Sleepy Sun rises in the local psych scene

As much as talent, drive, and determination factor into a band's chances for wide recognition, there's no discounting the power of fate. An alignment of forces has lifted psych outfit Sleepy Sun from a Santa Cruz favorite to a rising star on the San Francisco scene in little more than a year. Besides bringing a key ingredient into the group's audio alchemy, destiny also delivered its hypnotic debut to well-placed individuals in the music industry, who in turn have given the band the exposure it richly deserves.

Sleepy Suns' original lineup — singer Bret Constantino, guitarists Matt Holliman and Evan Reiss, bassist Hubert Guy, and drummer Brian Tice — first came together in 2005, when the shaggy crew of UC Santa Cruz students formed the blues-tinged garage-rock band Mania. Over time, the musicians gradually shifted toward the hazy, riff-focused psychedelia that characterizes Sleepy Sun.

It wasn't until the band's first show under its current moniker that the final piece of the sonic puzzle fell into place. Rachel Williams of Santa Cruz indietronic act Birds Fled from Me saw Sleepy Sun's December 2007 performance at a local festival. "It was the best thing of the night," she enthuses during a recent interview with Sleepy Sun members at their shared Sunset District home. "And I remember secretly thinking, 'I hope I somehow get drawn into this band!'"

Williams soon got her wish. After being invited to sit in with Sleepy Sun at a Brookdale Lodge show, the members asked her to join them in Canada, where they were tracking their debut album, Embrace, with noted Vancouver-based producer Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, Destroyer). "We didn't even know Rachel at all," Constantino remembers. "We're like, 'This woman has a dank Bulgarian chant voice. We need her on the record.'"

Though Williams sings on only half of the album's eight tunes, her powerful voice makes an indelible impression. Her gorgeous harmonies entwine with Constantino's vocals, offering counterpoint to the savage dueling guitars of Holliman and Reiss on the epic opener "New Age." Williams delivers the keening cry that punctuates the dramatic shift in "Sleepy Son" from shimmering atmospherics to Sabbath-esque, fuzzed-out brutality. Her voice adds depth to a band already blessed with stunning range. Over the course of the album, Sleepy Sun moves gracefully from the sweet, Gram Parsons–flavored ballad "Duet for the Northern Sky" through the melancholy psych-gospel of "Lord" to the epic tribal freakout of "White Dove."

Despite the departure of bassist Guy over the summer — longtime friend Jack Allen took over in August — the year since recording the self-released Embrace and relocating to San Francisco has only deepened the band members' chemistry with one another and with their audience. At a showcase for long-lost psych-folkie Rodriguez at the Great American Music Hall in November, the band elicited shouts from an electrified crowd as it hit the crescendos of "Sleepy Son," filling the room with a palpable buzz. Embrace quickly fell into the right hands, garnering the band invitations to Noise Pop and the prestigious All Tomorrow's Parties fest in the U.K. this May.

"It's weird," Constantino muses. "Everything that's happened since we left Santa Cruz has been because we wanted it. Because we dreamt it, almost."

With a full slate of U.S. and European tour dates looming and plans for All Tomorrow's Parties' imprint to give Embrace a global release, fortune continues to smile on this gifted band.

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