Sunburned Hand of the Man

Sunburned Hand of the Man
Massachusetts natives Sunburned Hand of the Man have been unloading massive, psychedelic mind bombs since the late 1990s. Most of these have been released in extremely limited runs on the band’s own Manhand imprint. Far to the left of the mainstream, Sunburned’s shamanic antics have taken the global experimental underground by storm. Gracing the cover of The Wire for its "New Weird America” issue definitely didn’t hinder the band’s momentum. It even captured the attention of Four Tet’s Kieren Hebden, who took a shining to Sunburned’s unabashedly free approach to music making when he produced their recent Fire Escape album. Even with a growing number of releases on other micro-labels, the CD-R burners at Manhand HQ haven’t stopped churning, and the lysergic bliss keeps on flowing – down the Charles River, throughout North America and across the globe. Exclaim! managed to catch up to John Moloney, one of the founding members of the Sunburned tribe.

One of your newer records, Fire Escape, is a collaboration of sorts with Kieran Hebden producing. How did that relationship come about?
In 2004, we opened up for Four Tet on a two-week tour of the U.S., and became friends with Kieran. So we were in Europe and he had booked a studio in London – the same place that he worked on that Steve Reid record [The Exchange Session, Vol. 1]. He had a couple of days left over, so he asked us to come in and record some stuff; he had the concept, so we played for a few hours and we went back and mixed it up. It was like a fun experiment for him, we didn’t think a record would come out of it. But we enjoyed the outcome – an easy in-out four hours in the studio. There are some parts of the record I don’t even recognise, and there’s a piece from this session coming out soon on a double LP that I don’t even remember playing and haven’t even heard it yet.

You’ve also got Michael Flower and Bridget Hayden of Vibracathedral Orchestra, and Keith Wood (Hush Arbors) contributing on that record. Have you guys worked with them before?
Our main connection, our reason for success in the UK was Mick Flower and the Vibracathedral Orchestra people. We met when they came over to the U.S. to play with Jackie-O Motherfucker, and they stayed at my place; we ended up doing a show together. On our first European tour after we were on the cover of The Wire, we went to Leeds and they turned us on to this guy named Gozzy, who drives vans around – so we didn’t have to worry about logistics and all that. So we actually made money on that tour. Every time we go to Europe now, we have the same old routine – so we ended up becoming very friendly with Mick. In 2005, he came over here to tour solo with Magik Markers and Sunburned on the bill – but anyway, he’s a full-on member of the band now. It’s too bad that he lives in England. Bridget has done a couple of tours with us before, so we asked her to come on tour for a few weeks and she ended up being on the record.

I met Keith while on tour playing drums for Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) in the fall of 2005. Originally, it was supposed to be Ben playing with me on drums, but eventually Keith picked up the bass and we became one band. So we became friendly with Keith and brought him on a couple of tours, and took him over to the UK with us. Actually, he met a girl and stayed in UK. So did I, but I came back and Sarah came with me, and now she’s in Sunburned.

How did that Sunburned Circle record, The Blaze Game, come about? Circle seem a bit on the heavy prog, almost metal side, in terms of sound…
Well, that’s just one aspect of the Circle sound. They’ve got some stuff that I’d consider pretty ambient. And besides, some of the Sunburned guys come from hardcore backgrounds and are into the heavy stuff, so it’s a good fit. We did some shows in Finland, playing on the same bill as Circle; we ended up setting up and recording live on stage for an hour before one of the shows. What you hear on the record is simply a straight live performance. I like it, and I wish we had more time to do recordings with those guys.

You’ve released quite a volume of music on your own Manhand imprint, but have also worked with quite a few smaller labels (Spirit of Orr, Eclipse, Smalltown Supersound, Blackest Rainbow, Fuck It Tapes, Three-lobed, Ecstatic Peace!, etc.). Do labels approach you often, asking to put out Sunburned material?
Well, Spirit of Orr is Ron from Sunburned, so that’s considered to be in the family. Honestly, we simply meet people and records just happen. Jeremy Earl from Fuck It Tapes is a good guy – I don’t even remember how [the Pegadrift cassette] happened, it just felt really easy.

Sunburned is a group of artists and we all have a lot of creative energy. We record just about everything and so it’s a lot of fun to go through recordings and video to put together new releases. There seems to be a non-stop supply of artwork floating around. The fact that people buy, and seem to like our music is always a shock to us. We use the proceeds from the Manhand releases to keep the band afloat and make more art. Ultimately, we're all doing exactly what we want to do so who can complain?

The recently released Weekend at Burnie’s II LP features vocals quite more prominently than on some of the prior releases, and gets quite heavy at times. What were the circumstances surrounding this one?
Some of the material was recorded in [Bank Row studio], the same place as the MV/EE record [Getting’ Gone]. The first track was supposed to be on Z, the Ecstatic Peace! record, but we lost the master for a little while. So yeah, most of the stuff is from that one eight-hour session, but some of it was recorded in the Loft about two years ago.

We really wanted to run with the whole Weekend at Bernie’s theme – partying with a dead guy – we liked that concept. We’re actually going to keep the series going, Burnie’s Iwas supposed to come out as a seven-inch but that never materialised.

What lies next for Sunburned?
Our Yod record, A Taste of Never, just came out – it’s an old studio thing from 2003 that we just released now. There’s a record coming out soon on Three-Lobed that we did with Gown. We were his backing band - Ron, Sarah, Taylor and myself; it’s a heavy, blues kind of record. We’re going to do some more touring, and then do a few shows as the Clear People [Sunburned’s original name]. We hope to head back to Canada in March.