Whilst starting a band in 2020 may seem like a gruelling task, Brisbane five-piece SUNFLOWER are seeing things from the sunny-side up. In perfecting their distinctive rock ‘n’ soul style they’re primed to let it loose into a world that certainly needs it. Off the back of their latest summery single, we spoke to Lawson Doyle about premiering on Rage and rationalising his love for both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
Facing off against one another in a competition to play Bluesfest 2019, it was a fortuitously fateful meeting between key songwriters Khalia Ferguson (vocals) and Lawson Doyle (guitar, vocals) that would later birth the band; “I was having some trouble with my voice on that semi-final night and the first time she saw me I had my head in a bowl of hot water trying to steam out whatever damage I’d done to myself that week”, says Doyle. “She’s a bit ying and I’m more yang so she had the full herbal tea remedy ready for me. “It probably didn’t work in her favour because we ended up taking out a prize above them (laughs)”.
Impressed with each other’s chops, the pair bonded over the rigours of the music industry and difficulties with the dynamics of prior projects; “We were both a bit scarred by the biz and what was goin’ on in our previous groups. We just had a bit of a bitch ‘n’ moan about how things troubled us”. Revitalised by shared experiences and a fresh start, Doyle expresses the power of their mixed musical duality; “It’s not an all weight on one person’s shoulder scenario for either one of us. It’s really our creative project where we are both collaborative and we both write everything. There’s two leaders in the group, which should never work but for whatever reason works well”.
With Ferguson’s foundations in soul and Doyle’s roots in rock, the SUNFLOWER sound pulls the best from both worlds with each songwriter learning from the other; “I feel, as an individual, I can write those high voltage rock tracks but my ability to write these 5-minute, anthemic, slow-burn piano ballads is something I struggle with. Having that diversity is so powerful”. Doyle prizes the accessibility and honesty of the band’s tracks as the key; “It’s made for everyone; big stadium rock tunes that shouldn’t matter what age you are, what sex, what colour, what you get off on. It’s music that isn’t playing to any niche, just real stories”.
behind the scene photos of 'Better Days' music video shoot
Oozing with nostalgic warmth and soothing hooks, the band’s debut single ‘Better Days’ was selected ahead of another pre-planned track, seeming suited to counteracting the negativity of the current COVID climate; “I’ve never been super political with things but we thought that this was so suited to the time. It wasn’t even written in response to COVID, it was just a song about hope for the future and it just made sense”. Part of a collection of Iso Jam EPs available on Bandcamp, quarantine meant reverting back to the drawing board when recording; “The goal of Iso Jams 1 was to make it all feel natural working to a click track whilst we were all in different studios. Some of those songs hadn’t been put together yet and so we, oddly enough, had to get back to the theory of things and map out structure charts and use key signatures, which I hadn’t thought about in a long time”.
Whilst lockdown has axed many gigs from 2020, SUNFLOWER are making the best of the current situation by perfecting recordings and making minutiae a priority; “I’ve spent the last 5 years playing live and trying to gig as much as possible and, a lot of the times, the production suffered as a result of that and the song writing didn’t get the care and love it needed. I’ve never worked that way and it’s refreshing to start the band and have that be the focus from the get-go”. Doyle elaborates that more time in the studio has allowed him to appreciate thinking about arrangements and problem-solving compositions in a new light; “I love electric guitars but we pulled a lot of them back and used more keyboards and a sax and that’s stuff that isn’t traditional rock ‘n’ roll stuff but its about breaking down rules you create for yourself”.
With fans usually entrenched in one corner against the other, Doyle explains how his love for both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones has helped him overcome superficial bias to aid in his own song writing; “When you start writing songs, you don’t think about it consciously. Now I’ve written 2-300 songs, you start to think about what it is in those bands or those songs that you like or hate. Both bands have masterpieces, but they’ve released a lot of crap too. So, I think you pick through the best parts of both and ask ‘why do I love that?’”. He further scorns uber-hipsters trending in the direction of whatever seems fashionable; “I dunno why it’s become a cool thing to hate The Beatles. I know The Stones are a cooler band to be into but, I dunno. It’s like people are trying to be too alternative, like it’s almost cool to not be into The Beatles”.
Fired up for their upcoming east coast tour and next wave of singles, SUNFLOWER are keen to spread some sunshine to new fans. Having debuted ‘Better Days’ on Rage, their appeal is already reaching those tough enough to sit up for it; “I usually watch the replay because I’m either half asleep at 3.30 in the morning or I’m just waking up for a very unknown reason. It’s good to know that some cooky junky is up at three in the morning and enjoying it somewhere”.
‘Better Days’ is out on all streaming services now and Iso Jams 1 and 2 are available on Bandcamp right now!