Web of Sunsets: There's just more space for nuances

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Web of Sunsets
The three members of Web of Sunsets -- Sara Bischoff, Sarah Nienaber, and Chris Rose -- are all soft-spoken. So soft-spoken, in fact, that they joke about not being able to talk to each other during band practice. Nestled inside their space at Trax Studio -- separated by a tangle of microphone stands and an unused drum kit, the room lit by the soft glow of a lone lamp in the corner -- they can hardly hear one another over the noise from the adjoining rooms.

But it's just that kind of quiet understatement that lends the band's off-center country hymns their magic. In fact, it even landed their first-ever recording a shout-out from Pitchfork -- not a bad way to get things started.

"The way I wanted to sing was harder in a fuller band, with full-on drums and bass guitar," says Bischoff, who primarily sings. She sits at a high-top at the nearby Hexagon Bar, a red wool cap pulled down over her hair and a glass of whiskey in her hand. "You know, I love full rock bands. But it's really nice to just be able to sing with acoustic guitars and no drums."

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It isn't particularly surprising to hear that the band came together in a natural, almost accidental, fashion. Bischoff and Rose, already bandmates in Heavy Deeds, were eager to find another project to help keep them busy. "I just had all these super mellow, sad songs. It was like, 'I think I need a different outlet for these,'" remembers Bischoff. She and Nienaber had already gotten to know each other in their time playing together in a Mazzy Star cover band, so seemed like the obvious fit to make a three-piece. "Sarah was really the only person we talked about," Bischoff says.

From the beginning, the idea was that this would be a band focused on the vocals, without a drum kit or loud, amplified instruments to have to sing over. "For me, that's definitely the biggest part of the band," Bischoff insists. "There's just more space for nuances." Nienaber agrees. "I'm singing quieter than I've ever sang before, which is different but I think my voice sounds better when I'm quiet." She shrugs. "I don't really consider myself a singer."

The trio first practiced together in the spring of 2012, but it wasn't until last fall that they played their first show together -- and by then, they had already been in the studio working on recordings. "We kind of did it backwards," Bischoff laughs. One of the main reasons they chose to do that, she admits, is that they were each already close with producer Neil Weir, owner of Old Blackberry Way studio. He even went so far as to lend them gear that enabled them to cut vocals at home, where they would be more comfortable.

"I don't think we would've tried working things out in the studio if we didn't know where we would be recording," says Rose. But if recording right away made sense due to the particulars of circumstance, it also fits the aesthetic of the band's music. "I feel like being in a band without drums is a little different in that sense, where like in rock bands you just go play a bunch of shows and work out the way the band sounds," he continues. With Web of Sunsets, however, "there's a lot of subtle tweaking of the gear we have that makes things better."

Indeed, while Web of Sunsets shares some spiritual similarities with the members' current and former bands, including Gospel Gossip and Vampire Hands, it also takes things in a different direction. Where the others might be heavy on feedback or droning guitars, this one strips it down to a strummed six-string and some breathy, incanted vocals, with the occasional swelling synth line for embellishment. It's the delicacy and closeness that the music revolves around, especially (in spite of what Nienaber might say of her own singing) with the warm, ragged way their voices harmonize.

"My other bands put a lot of energy into being sonically massive, just trying to sound huge all the time," says Nienaber, with a flourish of her hands. Her eyes, almost hidden by her long bangs, stay fixed on her bandmates as she speaks. "This band is cool because the songs can just be songs -- which also puts more pressure on me because I know all the energy has to be in the lyrics. You can't rely on those other things."

Once again, though, "pressure" is almost a little misleading here, for one of the things the band agrees they enjoy most is the way they share the load -- whether it's with singing vocals, switching instruments, or writing the songs. As Rose puts it, "Pretty much whoever's singing lead wrote the song at this point." Granted, for the time being their official output consists of just two songs -- "Fool's Melodies" and "Neon Blood," the first of which leads off their debut single from End of Times Records -- but even these demonstrate a good degree of variety.

"I've never been in a band before where I'm writing and other people are also writing songs--and it's awesome," Nienaber enthuses. "For me, it's cool because when Chris or Sara write a really, really amazing song, I want to write a song that's amazing too. It's inspiring...because it keeps your mind moving."

WEB OF SUNSETS play a 7-inch release show at the Eagles Club 34 tonight, Thursday, April 18th, with Brute Heart and Hollow Boys. 9 pm. 21+. $5. 2507 E. 25th St., Minneapolis; 612.729.4469.

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