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But then, what's all this grab-bag songcraft in aid of, besides the conscious fashioning of diverse elements into a "signature style"? Kay is somewhat less forthcoming on this point, possibly because it's an interpretive issue rather than an elemental one, but a quick glance at the contents of Velvet Suicide reveals a fixation on female beauty -- or, more accurately, the assumptions and dangers that underlie notions of female beauty. Song titles such as "Glamour Jenny's Song," "The Picture of Anorexic Beauty" and "L.I.P. (New Model)," along with an inner-sleeve glamour-puss shot captioned with the phrase "DID YOU KNOW ALL TOP MODELS ARE DAMN ALIENS?" seem to suggest a thematic thread, but Kay is reluctant to point to any one philosophical underpinning for those elements.
"Yeah, I know, but...it's hard to explain," he shuffle-steps. "I'm sure it's probably a reaction to some sorts of things." And then he repeats his caveat about how sometimes the words mean nothing.
Well, not when you stack them up this heavily, they don't. But Kay's so open on other issues, it seems impossible to think he's truly holding out on you. "When we began the recording, we had the basic skeleton of each song. But we tried to put out all of those influences. We tried to change who we were [on the last album, 1996's Nice Songs From the Shadow Under Room]. People were thinking of us as hardcore, so the structure of these songs was open to anything: dance, or [influences like] the Cure, or Joy Division. This album, Velvet Suicide, was much more experimental, but we still keep it with some punk or hardcore."
That they do. And far from feeling nervous about setting foot on U.S. soil, Sunshine, assisted by friends and supporters across the country, is loving the trip; the band is actually in the midst of its second jaunt through the States, a tour that's winning acclaim from critics and fellow musicians alike.
"We are on our second time in the U.S.," notes Kay. "We came here in 1998 for a shorter, low-budget tour." This memory prompts another short digression about the "fucking dollar," after which he continues, "but it hasn't been difficult for us over here, I think really because lots of people have helped us out a lot. We're good friends with [Texas-based hard-rock band] At the Drive In, we toured Europe together a little while, and they gave us a really good deal for eleven shows to open on the East Coast." (Sunshine and ATDI released a split twelve-inch on Big Wheel Recreation earlier this year.) "And we had a really good booking agency for this tour, so...it's very good."
On this night, Sunshine is in Missouri, smack in the middle of their second U.S. tour; in the next few days they'll head west, then back east (where they'll meet up with ATDI for those eleven supporting dates), then back to the Czech Republic, where "we'll relax for a little while, you know. Chilling. And then we go to Poland."
Poland. In the winter. For two and a half weeks.
"The guy who owns the main, top indie label in Poland, he heard us and he liked us, he set up and booked the whole tour. Two and a half weeks in Poland alone."
These are heady days for Sunshine. Courted by major acts for opening spots, wooed by one man's ardent fandom into spending twenty wintry days in Poland, flinging chords left and right on a noisy, rollicking album, newly backed by U.S. support and distribution...You might think some of this new success would have gone to Kay's spiky-haired head.
But no. "I really thank you for taking this time. I hope you can get something usable out of this interview. It's very difficult for me, talking on the phone."
You said that already -- and in very correct English, too. But, hell, it's difficult for all of us when it comes to cross-cultural exchanges like the ones Sunshine is trying to pull off. Kay shouldn't sell himself, or the band, too short. If Sunshine's language confidence ever catches up to its musical talent, we'll be in for some meaty retro punk indeed. And when that time comes, you can make your own jokes about the new day rising.