Pale Sun's debut full-length, Darkmoonwhiteout, is the product of a handful of years of development, refinement and reinvention of a sound that primary songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Jeff Suthers has perfected across numerous projects since the ’90s. It's also his first vinyl release.
Suthers's band history: The abstract space-rock band Volplane gave way to the more ambient Pteranodon in 1999, and in 2002, the shoegaze/heavy-ambient rock band Bright Channel, the group with which Suthers is most often associated, formed. Considered a major influence on shoegaze and dream pop of the time, Bright Channel recorded its first album with Steve Albini. The band played a handful of tour dates with the Brian Jonestown Massacre and is still championed by Anton Newcombe to this day.
Bright Channel performed its final show in August 2007, opening for the Fray at Red Rocks. While some people in the crowd audibly expressed a lack of appreciation for the band's elemental soundscaping, Suthers says that he was treated well and has no regrets about playing to such a mixed reaction.
Suthers went on to play around Denver in Moonspeed and Treeverb, and solo as Orbiteer. But it wasn't until 2012, when he was invited to jam with some friends in the basement of Fancy Tiger boutique, that the project that enjoyed the bulk of his energy and creative focus came together.
“They asked me to come over one night, and then I got all Scorpio on it and started telling people what we were going to do,” comments Suthers, tongue-in-cheek.
The fledgling band spent a year figuring out its sound and just enjoying the company of playing with like-minded musicians for fun and without the pressure of preparing for shows and putting out records. So a name for the project wasn't initially necessary, though Suthers recalls wanting to include the word Sun. The members decided on Pale Sun.
“I thought about Blue Sun, but of course that was already taken,” says Suthers. “And it sounds like it could be a gluten-free muffin or something.”
The first three years of the band's existence often involved intermittent practices, with Suthers driving from Lafayette to Denver to meet with his then-bandmates — drummer Kit Peltzel, guitarist Brian Marcus and bassist Eddie Corcoran. Occasionally Pale Sun would play a show, but it wasn't until summer 2015 that the group was asked to play the local festival circuit, including the Westword Music Showcase, UMS, Synesthesia and even the Denver Flea.
“It was like a Pink Floyd video,” recalls Suthers. “If I enjoyed that, something was odd. That was one of the hottest days of the year, but it helped to pay for this record. That was one of our peak moments. How many people can say they rocked the flea market? We became a festival band last summer. I could just as well have had a mandolin strapped over my shoulder. ”
Suthers's dry joking aside, Pale Sun had garnered some momentum with then-new bass player John Rasmussen, who recently had to relocate to Omaha. This left the door open for an old friend to step in on bass in the person of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats' talented bassist Adam Shaffner, who had played with Marcus in experimental rock band Tjutjuna.
“Getting Adam in the band and getting this record done? Our shit is going to the moon now," Suthers says. "Fuck 'space rock' — [it's] 'mountain rock'.”
His playful sense of humor intact, Suthers seems to be putting out Pale Sun's music more widely and intentionally. However, he is aware of his own musical history.
“I don't think I'm trying to do anything that different, other than trying to perfect it or make it better or at least try to achieve the same level as the other projects, because I'm living a little in the shadows of past situations,” Suthers says. “I told Brian it's his 'Precious Bright Channel.' After a while it's like Kurt [Ottaway's] Twice Wilted. I'm here now, alive and well, and I've put myself into this music every single night for four years.”
Pale Sun performs with Shady Elders and Paw Paw, 9 p.m., Friday, February 19, at Syntax Physic Opera, 554 South Broadway, 720-456-7041.