Ahead of their upcoming show together in Norfolk, Popscure contributor Elliott Malvas took some time out to interview his bestie, Wesley Bunch, founder and bandleader of the Philadelphia dream pop band.
Having grown up together in Virginia Beach [a small enough town where everyone who listens to a certain type of music naturally coalesces], Wes and I have been best friends forever. I remember the day he started writing songs as Suburban Living some time in the early 2010s. He has since moved to Philly and his band has seen various personnel changes, the current lineup backed by Michael Cammarata, Peter Pantina, and Chris Radwanski being the longest-running and most consistent. With a brand new single out, an album release on the horizon, and a slew of tour dates ahead of them, we’re sure to hear some new tunes as well as old favorites. Having listened to the upcoming LP [along with every other Suburban Living release heretofore], I can confidently say it may be their best yet.
I have fond memories playing with Wes in different bands or just kicking back with my main homie, but I tried taking an unbiased perspective as I asked him about his latest work. It was difficult and a little odd, to say the least, but I hope you enjoy this unique inside look into Suburban Living. We’ll see you all at the gig this Wednesday with my band, You’re Jovian, and new wave revivalist duo, Korine.
Suburban Living has had a long history. When do you consider the start of Suburban Living? Do you start counting from the first few demos or first shows?
I guess I’d consider the summer of 2012 the start of it. I was living in Ghent, and although I had some songs recorded under the name Suburban Living, I didn’t take it seriously. Once one of my songs got published on a reputable blog, I knew I wanted to start assembling a live band and try and take the project as far as possible.
Suburban Living has been a blue collar effort from the start. Do you think people around you know how much effort you put into your band? I think sometimes it’s hard for people on the internet to see this.
I think so. I try and not think about it too much. I’m a workaholic when it comes to my band, and sometimes that works for me and sometimes it works against me. I think in the past couple [of] years, I’ve been able to find a balance of not overwhelming myself with the project. Coincidentally, my friends and my partner helped me find that balance.
Speaking of band, you have quite a band behind you. At what point were you content on them writing parts and recording in the studio with you?
I love my dudes. I knew about six months into us playing shows together that they were in it for the long haul and understood the music. It’s been a blast carving the songs with them. It’s also been fun trying to write songs for them, or certain parts [that] I know [will] gel well with how they play their instruments.
What’s been your process as of late for writing and tracking demos? What rate do you write new songs, and are there any songs that kinda get lost and never fully come to fruition?
It hasn’t changed much. Usually, I just sit down with my guitar and synthesizer and just try and come up with stuff. If nothing comes about, I’ll take a 30 minute break and eat some food or go for a walk. I’ll come back to it later. If something does click, I play it over and over and over again until the natural movement of the song comes to me. When I’m in a big writing fury, and stuff is clicking, I’ll sometimes go weeks without listening to anything besides my unfinished demos. I took this process really seriously when writing [songs from the new album] How To Be Human and found myself really out of touch with current music and releases, which was different for me. As a music lover, I try my best to listen to new bands that are up and coming.
How long does it take roughly for you to start a song and finish it from its initial inception?
I guess it depends. Some of my favorite songs I’ve written were finished in only a couple hours. Some took me days to finish. A lot of the How To Be Human songs took forever to finish because the structure of the songs were out of my comfort zone. I tried my best to branch out of the intro/verse/chorus/verse/bridge/chorus pop structure on this one, which was tough for me.
The new record coming out sounds really promising. What are you hoping to get out of this release, and what are your expectations for the record?
I try not to have super high expectations, but I’d love for the album to reach as many ears as it can. Having it come out on vinyl is a huge accomplishment, and we’re psyched to finally see the records.
How did the deal come about to sign to EggHunt Records? Because just before this you were on 6131, who are also based out of Richmond. Any bad blood?
Nah, just the way the wind blew I suppose. We were talking with EggHunt years ago before we signed with 6131, so we had always stayed in touch with them. I’m psyched to still be working with a VA label since that’s my home state, and I love RVA.
The new record is legitimately the best work you’ve done by far. This is on all fronts. Song structure, recording, production, PR, etc. What would you attribute to this?
Thank you!! I really put my head down in the writing process. It was the most determined I’d ever felt, and it helped that I was consistently playing tours between Suburban Living and filling in for Swirlies. I felt like my mind was always wrapped [around] writing and performing music, which made me push myself harder in the songwriting process.
Any interest in releasing Suburban Living demos and B-sides? I love that kinda shit.
I actually wanted to do this for our last album, but the idea got canned. I love that kinda shit too and would be open to it. Maybe on a tape or something? I feel like that’s the perfect platform for my demos.
What’s Suburban Living’s long term goals and aspirations? On an indie level, I feel like you all can go head to head with the best. What is it going to take to get to a national audience and get to that next level? Does this even concern you?
Ha, if I had the answers I’d be there I suppose. Like most bands, I just want the music to be listened to and the opportunity to play the most live shows we can. I try and take a step back at any moment I can and just be thankful for where the project is. Sounds corny, but being in a band has extreme highs and extreme lows. Sometimes it’s easier to crack a beer and laugh when you’re in the lows. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t ever frustrated though. Life moves on, it’s not going to stop for you and make your band successful for you.
How do you balance personal goals within the band vs. the goals of your bandmates? Is everyone on the same page if things change and really take off?
Definitely. This is all what we want to do with out lives, and since I’ve been out on my own I’ve designed my life for this lifestyle.
Last question. Since moving to Philadelphia and being embedded in the culture up there, how do you feel about the south on a political and cultural front? When you visit home, do you notice a big difference between people and how they interact, etc.?
It’s different, but not as different as a lot of people would think I feel like. Honestly, it’s been crazier seeing how much more HRVA has turned more liberal and progressive every time I visit, which is awesome. It’s never a shock at how hyper conservative the south is though. Being on tour and seeing so many different cultures, I try and just keep my head down and focus on getting to the venue without dying, haha. We do get some stares at some gas stations though, that’s always fun.
Bonus – favorite venue in Philly?
Johnny Brenda’s, hands down. There’s a reason why so many people say its the best. Cause it is ; )
Thank you to Wesley Bunch and Suburban Living for the opportunity to conduct this interview. We’ll see you at Chicho’s Backstage in Norfolk, VA on Wednesday, March 11th. Photos were taken by Kelly Cammarata and come courtesy of the band.