Witch Prophet and SUN SUN Left Toronto and Found a Farmhouse Sanctuary
"We've been together for 14 years. It's scary. But also wonderfully magical"
Published May 03, 2023Recording at home is nothing new for songwriter Witch Prophet and producer SUN SUN — but that process felt utterly renewed when the musicians and spouses moved from their artsy west-end Toronto neighbourhood to a farmhouse 45 minutes outside of the city in 2018.
Over Zoom, the duo describe the creative and emotional benefits of their new rural backdrop while recording their latest solo projects. The first is SUN SUN's recently released No Friends in Toronto, a boom bap rap album featuring vocals from a number of MCs and singers, including one song with her wife. Next comes Gateway Experience, Witch Prophet's lyrically vulnerable, genre-defying album that SUN SUN produced, out May 1.
"We can hear birds. And coyotes at night!" SUN SUN tells Exclaim! while cozied up next to her wife, speaking about recording at the farmhouse.
Witch Prophet nods and continues SUN SUN's thought: "When we look out the window and see the green, snow-topped trees, they're beautiful enough to help us tap into something different."
SUN SUN recalls inviting a who's who of Toronto underground artists like DijahSB, M.I.BLUE and Lex Leosis to their woodland abode, serving them organic meals and laying down verses for No Friends in Toronto.
Leosis's visceral verses about gentrification perfectly suit No Friends in Toronto. After all, at their west-end apartment's DIY studio, neighbours would lodge noise complaints even when they made music as quietly as possible, says Witch Prophet. At their farmhouse, on the other hand — where they tore out walls and decorated carefully so that it would be spacious and colourful enough to inspire — SUN SUN says they have "a more relaxing atmosphere to tap into. We wanted to live our lives every day like an artist retreat."
That setup helped Leosis write socially conscious and introspective rhymes: "The process was super organic because of the good energy. We all related deeply to living in Toronto and dealing with the housing crisis, post-pandemic living, and inflation," says Leosis, a subject she was keen to write about after landlord issues left her worried she'd need to leave the city she was born and raised in.
SUN SUN's inspiration goes beyond the financial stress of life in the GTA. She began crafting No Friends in Toronto's boom bap beats after getting sober and paring back her DJ gigs at clubs — a mental health necessity that nevertheless felt isolating.
"This was a way for me to reconnect with Toronto music friends. I'd drive them to our home studio and be amazed by what they'd lay down," she says of the recording sessions. SUN SUN was struck by her collaborators' lyrical parallels; once they heard the instrumentals she was working on, they would often focus on the challenges of Toronto life, and its effects on their friendships.
Between those sessions, SUN SUN simultaneously produced Witch Prophet's new album, Gateway Experience. Among its richly layered, understated tracks (many flecked with eclectic acoustic instrumentation and atmospheric percussion loops), is a song called "Energy Vampire." Featured MC DillanPonders' verses zero in on his hectic Toronto and industry grind, while Witch Prophet turns her focus inward.
For years, Witch Prophet has endured nightmares that result in seizures. At other times, she wakes up with unshakeable déjà vu, insisting she had already dreamt everything taking place, before a rush of fear and fever and nausea leaves her bedridden. She has also been stricken with dizzying slowing or queasy speeding up of her perception. All that has prompted her to tell doctors she feels as if she is time travelling. She therefore "wrote 'Energy Vampire' from the mindset: 'What are these energy vampires that are attacking me?'" she says.
In the same way that No Friends in Toronto was part of SUN SUN's healing process, Gateway Experience helped Witch Prophet explore what was ailing her physically, mentally and spiritually. After doctors frustratingly brushed off her concerns, Witch Prophet began researching déjà vu-related sicknesses. She found entire communities of commenters with similar symptoms, all of whom shared her feelings of tapping into something strange but uniquely insightful before feeling physically overwhelmed. She named the album Gateway Experience after a CIA study about altered states of consciousness via sound. Witch Prophet was also inspired by the horns that SUN SUN sampled for much of the album. The producer says that instrument "is so emotional, though it also captures a state of realization."
"Unless you have something like a tumour or scars in your brain, doctors don't know where many types of seizures come from," says Witch Prophet. "So if I was someone suffering from these symptoms, and heard these songs, I'd think, 'Listen, everyone! I'm not making this up.'"
Witch Prophet and featured singer Zaki Ibrahim wrote Gateway Experience highlight "Dreaming" as a love song. But those heartfelt lines also harkened back to Witch Prophet's first meeting with SUN SUN at Kensington Market, where she locked eyes with her would-be wife and felt the world slow to a standstill.
"Most people think seizures are uncontrollable shaking. For me, it's metaphysical — déjà vu, memory loss, incredibly lucid dreaming. What I experienced when I first saw SUN SUN might've been a type of seizure, but it also made me feel I was remembering the person I was supposed to be with. And now we've been together for 14 years. It's scary. But also wonderfully magical," says Witch Prophet.
Even though her condition can feel enlightening, she also wanted to write about its horrific downside on Gateway Experience song "I'm Scared." SUN SUN calls it "very hard to listen to." Witch Prophet nods, recalling how the track made the couple cry because of her lyrics about confronting mortality after her worst seizures.
So as the memories of urban pressure and unsympathetic doctors faded into the distance, and as coyotes howled in the distance, Witch Prophet and SUN SUN hunkered down in their rural sanctuary, and worked to make listeners feel similarly safe.
"If people are going through something like I did, and their doctors aren't helping them, then I hope they can hear this," Witch Prophet says. "I hope they can find natural ways to heal themselves."