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A Magazine for Sheffield

Suncharms: Second Time's The Charm: The Return of Sheffield Shoegaze

When the original incarnation of The Suncharms called it a day in 1993, it seemed that the shoegaze scene that they'd briefly been a part of was gone for good as well. Loop had split, Ride were on their way out, and My Bloody Valentine – still expected to produce a follow-up to 1991's Loveless – drifted into their wilderness years. Fast-forward to 2017 and the hazy, dream-like genre is winning a new generation of fans, with Loop, Ride and MBV all reforming. Some are even calling it a shoegaze revival. But what of our very own Suncharms? I caught up with singer Marcus Palmer from his home in Sheffield to find out what led the band to get back together, and to hear about their first new material in a quarter of a century. Tell us about the history of The Suncharms. We originally formed in 1989. Me and the bass player Richard were old schoolfriends from Deepcar and we were massive music fans, like most teenagers are. We thought, 'Let's form a band one day,' and we decided I'd be the singer and he'd be the bass player. Neither of us had done anything like it before, and basically he went off to art college and met someone who could actually play guitar. It went from there and we started playing some gigs in Sheffield around 89-90, and put some demo tapes together. We had them in FON and Warp Records and they sold out. We sent the demos off to Wilde Club Records, who had bands like Catherine Wheel on, and they offered us a record deal. We had two EPs out with them, did a session for John Peel and got a few Radio 1 plays as well. That was the early days, and then we just went our separate ways in the early nineties. What prompted you to reform? In 2015-16, we started to notice on the internet that we were getting name-checked by shoegaze indie fans in America, Japan and Hawaii, on all these blogs and with radio stations playing tracks by The Suncharms. We were bang in the middle of brand new bands, and we sounded very similar to some of the new American and Japanese bands. So we got in touch with one particular blog from Miami. He’d just by chance come across the EPs and had written about us. We sent him a message saying how surprised we were that 20 years later someone in Miami was playing our EP, recorded in Sheffield in the early nineties. We had a bit of correspondence, and then there was a festival called Indietracks in Derbyshire, which is like a minute Glastonbury, but playing DIY and obscure indie bands. Our bass player bumped into this blogger from Miami, who was also the owner of Cloudberry Records, and he said he’d like to release a retrospective album of our two EPs and anything else unreleased from the archives. We jumped at the chance. That was 2016, and that prompted the band to get together in The Lescar and go, ‘Well, we’ve just been offered this one-off American album deal with a glossy booklet and a biography and photographs.’ When we met up we brought all the old photos and press cuttings from scrapbooks and posted it off, and that’s when we thought, ‘I wonder if we could do it again. Let’s give it a go.’ It’s all the original members, and we booked a practice room and started writing new stuff. The guitarist, Matt, from that point on has not been able to stop writing songs. That CD came out and it prompted another wave of radio plays throughout the world, like in Hawaii – we’re constantly played in Hawaii – and we got played on the BBC. Mark Radcliffe and Gideon Coe on 6Music played a few tracks. A year ago we went into Tesla Studios and recorded two new songs, and they’re coming out in August on Slumberland Records, a double-A seven-inch vinyl and download. I heard you lost a single in the post? In 1993, the band was ending and we got approached by Slumberland Records, this cool American independent label. They had stuff like Stereolab and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. They approached us. We'd recorded one new song just as we were ending and we posted it off to them and put the address in big marker pen letters. Popped it in the post and days turned into weeks: nothing. The band went separate ways, but me and the bass player kept in touch, saying, ‘We never heard anything from Slumberland. That was the last chance.’ You thought they'd lost interest? We thought they'd received it, yeah. They liked stuff from the early EPs, but this was quite different, this track. We thought, ‘They're obviously not interested.’ Fast-forward to the Cloudberry Records release in 2016 and Richard started corresponding with the owners of Slumberland in America. He asked a question about the DAT tape and the owner said, 'We never received it. We thought you weren't interested when we asked you to release something.' We said, 'Well, it just so happens the band's back together and we've got two new tracks. We wondered if you wanna hear them?' They're not the same tracks? No, the one that got lost we don't even have. We can't even remember what it sounded like. None of us kept a copy. It's a lot more special for us this time. It's 2018 and we've got two brand new tracks that we've written. This time we've got the luxury of email. Do the two new tracks have a similar sound to the older material? The first one, 'Red Dust', is quite a slow builder, with quiet guitars. It's been described as 'shoegaze psychedelic' by a few people, and it's had radio plays in America, where it's been lumped in with all these teenage bands playing shoegazey stuff, so it's been taken onboard and accepted by that crowd. It's not too far out of place. The vocals on that particular track are louder than the early nineties stuff, where they were mixed in with the guitars. But then the other side, 'Film Soundtrack', that's very much more power-pop, like [1991 track] 'Spaceship'. That's more of a fast and raucous guitar one. There’s two completely different sounding tracks on there. What’s next – an album? One hundred percent, a new album. At the last count we’ve got 13 brand new songs we’re working on. We played our homecoming show in June at Record Junkee. That was one thing to tick off, to play Sheffield again for the first time in 27 years. That went really well. We packed that out. That was a bit nerve-wracking, thinking, ‘Who the hell is gonna come? Does anyone remember us? Will there be any new faces who might have picked up on the old shoegaze revival?’ It was a complete mixture of ages, from 16 to 40-odd year olds in the crowd. But yeah, unless we get something we can’t refuse gig-wise, the main thing to concentrate on is writing and recording a new album. There’s 13 songs we’ve got the skeletons for. You’ve got a bunch to pick from? Yeah, so basically Matt will come and say, 'I’ve written this.' He’ll just do it all on his phone with the guitar and drum machine. It’s almost the complete song, but we’ll completely rewrite it again. It mutates into something else. We’re writing the album that never happened. New single ‘Red Dust / Film Soundtrack’ is released by Slumberland Records on 2 August. )

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