now.

 Tell us about what it was like when you first started writing music and coming up with your sound?

N: Before Sun Mahshene I was involved in mainly indie rock bands with sounds along the lines of The La’s, Oasis, The Stone Roses, that sort of thing. So this time around I wanted to create something with a bigger, more raw and darker sound. It was when delving  into the Shoegaze, Neo-Psych and Garage rock genre’s the my vision became clearer of what I wanted to achieve sound wise. I did a lot of research on how my favourite bands from these genre’s achieved their sounds from what guitar pedals and amps they used right up to the type of guitar strings and different tuning scales. I’ve a box in my studio that’s absolutely full of guitar pedals. It’s been a fantastic voyage of discovery so far and a lot of fun. And long may it continue!

You released your fourth EP ‘Drones That Don’t Kill’ last year tell us a bit about the EP?

N: Yeah, the EP was released on New Years Eve. We recorded it at Darklands Audio in Dublin and was co produced with Daniel Doherty who’s the main man there. Working with Dan was great and a nice learning experience. He chipped in with some good advice and little ideas to help us fine tune things. It was our way of closing off  what was an eventful year for the band. 2016 was a year that we worked hard on establishing the line up and creating a cohesive live sound. So we wanted to put something out, for ourselves more so than anything else, so that we had something to show for our hard work. And we’re happy with the overall reception it has gotten since it was released.

Do you have a favourite track on the EP?

N: Mine has to be the lead track, ‘No Control’.It’s an absolute belter of a rock n roll tune and great to play live! It’s also Darren’s go too tune. Ryan and Dave are into ‘Shine Your Light’ and Ian is into ‘In The End’. Martin Fagan, who was our bass player at the time of recording the EP, loves the bonus track ‘I Love You’ which plays on the tail end of ‘You’.

The tracks are hazy and soaked in blissful twisted psychedelia with enough fuzz and heaviness to keep it punchy but it’s still ridiculously dizzying and delusional tell us how you achieve this sound and what drove you to create a mirage of darkly saturated tunes?

N: We wanted to do something which not many are doing here at the moment. Or certainly not in Dublin. There are some good indie bands doing the jangley thing but we’re more interested in playing tunes with a bit more bombast to them. So we’ve got 3 guitarists rather than the standard 1 or 2 you’d get in a lot of bands. It adds extra weight to our sound and an extra dimension to how we play.

 The track ‘In The End’ was co-written and features vocals from Lydia Des Dolles of Daag Hur, how did that collaboration come about?

N: I was part of an early lineup of  Daag Hur with Lydia and we had recorded a demo of In The End before I left the band. The song used to be called Before The Light Fades which had different lyrics and slightly different melody which I used to sing. We reworked the lyrics and vocal melody to suit her style of singing. After I left I thought it’d be a waste not to put the song out on something and so asked Lydia if she’d be cool with it being a Sun Mahshene release. She was happy to go with it and the result was great.

 There is a lot going on in your tracks with swirling soundscapes meandering through droning sometimes explosive percussion and sharp piercing guitar arrangements talk us through the writing and producing process for your songs?

N: I have a studio at home and write all of the parts for the songs and take them to the rest of the guys. It’s probably not the most democratic of bands but once an idea is brought to the everyone the feel changes somewhat as their different styles of playing add extra personality to things.

How do you find the recording process is there anything in particular you find difficult?

N: We love being in the studio and recording. It’s extrememly gratifying to hear something you’ve been working on in rehearsals come together. Sometimes you’re focused on your own parts of the song when rehearsing making sure you’re getting it right. So it can be easy to miss or not fully take in what everyone is doing. So once it’s put down in the studio you get to hear the consolidation of everyone’s input fully. I think the most difficult thing is the mixing process. We tend to layer up a lot of different sounds and guitar effects so the impact of certain songs can be lost when there’s too much going on. We really need to sit down and make some tough decisions on what parts need to be stripped out to ensure the song we happen to be working on can be as good  as can possibly be. Drones That Don’t Kill was co produced with Daniel Doherty. So he helped push the song in the right direction and offered great advice.

 Tell us about the concept for the cover art for the EP?

N: The cover art was a summary of what a crazy year 2016 was politically. Both on a national level and internationally. We had the Irish Water debacle happening, Brexit in the UK and then the Trump farce in the US. So we wanted to captured that somehow. It goes back to what Nina Simone once said, an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.

 What is a live show with you guys like?

N: Loud, sweaty and full of melody. We’re probably not the most animated bunch on stage. But we hope the music does the speaking for us. Although, Darren on bass does enjoy a bop.

 How do you get a crowd warmed up and ready to engage and rock out with you guys?

N: Our set is full on from start to finish so our ethos at the moment is to kick the door down and ask questions later in that respect. There’s no better way to catch someones attention by blowing their heads off. As an unsigned band you have to do something which will capture people’s attentions right from the start. But we’re constantly working on new ideas on how to change things up a bit so I’m sure how we deliver our shows will evolve into something else as time goes on.

 Have you had any bizarre things happen while you were on stage?

N: At one show we played, a guy in the audience loved our stuff so much he started throwing beer mats at Ian. He was punching the air and giving rock signs with his hands. I don’t think Ian even realised what was happening. He’s a typical shoegazer, once the song starts his head drops down when he’s playing. So it was funny to have beer mats flying past our heads like frisbies. We got off lightly though because the guy threw a bar stool at the headline act because he was so into their stuff. Luckily it didn’t make it on to the stage. I guess people can have a funny way of showing their appreciation. Either way we’re glad he liked it!

 What is your favourite venue to perform in so far and why?

N: Out of the venues we’ve played so far it’s probably The Workmans Club in Dublin. They have great sound engineers there and the venue is a nice size. As an added bonus, we all manage to fit on the stage which can be a struggle for us in other venues.

 What has been your biggest challenge as a band? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?

N: The biggest challenge is when one of the core members can’t do one of our shows. It can be at short notice, so getting one of our stand ins up to speed with new songs can be tricky. But everyone that comes in to play for us are great musicians so they generally pick up on things fairly quickly. We haven’t had to cancel a show yet and long may it continue.

 What advice do you have for people who want to form their own band?

N: Forget about trying to be the next big thing or trying to sound like what the flavour of the month is on the radio or whatever platform you listen to music on. Do what ever feels right and inspires you. And ultimately enjoy yourself. The hardwork will pay off in the end.

 What’s next for ‘Sun Mahshene’?

N: We’ve a couple of shows coming up, one in Stage 19 on Francis Street, Dublin on the 14th of October. We’ll have great support on the night from Segrasso and Free Sunshine Acid. Then we’re in with the good folks at Gigonometry on the 20th of November in The Workmans Club, Dublin. We’re also demoing our debut album which we aim to begin recording early next year.

Stream ‘Drones That Dont Kill’ below


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