open letter to the corporate honchos at Nettwerk:
Dear Label Heads,
Remember Sully, that band you signed way back in 1998, when they were the college radio heavyweight hopefuls? You know, the adorable ambient instrumental outfit you pressured to churn out radio-friendly singles? The same Sully you dropped from your roster right around the turn of the millennium?
Yeah, them. Well, they've been through the wringer, lost their keyboardist and said goodbye to their bassist along the way. ("I think he thought of Sully as a stepping stone. Basically, he was a weak link," offers guitarist Scott Strachan). And now that they've bounced back with a new album, they want you to know that all is forgiven.
"We're not bitter," laughs singer Becke Gainforth, at home with her cats in Toronto. "Just a little pissed about the year we lost. All of us are very negative and sarcastic people. We're jaded -- we're Canadian musicians, after all!"
After independently releasing their self-titled debut album, the five-piece outfit, now made up of Gainforth, Strachan, percussionist Ian Duke, bassist Paul Prince and Dan McCormick on keyboards, first found fame at the inaugural North By Northeast fest.
Nettwerk quickly scooped up the bright lights of the shoe-gazer scene, stuck a remixed version of Sully's Otherd on their first Plastic compilation, and released their sophomore effort, I Have Much To Report.
While recording that album's follow-up, Sully locked horns with the label. They were unceremoniously booted and left to finish up the record, Bright Lights, on their own. But traces of the label's influence remain: Gainforth's incoherent warbled syllables have morphed into irony-laced lyrics, and the songs are no longer art-rock experiments.
"Sure, the songs are poppier," agrees Gainforth. "But there's a sarcastic edge to them. Like, Weighting is a tongue-in-cheek "We're gonna write a radio hit and be stars!' song about how we felt under all the pressure Nettwerk put on us."
Bright Lights hearkens back to the mid-90s heyday of Canadian indie pop, when kids in Value Village duds flocked to Sonic Unyon all-ages events and requested jale tunes on CFNY. It has a cool, stark atmosphere, from Gainforth's ethereal cooing to the skittering breakbeats and ambient, echoing guitars. If Crash Vegas had recorded a follow-up to their brilliant Aurora album, it might sound like Bright Lights.
Talking to the members of Sully, you sense some nostalgia for the energy of the 90s.
"It really seems like things have gone downhill," sighs Gainforth. "All the clubs are closing down, everything is falling apart and there's no cohesive scene."
It's a far cry from the almost suffocatingly tight Ottawa environment where Sully cut their teeth as a band. Gainforth has complained in the past about the backstabbing scene in Canada's capital but now seems a bit wistful for the musician support system they left behind.
"Don't get me wrong -- my main reason for leaving Ottawa was that I was going crazy. I never wanted to live there. Yeah, there's an evil underbelly, but there was also such strong support."