“Music is critical in our lives and culture. It’s the inspiration that drives us. It’s also the window to our souls. It’s a reflection as to who we are, what we stand for and where we’re going.”
– Bill Walton.
Surprisingly this statement is not from a musician or artist, as a matter of fact, it is from a former NBA superstar and sports commentator which could be interpreted as rather strange in regards to how passionate it is in referencing the amazing art form. Let it be known though, that Bill Walton is a rigorous music fanatic, known as a self-described “Deadhead” – his adoration for the ground-breaking Californian experimental rock act The Grateful Dead is immeasurable to the point that he often mentions the band when commentating.
For Queensland’s Sunk Loto, the earlier mentioned quote could be the opening one used in their hypothetical biography or in the liner notes for any future release (more on that later). Their brand of metal music became virtually critical in our and their lives and culture, it drove them to heights unforeseen for an outfit in their teens, they wore their hearts on their sleeves and impressed the world with their emotional yet ferocious alternative metal formula for over a decade. In terms of the “lives and culture” aspect – Sunk Loto’s expansion was boundless, their reach and devotees even landed them in the famed “Girlfriend” and “Dolly” Magazines, a mostly unheard of feat for almost any kind of heavy music band, especially Australian. As guitarist Luke McDonald and vocalist Jason Brown describe in recollection, these achievements were oddly overwhelming.
As Luke McDonald elaborates: “There’s plenty of shit that haunts me and makes me cringe when I look back; I try not to look a lot of the time (laughs). I do remember we were getting approached by ‘Dolly’ and ‘Girlfriend’ and other magazines and we were like: ‘Nuh man, we are a serious metal band, we don’t want to be in those pages’. We did cave though, truthfully there is a lot of cringe-worthy stuff out there”. Jason Brown then chimes in: “We had a song called ‘Cringe’ too!” and the conversation then erupts in laughter.
Teen girls fashion, beauty and entertainment publications aside, there is no denying the importance of Sunk Loto in heavy music history. Signing with Sony Music Australia and Epic Records when the average age of the four Queenslanders was just 16, the group went on to release one triumphant EP Society Anxiety in 1999 and two very successful albums Big Picture Lies and Between Birth And Death in 2000 and 2003 with all releases achieving positions in the ARIA top 50 charts. The prosperity undeniably amplified, international tours with the genre’s luminaries namely: Sevendust, A Perfect Circle, Deftones, KoЯn, Linkin Park, and Suicidal Tendencies to name a select few and countless other impressive headline shows became their existence – Sunk Loto were also included as a highlighted outfit at major festivals including Big Day Out, Vans Warped Tour, Splendour in The Grass, Falls Festival and Homebake. The last of which calls to mind a rather mesmerising yet unsettling memory for the four-piece.
“I remember the night the night before we did the Homebake show; because people used to just give me drugs at shows and we did a show the night before.” Luke recalls – “People used to give me pills, they’d shake my hand and then there’d be like a bag with pills in it which is what one guy did, I was young and I was like: ‘Okay, I guess I’ll just put that in my pocket’.”
He continues with an impossibly engaging tone: “So the next day, we were playing Homebake at about two o’clock in the afternoon, on the main stage, with 30,000 people in attendance and I decided to take this ecstasy pill and I then ended up smoking some joints or something. And I remember I was terrified, I didn’t know if I could play the show. I was like shaking and freaking out.”
He then chuckles to a contagious effect and carries on – “I went up to my tour manager and I said: ‘I can’t play the show’. He began screaming at me ‘You’ve got to play the show, here, put this jumper on, you’re shaking.’ Anyway, as soon as I got out there and hit the first guitar note, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever had. And I think it’s actually on the internet now. I think it’s on YouTube.”
Jason expands further: “I remember us going: ‘F**k, he is not going to be able to play this show’ and it was such a packed crowd. Then I remember, the Frenzal Rhomb guys, they basically knew what was happening and they were standing by the stage and laughing their asses off. They knew he had taken something and thought it was hilarious. Then I’m pretty sure someone just pushed you onto the stage Luke?”
Luke responds in hysterics: “It was fine. As soon as I hit the first guitar note, I was fine. It was just getting from the backstage area to the actual stage haha! I remember Jay (Whalley, vocalist) from Frenzal was there and he put his hand on me and he said something like: ‘Good luck mate’ or ‘good luck son’ and pushed me out where we went straight into ‘Human Ashtray’. I think it was first song we played?” Luke briefly pauses catching his breath from excessive giggling before changing his tone: “Now I’m sober. I’m trying to be far more professional these days. But yeah, the 90s festivals were amazing. My favourite experience of touring and experiences was playing the Big Day Out 2001. We got to play with one of our most treasured bands still to this day: At The Drive-In! Relationship Of Command was the album! We used to play it on repeat in the Tarago and watched them every night.”
For this writer and assuredly a myriad of other followers, Sunk’s final LP Between Birth And Death before their hiatus, was the definitive record of capturing the quartet at their artistic height and to a degree, it altered the perception of metal in Australia; arguably beyond. A dark and brooding adventure into multiple realms of heavy music morphing and miraculously moving between: Alternative metal, groove metal, glimmers of metalcore, nuances of nu metal and even some bleak ballad moments as if it were capable of being perceived as a film or remarkable piece of scripture; it is truly timeless. Besides the musical majesty, an honest pinnacle of the full-length is vocalist and songwriter Jason Brown’s performance and penmanship. Having been a teenager when he wrote a lot of the earlier victorious anthems which invaded “walkmans” and “discmans” throughout planet Earth, it plagued this scribe to ask how he has felt revisiting these lyrics from a decade to decades ago?
“Yeah, surprisingly good.” He says with confidence – “There’s probably like, maybe two songs where there’s tiny little parts of songs that I’ve picked up and I’m like, I might just make something else up in that part (laughing). But it is a small bag coming from, I think we’re playing close to 20 songs on these shows – that’s not a bad strike rate, right? I’ve surprised myself, like, ‘younger’ me has surprised ‘older’ me. I’m like: ‘Dude, you did well’.”
Luke then interjects with pride: “I said to Jason that he’s a prophetic singer. A lot of the things that he was singing about back then is actually coming true now. And personally, I feel that Jason is singing better than he ever did. From what I’ve what I’ve heard in the in the rehearsal space, his voice sounds better than now than when he was 16.”
If it was not already known by the readers, the Gold Coast gentlemen have reformed for a series of shows down the east coast of Australia signalling their return in the coming weeks and to later this year, most of which have sold out. Whilst their youthful antics are far behind them (“One of the great things that the guys, and it really means a lot to me because I’m a sober alcoholic, is that they’ve agreed to do the shows sober. I believe that these shows are going to be the best live shows that we’ve ever done.” Luke admits with an open contentment.) however, it is interesting to inquire about why there is a three month gap between the first and second set of reunion shows and if there is more planned for the ‘Loto?
“Honestly, there’s no solid concrete plan at the moment.” Mr Brown confesses – “The reason those shows are spaced out is because of venue availability, with COVID and stuff, but it has been a sort of lucky thing where we do have that three to four month window where we could potentially start working on new material for a potential new record, which would be amazing.”
Mr McDonald then additionally enlightens on the matter: “Definitely; provided everything goes right and everything goes well – we will make a new record. It will be the best Sunk Loto record anyone has ever heard. Because we are on another level now where we’ve grown as humans, we’ve grown as musicians.” He pronounces in delight then resumes – “And I feel confidently if we decide to make another record that the music will just flow out. I think the record would come together very quickly. We have been tinkering with a few things here and there. I mean, everything just seems to kind of be working out perfectly. It’s strange sometimes how things work out when you don’t plan them and they just kind of come together. The fact that some people have been mentioning too that nu metal’s back on trend and things like that, it’s lucky timing I guess? We are just blessed. Some people actually thought that we had planned that (laughing).”
It’s been ‘Five Years Of Silence’ (PLUS 10) but on these nights of Sunk Loto’s return: “We’ll Be Divine And Fly”.
Sunk Loto – Reunion Shows
July 29 @ Mo’s Desert Clubhouse, Gold Coast – SOLD OUT
July 30 @ The Triffid, Brisbane – LIMITED TICKETS
August 6 @ The Triffid, Brisbane – SOLD OUT November 25 @ Max Watts, Melb – SOLD OUT November 26 @ Factory Theatre, Syd – SOLD OUT
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