In no way are we encouraging sympathy for the Devil: we simply wish to get to know Josh Doty (vox), Elliot Polokoff (guitar), Jesse Mancillas (lead guitar) and Austen Butler (drums) from the Sacramento-based band Cemetery Sun a little better.
As a unit, everything from hip-hop and pop to R&B and alternative rock are sources of inspiration and have found themselves woven into the five songs on the quartet’s debut self-titled EP released earlier this year. Songs that combine their alternative edge with indie pop smartness. The band describes it’s lead single, “(Hard Drugs) Fake Love” as “…a song that defines the façades you witness going out: people who are jaded, lost in feelings of lust, selfishness, or vice-related highs. The song serves as a constant reminder of how easy it is to find yourself alone in that scene – a state where you can so quickly forget who your real friends are and what truly makes you happy.” Deep.
And so we get acquainted with a young band and their musical mission: We are pleased to meet you, Cemetery Sun.
High Voltage: We’re going to start this like “Getting to know you.” First things first: please introduce yourselves.
Josh: I’m Josh and I sing for the band…with my voice and stuff.
Jesse: I am Jesse, aka “band Dad”, aka “Shredder” aka “I can find something to eat at Chipotle.” I play lead guitar and by lead I mean I play weird shit and I play it at louder volumes than Elliot.
Austen: My name is Austen and I play drums in the band. Also take care of most of the beats.
Elliot: Hey, I’m Elliot. I play guitar and record and produce everything we do in my parents’ garage.
HV: Now the band is based in Sacramento, but is that where all of you are actually from?
Josh: I’m from Northern Sacramento.
Jesse: We were all from Sac except for Elliot who is from the Bay. We convinced him we were gonna be huge and that driving two hours for practice was gonna be worth it. I just moved two hours away, too, and I am starting to feel his pain.
HV: You’ve all come from other bands and even an earlier incarnation of Cemetery Sun: How long have you officially been Cemetery Sun?
Jesse: Well, we moonlighted as Headlines for a short bit. I’d say, all in all, about two years.
HV: Now it’s almost pointless to put a band or musician in a genre-specific category these days because more and more artists pull from sounds and styles based upon whatever moves them. Your music has been tagged as alternative pop, alternative rock: What music, genres or artists have been some of the most formative to you as musicians?
Josh: Loaded question! I gotta say there’s simply too many to name but I’ve always loved and drawn from acts and artists such as Linkin Park, Muse, 30 Seconds To Mars, The Neighbourhood in recent years, Twenty One Pilots in recent years, and then anything that slaps a beat hella hard so me and my fam can crank the club up! In other words, I have a maaaad love for hip-hop, rap, and R&B.
Jesse: For us we have been working hard at building this platform of music that is actually very simple and repetitive. When we have listened back to some of our favorite artists that we feel have discovered their own voice, we feel the members step together and build music that lets each other speak in their own voice. When we were younger musicians we all tried to do way too much. The truth is the more skilled and experienced you get, the less you try fill space with your own noise…or ego, perhaps? I get more out of hearing my guitar lines snake in and out of the music or Austen’s beat than I did where I was competing with everyone else to be the loudest.
HV: We’ll just call that “maturity” and “growing up” which is never a bad thing. Do you remember your first official Cemetery Sun show? Where was it, how’d it go?
Josh: The show went pretty well. We were a more pop-punk influenced group at the time and only had 3 CS songs done so we played with We The Kings in front of about 800 people. It was a blast!
Jesse: I think it was when we opened for a bunch of national touring screamo bands. We played very loudly and there was a bunch of coordinated jumping around. We don’t do that anymore. We have since realized that being ourselves is far more entertaining for a live audience.
HV: I apologize for laughing at the “coordinated jumping around” bit! Covering songs is common today and you guys have done a handful, yourselves, of songs like “Tear in My Heart” by Twenty One Pilots and “#icanteven” by The Neighbourhood. What makes a good cover song for Cemetery Sun to work with?
Josh: I love singing all styles of music and, typically, propose ideas based off whatever song is stuck in my head at the time. I trust my dudes will always create good music around it and, luckily, I’m blessed enough to have a group of guys that allow me to be musically involved. I wouldn’t say there’s a limit to what makes a good cover other than how much we all find ourselves into the song. It typically is passion-driven and makes it the most fun for us and our fans when we love what we’re covering and can really put our own spin on it without sounding like shit.
Jesse: The hardest part about us choosing a cover song is Josh can pretty much sing anything. We try to pick songs that will help guide a new listener to our music and it won’t be such a huge difference in sound. Sometimes we will change it a bit to fit our style. Recently one cover song we just finished sounded almost exactly like the original, all I did was add some weird ambient shit to it and it sounded like us.
HV: You had your EP release show in September: how’d that go?
Josh: It was phenomenal. A true family of fans, best friends, and even people who hadn’t ever heard us before came out to show love and make it one hell of a night to remember. If you were there and you’re reading this, thank you again and we love you all for loving us!
Jesse: It was packed with longtime fans and friends that have been supporting us while we worked hard on these songs. It was a blast! We couldn’t have had a better group of people to share with. The San Francisco release show was also a blast.
HV: You’ve six songs on the EP. Now “(Hard Drugs) Fake Love” is absolutely a stand out track, but I’m also partial to “Emptied Out” (love the intro) and “Wish It Was Love” (the bridge into the chorus is smooth). How do Cemetery Sun songs typically get written, or is there no such a thing as a “typically written” Cemetery Sun song?
Josh: Honestly, it varies. Sometimes Jesse will have a catchy riff that takes off and drives many musical ideas for Elliot and I to collaborate on. Sometimes it’s Austen with a catchy melody or even a single lyric behind a beat he is able to muster up by accident while jamming on the kit. Sometimes it’s Elliot who will send a couple chords my way to start lyrically and melodically dancing over the top of, and sometimes it’s me and my room singing a cappella or over an acoustic that drives a new song home for us to later decorate in Elliot’s studio.
Jesse: We step outside of this box often but more commonly it starts with either Josh or Elliot writing a progression and some beat suggestions. Austen will modify or add more beats and I will try and find a lead part that either accentuates or inspires Josh’s vocals. Any one of our parts can change the entire song. Usually once we track the idea – we try to record within days of writing the song – we aren’t really searching very long for the music. Josh will then typically rewrite everything he had written for vocals while in the booth and then we have a fully produced/engineered song to show our friends and have them tell us it’s not good enough.
HV: To be a musician or a performer – to want to be either – among other personality traits, there has to be a healthy expressionistic streak within somewhere. What do you feel is your strongest motivation to want to make music?
Josh: For my family and friends to enjoy. I want to make them proud and prove to them that these dreams can be a reality and a lifestyle. It’s not just radio, TV and fame.
Jesse: At least for me, I have been exploring being a musician for so long I don’t really feel like I need to try. It just is what I do. At this point my strongest motivation is that if I didn’t try I wouldn’t be myself.
Austen: When you are a musician or a performer, you are – in a sense – taking a huge risk. The whole “starving artist” thing can really become a reality but it is absolutely worth it to chase your passion. The motivation for me is constant support from my family and friends, and just being able to support myself doing what I love to do. It is inspiring to get messages from fans telling you to keep doing what you are doing because your song gets them through a certain time in their life. The shit never fucking gets old, man. That makes the whole “starving artist” thing worth it.
HV: Josh, I think it’s really fascinating to hear about when or how someone realized or “figured out” that they could truly sing and that they WANTED to sing. Was there a particular moment like that for you?
Josh: I figured it out when a blood related family member – who I will refrain from mentioning – told me I would never have a good enough voice to be a singer. I was young and impressionable enough to have that strike me pretty deep. At first I was just embarrassed and upset but, over the years, my hard work has lifted my head up enough to believe I can do this and WILL do this with all the love I can give it, whether people exalt me as their favorite voice or least favorite voice to listen to.
HV: That’s uniquely honest of you; thanks for that. Since becoming a band, is there any one particular benchmark or goal that you’ve set for yourselves and already hit?
Jesse: We really wanted to get this EP done and out. We have the physical copies at our tour dates but we cannot wait for the online release.
HV: 2016 isn’t far off. As far as band goals with respect to recording, touring, winning a Grammy award, etc., what are you hoping to accomplish next year?
Jesse: We are planning our tours for next year. We would love to hit the East Coast by summer. Second would be that we would love to play as many festival dates as possible. ‘Sup Coachella?
HV: What’s going on, musically, in Sacramento? Of course, Los Angeles has an incredible music scene and community that’s functional and wildly diverse. Is there a certain part of your city that is, maybe, the heart of it all? Is there a particular sound that’s more prevalent than others in Sacramento?
Jesse: Sacramento has recently had a lot of hardcore and screamo pop bands with some national success but I think it is best known for bands that like to explore terrain outside of their own expected genres. Bands like Dance Gavin Dance, A Lot Like Birds, Deftones, Trash Talk, etc., are all groups that are a part of their genre but have their feet planted firmly somewhere else. I think it’s what makes Sacramento bands unique.
HV: Let’s talk day jobs, which most everyone has or has had. What’s been the worst jobs that you’ve had?
Jesse: Pushing a cart of microchip wafers back and forth for 12 hours a day in a clean room environment. It took 20 minutes to get into the white suit with mask, go through the clean air sanitizer fans and then walk back and forth down a 900-yard hallway. I never saw anyone’s face because of the masks and we weren’t allowed to listen to music.
HV: Elliot, since you work for Twitter, one would think that there’s zero excuse for the band not being on top of its social media game. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, Soundcloud, Friendster….Tinder? How competent is Cemetery Sun on the interwebz?
Elliot: We firmly believe that social media isn’t just a “tool you have to use” to get by in the music industry today. Rather, we employ it as our main vehicle to tell our story. Without our story, we’re just another aimless band, writing aimless songs through said “interwebz.” Our social media posts will always be on the forefront of all of our progress – both for releases and behind the scenes. It gives a chance for our fans to be a part of our story! Now go subscribe to our YouTube channel!
HV: Last and hardly least, please finish the sentence: “I can’t even….”
Josh: I can’t even let people get away with saying “I can’t even.” Get that shit outta here!
Jesse: Keep one guitar for more than a year before I buy another.
Austen: I can’t even wait until we are touring nonstop and sharing this music with all the kick ass fans that have been supporting us!