To say Apollo Sunshine have skyrocketed to success would be stretching the temptation to equate the Berklee-bred band’s hard-earned accolades with some sort of stratospheric journey. But as befits their name, 2006’s winner as Best Local Act (who also placed second in this year’s Best Local Album category, and took home Best New Band honors in 2004) have certainly taken off beyond the club confines of Cambridge. We sat down with three of Sunshine’s four members — Jesse Gallagher, Sam Cohen, and Jeremy Black (newbie guitarist Sean Aylward didn’t make our pre-show dinnertime chat at the Middle East) to talk about their move out of the city (to the tiny rural Western Massachusetts town of Leverett) and their road-tested reputation as one of the most engaging live acts on, well, the planet. Here’s some of what they had to say.
WORLD BEATERS: "We're playing with Matisyahu, and we think, 'Great, that'll be a sweet show!' But the reality is that the minute we get off stage we've got to get in the van and drive to the next night's show in Chicago."
JONATHAN PERRY: You guys have been busy. It seems as if you’re always playing shows.
JESSE GALLAGHER: Yeah, and unless you stop, you can’t really work on new shit. Before we made Apollo Sunshine we finally said, “We have to get off the road.” When we toured on our first record (2003’s Katonah), we got to a point where we realized the life span of the record was done and we needed some new stuff. You get depressed, and you’re waiting for new songs to come, but you don’t know what direction they’ll go in.
JP: Was moving to Leverett part of that need to retreat, take stock, and begin writing again?
SAM COHEN: Yeah, that was the first place any of us had lived in two years. Prior to that, we’d just been touring and living out of the van, so that probably contributed to a feeling of, “Where is my mind, where is my body?” So yeah, that was part of the whole process.
JEREMY BLACK: That place is amazing. You walk out into the yard, sit down with a guitar, and shit just comes out of you. It’s been really nice to build up a community there too, where you can have 150 people at your house after the show. We used to do it every single week after playing at the Harp (in Amherst). We’d say, “Everyone who wants to come over can come over.” And we’d have 50 or 60 kids at our place until five or six in the morning, just having a big fire outside in the yard. We’d go to sleep and they’d still be there.
JG: But I do miss Boston. We’re from here and I think we might move back in the fall — or go back on the road in the fall. We’re trying to get our records out in Europe, so we can tour there. And right now, we’re setting up some recording stuff at the house and we’re thinking about putting out an instrumental record. We’d like to have it be an album that DJs can use for breaks and stuff.
JP: Is that something you’ve wanted to explore for a while?
SC: Every so often I’m in the mood to not listen to anybody’s point of view or story. I just want to hear some music. I know that part of being a band is that you have to write songs and put words on there and get it out. But sometimes, as a musician I feel like I don’t have shit to say, and I just want to play.
JP: Are you surprised at the upward momentum of the past couple of years? What’s it felt like from the inside?
SC: It’s been totally chaotic, and that’s what I totally expected. (laughs)
JG: It’s been really all over the place for us. It has been getting bigger or better, but for instance, we’re playing with Matisyahu [at the Best Music Poll concert] and we think, “Great, that’ll be a sweet show!” But the reality is that the minute we get off stage we’ve got to get immediately in the van and drive to the next night’s show in Chicago. You get these opportunities, but then your life is even more crazy.
JB: It’s hard to gauge when you’re in it. People on the outside can see us getting bigger as a band, and I guess we are compared to where we were last year. But it’s hard to tell being inside of it, and unlike other bands, we’re not trying to break into a scene or anything.
SC: As far as measuring success goes, we’re not the Red Sox. If we told everyone we were idiots, they’d still believe us! (laughs)