Band on the rise: Behind Mock Suns’ playful pop
It has been a very long winter, and longer still, I imagine, for Philadelphia four-piece Mock Suns, whose practice space in Fishtown is basically a cement box with no heat. The band tells me it doesn’t bother them too much though—“we have a space heater and once we start playing it gets really hot,” they explain.
Nevertheless, they’re excited for spring because it signals the release of their new record, Stay True (out March 8), and their corresponding release show March 19 at Johnny Brenda’s. Plus, there’s something about Mock Suns’ breezy brand of pop that seems made for warmer weather: the sun streaming through your window, plants and flowers beginning to bloom—as if the name “Mock Suns” was chosen deliberately to signify these Vitamin D-esque effects. (In truth, it was selected somewhat randomly).
Stay True’s breezy weekend feel however, is intentional, and may well be the vehicle that launches the band to (at least local) acclaim. Since 2012, Mock Suns have released three records, but it’s with Stay True that they really hit their stride. Inspired by ‘90s culture and nostalgia, the record blends psych-pop with odd samples and a sense of mischief, for a record that feels fresh and on-trend (Ariel Pink comparisons are not far-off), but also a natural evolution of their sound.
“I’d been writing a lot of serious songs, that dealt with heavy topics,” explains front man Greg Puglese. “So I wanted to do something fun.”
During the writing process, Puglese admits he listened to a lot of Blackstreet and Jock Jams—and some songs even originated from classic ‘90s jams (compare: the lead riff on “Here From Your Rooftop” with this). The ‘90s make sense as a jumping off point because the band, like me, came of age during this time, and were just starting to find their musical identities.
Plus at this point in their careers, a look back is well-earned—Puglese tells me that they’ve all played in bands since high school, and Stay True hearkens back to those early days, with the added bonus of years of experience.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Mock Suns first came together in the mid-aught’s—Puglese hooked up with bassist Steve DiRomualdo and drummer Tom Magliaro at Temple, and formed Giant Mind with two other friends. A few years later, when those friends moved to Brooklyn, the band re-branded as Mock Suns and synth player Matt Giordano hopped aboard soon after.
The band describes early releases as “scattered” and “not cohesive,” and despite some creative songwriting and marketing (2012’s Here Nor There was accompanied by a city-wide scavenger hunt, in which the band hid LPs with redemption codes that could be traded for chocolate sculptures of their faces), DiRomualdo insists, “we were just messing with effects and loops.” Their 2014 release Satander/All That I Knew was a loose concept record whose sprawling soundscapes underscored themes of disillusion and self-fulfillment—and led to the brilliant, if arduous to create, video for “Last Time.” ([Making that video] was hell,” says Magliaro. “We filmed it in a warehouse in February and the water was so cold, it felt like someone stabbing you in the ribs with daggers.”)
With Stay True, their creativity persists, and luckily, this time around there are no tests of physical endurance. The quirky, winsome video for “Nothing Good Comes About Being Out at This Hour” shows the guys orchestrating a very hilarious prank, and makes use of the band’s personal collections of Game Boys and vintage Hustler mags. According to Puglese, the video was envisioned “to encompass all the normal, stereotypical types of mischief kids get into.” “Plus,” adds DiRomualdo, “there’s something very funny about us acting like children in 30-year-old bodies.”
Stay True’s release also marks the band’s first mini-tour—they’ll hit New York, Boston, Philly, and Harrisburg to promote record—scheduling shows mainly on weekends so as not to interfere with their day jobs (all four have separate careers). Past shows have been peppered with both triumphs—such as opening for Mac DeMarco at MilkBoy (“he was very laid back and very nice—he gave us all records,” says Puglese)—and hurdles: such as getting booked at a comedy show where they were asked to play for “literally 3 seconds” between acts.
At the end of the day however the band regards even these mishaps fondly, as they’re all part of Mock Suns’ history. As our interview winds down, I ask them what to expect from their record release at Johnny Brenda’s and Pugelese mentions visuals and DiRomualdo mentions ‘90s throwback jams—and suddenly the conversation devolves into chatter about Shaq in Kazaam and Michael Jordan in Space Jam.
So will these cinematic masterpieces make an appearance at JB’s? Puglese laughs. “Possibly,” he says. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Stay True is out March 8 and the band will celebrate its release Saturday, March 19 at Johnny Brenda’s. The 21+ show begins at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10; more information is available via the XPN Concert Calendar.