of the South Florida Sceneis a weekly column devoted to the
artists thriving within Broward and Palm Beach counties featuring
interviews with the folks making it happen. This week, Sumsun.
It's hard to talk about Sumsun without mentioning the redundant "chillwave" or its sister term, "glo-fi." Sumsun has all the parts necessary to fill the role: one guy, a warm climate worthy of inspiration, an at-home recording process, synthy dance combined with glowing, misty whimsy. But there is always a way to spot the geniuses of the genre; it only takes a modicum of originality, a variation on the theme, and Judson Rogers pulls out enough stops to make his tracks delicately lysergic. Now that he's finished recording his album, Samo Milagro -- available for release on Leaving Records on September 28 -- he's already working on a ton of new projects, including another EP and the score for a film. While working on an apple orchard in his temporary residence, North Carolina, he exchanged a series of emails with us and answered questions about his upcoming works and how Samo Milagro became Samo Milagro.
New Times: You've recently relocated. What made you decide to go to North Carolina? Tell me about it... Is it easier to work there? Are you newly inspired by your surroundings? How does day-to-day life up there compare to West Palm?
Judson Rogers: Well, where I'm at in North Carolina is hard to describe. I'm only here for apple season, and then back to 561 for the cold months. I work on an apple orchard up here that I love. In West Palm, there is not too much to do other than go to bars, clubs, shows, or the beach, but there is always something going on and people to hang out with. I don't have that up here; I live alone in the woods on a lake. Creatively, I am not sure what it does to the music. I think Samo Milagro sounds 100% South Florida, but I did work on some of it up here. I even wrote the first song on the album, "Ants," while it snowed on the lake last December, and that's the most tropical one.
Maybe you were thinking about more Floridian climates while in North Carolina. Let's talk about Samo Milagro. You told me that the people and music of West Palm influenced the overall sound of your album -- how? How about the place itself, since "Ants" is tropical?
I worked on the album from December '09 until about two weeks ago. But one of the songs dates back to September of that year, and the ideas for the album had been floating around forever. The bulk of it was done at my parents' house over the spring and summer, but it was written while playing live in West Palm. I think Steev Rullman unknowingly helped a lot with Samo. He booked me all the time at Propaganda in Lake Worth, which gave me a chance to try playing the songs differently all the time. He put me in front of so many different crowds; I saw the reaction from different people, and that really helped shape the sound and feel of the record. Matthewdavid, who started Leaving Records, was the one who pushed me to do an instrumental record. Forrest, who makes music as Off Balance Atlas, and Mitch from Hear Hums both helped me feel less afraid to make strange music. Before they pushed me, I was doing a lot of pop music and keeping the experimental stuff to myself. Because of them, I have found a happy medium between pop and psychedelic.
As for how much West Palm has influenced the music... that's immeasurable. The music scene there is awesome. The Dewars, Guy Harvey, Greater Numbers, the Jameses, Chill Pillars, all the DJs around town (Flaunt and To Hell With Poverty!) -- the list could go on for a long time. There is something really cool about what's going on. I think people are finally accepting that there is a scene, and that is only making it stronger. I can only see it growing with Little Munich in Lake Worth now doing more shows. We just need to do some house parties! But really, the climate has a ton to do with it. It's so beautiful.
Where did you get the title?
It was a name that evolved over time. It started as "Capella," which is the name of a star system, but that turned into the six-song suit on the second side of the album. When I was watching an interview with Basquiat, I found out his early graffiti name before he became famous was Samo. Basquiat has always been an influence on my music. Also, there is the star system of a similar name, Samos, and the Greek aquaduct. It seemed like all this stuff I'm interested in had this word in common. So when I settled on Samo, I started looking at the texture and the colors of my album and really thought that, to me, it sounded like a mixture of Basquiat's work and the works of this painting group from Tallahassee called Milagros. Milagros had a big effect on me; they supported my music and asked me to play at some of their openings. Really, it was the look and the feeling of their work: a collage of influences and color, new and old ideas side by side, but every tone was bright and bold. Milagros has since split up, but they are all still pursuing their own things. The Church of Holy Colors in Gainesville is a direct offshoot of Milagros that I think everyone should check out.
You just finished this album, but you're already working on another EP and a mixtape. How does the content of that stuff compare with Samo Milagro? Are you headed in a different direction?
The mixtape is hopefully going to be all original material. I have been working on a lot of remixes while doing work on the album, so some have that kind of sound. There are a lot of Florida acts that I'm doing remixes for on it. Right now, I think it's Guy Harvey, Hear Hums, the Band in Heaven, Spirit Tramp, MillionYoung, Off Balance Atlas, Hard Mix, Evenings, YUK, DTCPU, Oscer McClure, the Treehouse, Matthewdavid, and a few more. It will be out sometime in the fall or winter. I have also been doing a lot of DJ mixes.
I've started writing a new EP, but I'm not 100 percent sure how it will sound yet. I have been playing a lot of guitar, so I think that will make its way on there. I also think it will be more up-tempo -- not quite club tracks, but more dance-oriented. I'm not sure when it's going to be done yet; it's nice to not work on a timeline. But the release date really depends on whether I release it through a label or give it out for free.
Tell me about the movie you're scoring. It seems like you're reaching into all kinds of mediums.
The A.V. Collective are finishing up their new movie, Ruffians. They were telling me about it one night when the Dewars were filming a music video, and I got really excited about it. I'm not going to make something like Paul Simon's One Trick Pony. I think it will be more about helping them with sounds and adding music where it's needed. I'm also doing music for a short film by my buddy Preston Landis, who has done a lot of cool videos for me. We shot it over a year ago, but he has been working on it a lot.
You told me some time ago about a project you're collaborating on with a friend, JT. What's going on with that?
I met JT through Mitch from Hear Hums when he helped me get booked for the Total Bummer Lo-fi Fest in Gainesville in March. When I saw him play with his band, Oh Fortuna, I said to my friend, "I want a frontman like that." He has an awesome voice and awesome stage presence. Then I helped book his other band, Rabbit Punch, at Propaganda, and he had me come back to Gainesville for the Endless Bummer Festival in July, where I saw his solo project, Spirit Tramp. We talked about doing some songs together, and after a while, I sent him some ideas. He posted the first demo of our collaboration on soundcloud. Somehow the blog Delicious Scopiotone found it and posted it and a lot of people heard it. It's not a bad thing the demo got out -- Spirit Tramp got a lot of attention out of it, but we don't even have a name for the project yet. I have been reworking the song "Tarantula," and it already sounds a lot better than the first draft that's out there. I hope we get a seven-inch or an EP out by next year, but being in the woods without internet makes working long distances hard. I really want to do a Sumsun-Spirit Tramp collabo project tour sometime, though; I think that would be fun. I also want to do a Sumsun/Hear Hums collaboration. It'll have the best name -- Sumhums.
Backtracking a little -- most of your songs have no vocals, but there are a few standouts that do. How did you get involved with Cleverly Hustle [Beverly Russell]? Are those tracks written or co-written by her?
I have known Beverly Russell's brother for a long time through a friend, and we actually work at the apple orchard together right now. A few years ago, everyone started telling me to make music with her and that she was a really good singer. Then when I moved up here to North Carolina last summer, I finally met her and heard some of her solo stuff; I was totally blown away. We did a demo album called Lake Life. I had all the music done for the album, but I just happened to be looking for a girl singer at the time. I remember driving back into town and listening to "Leaving You" over and over the night we recorded it thinking, This is one of the best songs I had ever heard. Her voice just works so well with the music. She actually just texted me today, and I think we are going to record something soon. I have some new songs done I have been saving for her that I can't wait to finish. I really want to do a Leaving You EP or something like that, with "Leaving You" and "Listen," which are off Lake Life, and maybe some new songs.
Finally, any updates on touring and the release of your album?
I'm going to be back in Florida in a month or two, and I can't wait to play some shows in West Palm and Miami. I'm going to try to hit Atlanta, Tallahassee, Gainesville, and Orlando on the way back, depending on when I leave. I am just super-excited to get the album out to everyone. Matthewdavid has been awesome with helping me get it to sound the way I feel it needs to. I'm also excited that Moamoo is going to release it on CD in Japan around late October. Jessie Moretti, who does all the artwork for Leaving, did an awesome cover for the record. She said she was trying to make it look supertropical, very Florida, and I think she did an awesome job. Thanks for doing my first interview; I am glad it was with the New Times. And thanks for all the support.
Download "Call It Home," off Samo Milagro, for free here.