Culture: Sunset Hearts

Have you ever looked at a band- especially a band with many members- and wondered, “how the heck do they make it work?”

For Sunset Hearts, there’s a guiding light who leads the gathering. Tangled up in electro-melodies and wires, Casey McCurry is the lead singer and songwriter for the seven-piece alternative act.

Sunset Hearts’s members all hail from Portland and Westbrook; the latter is where McCurry and his younger sister Sadie, who sings and programs the iPad with music samples, grew up. “My folks listened to a lot of music when we were younger,” explains McCurry. He started playing the piano, then moved to guitar. At an early age, artists like Bruce Springsteen, Prince, and the Beach Boys put influential sounds in his head. When the ’90s arrived, Sonic Youth, Beck, Fugazi, and the Flaming Lips inspired McCurry to commit to music for the long term.

After some startup band attempts, McCurry eventually joined his high-school friend Aaron Hautala in Satellite Lot. Prior to McCurry’s arrival Satellite Lot hadn’t released any music. “Casey is the one who got us to record our first album in 2005,” recalls Hautala. “His decisiveness is what impressed me.” Satellite Lot, with the addition of Sadie, would make one more record in 2007, just before breaking up.

Austin, Texas, called Hautala, and for the next three years, McCurry studied Ancient Greek at the University of Southern Maine, but music was still lingering in his mind. In 2010, McCurry and Sadie pulled some musician friends together for a night to represent the Talking Heads at a Clash of the Titans weekly cover band battle. They enjoyed playing together so much that the ten of them—yes, ten—forged on as a new band with McCurry leading the way. “Things really clicked when Casey brought in his songs,” according to keyboardist Jesse Hautala, Aaron’s brother. McCurry wrote and demoed all of their first 13 songs in less than a week. “The material and Casey’s proven ability made us all get on board,” explains Sadie. “His vibe on stage is low-stress. We usually laugh a lot.” Sunset Hearts released its debut, Haunted Cloud, in 2011 and a digital-only EP, Deco Tech, in 2012. Performing in places like Space Gallery and Empire over the past couple of years, Sunset Hearts has been fine-tuning a brand of electro-indie that is hard to find in our music scene.

Their latest album, wwwindswept, is where McCurry saw this band going. The epic synth-driven soundscape of Sunset Hearts revolves around McCurry. “It’s easier to write music with synthesizers. You can make them sound so strange.” To the common ear, the synth incorporation sounds like classic music of the 1980s. For McCurry, “It helps me create images from dreams pumped to a chaotic, massive technological level.” Massive it is, but there’s beautiful melancholy to Sunset Hearts’s music that can shrink these songs down to a teardrop. When asked if his music contains more joy or pain McCurry, in his usual uniform of a suit jacket, with a slightly shoe-gazing pose, answers, “confusion.” With his band, McCurry gets the job done and is respected for it, but when it comes to lyrics and musical influence, the stories are more based on confusion in life, love, and more.

McCurry imagines this band as a retirement home for the musicians in it. With many members in their early thirties, he called them Sunset Hearts. “After this band, we could be done with music,” says the songwriter, decision maker, and music cult leader. “We’d all go out with these pretty pop songs.”

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