From Aural Innovations #21 (October 2002)
SUNDIAL are band that just blew me away when I first heard them back in 1990. That incredible psychedelic fuzz guitar and those great 60's inspired songs, but yet modern. Gary Ramon was and is the leader of this band who produced five CDs over the period 1990-1996. I was very lucky to catch up with Gary via email and find out about his musical history, what happened between 1996 and the present and a bit about the future, now that Sundial will have a new LP. Enjoy.
Scott Heller (SH): You have been making music for over 20 years now. How did you get started and what was your first group? Did you come from a musical family?
Gary Ramon (GR): I started when I was about 11/12. First electric guitar I ever had was a very cheap red and black right-handed guitar. So I had to figure out how to put the strings on the other way round. But for about a year I didn't know how to tune it, but just made up my own tuning - or at least what I thought was my own tuning. Once I learned proper tuning I lost all my original songs I'd written. It had a tremolo arm which made it go out of tune easy and I used to plug it directly into my father's insane quad hi-fi system (much to his dismay - and no wonder!). With a musical school friend (Anthony Clough - also later to be in Sun Dial), we used to plug in a cassette recorder and just jam songs on this one guitar. I even think a few fragments of these things still exist somewhere! Musically it was quite experimental really but had a loose song based feel to it somehow, as far as I can remember. Didn't sound like anyone really - and had no aspirations to sound like anyone.
By the time I was around 14 I managed to save up to buy a secondhand 50 watt Carlsboro amp, and when my parents went out friends used to come over with their amps and instruments and we used to turn the volume way up and make a noise. We'd spend hours with the distortion set to max and the tremolo on producing this freeform sort of industrial suicide styled sound with feedback. (some of this turned up on WeR7 tapes - see later). It got a bit more elaborate, more friends, more instruments! So we'd do this every Saturday night - bring some guitars and beers in. It was a social evening. People would bring records too, so I'd check to see what everyone else was listening to at the moment. Musically that period I would describe it as being like krautrock with experimental Floyd like leanings! I heard the first two Floyd albums when I was about 12/13 so their impact hit me at an early age. The records seemed so un-earthly and magical and unlike anything I'd ever heard before - or possibly since. Later we had a school band and it was called ADH. There was six of us in the group. None of us could play so well, but it didn't actually matter. We used to record it all on my tiny Ferguson radio cassette recorder which had a built in mic - in my Mum's sitting room. The best of it was actually released on cassette as A.D.H. - "Musical Anarchy" - this was about 1980. There were about 50 made if I can remember. I listened to it recently and I thought it sounded like a very spaced out Floyd jamming with Amon Düül recorded very poorly! But it definitely had a great vibe that cut through all the hiss/distortion of the recordings/etc.
I had one relative who always used to have stacks of weird and strange exotic instruments whenever I used to meet him when I was a child. I used to really enjoy just messing around on banjos/trumpets/ukelele's/tin whistles/accordion's/jaws harps and pianos. So I guess that certainly must have made some impact early on! My father had a good collection of 8-track cartridges so that was also part of my early days too. He used to have things like Santana, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Shadows, The Hollies. I used to try to play along - mostly unsuccessfully.
SH: The Modern Art produced a lot of cassette material, most of which has never been heard. How did you get started in doing your own home recordings and releasing them on tapes? Do you have any idea how many were produced in total?
GR: As mentioned above, ADH was the first ever thing I was involved in. But the cassette format was very immediate. From that release on alot of our friends were making cassettes. I did Modern Art and involved in some mystery plane too, Anthony Clough did some of his own as WeR7 and a solo one too as I remember (although I was involved in those wer7 recordings too). Other members of ADH also did their own tapes. Most of these things were released in editions from anything between 1 copy and 10-20 copies or perhaps for "underwater kites" more than that. But I have no idea of how many more as this one has been pirated alot over the years. But in terms of actual releases it probably spans perhaps 50/60 odd titles! Some of these don't exist in any shape or form now. I kept copies of most of them. The Modern Art made tons of material from about 1984-89. Only a fraction was ever released though.
I got a weekend job working in a supermarket and saved up to buy a new Akai 2000D 2-track quarter inch tape recorder. It was special as you could just keep adding track upon track ad infinitum! But it was all in mono of course, although it got more elaborate as I went along and got a mixer and started making stereo tracks with a cassette recorder and the Akai. But that gear and a Fender Strat, Roland sh-09 synth and a drum machine, was pretty much the basic gear I had when I was making those Modern Art recordings. I also had a echo machine called an "echopet" and an insane fuzz pedal called a "fender blender" - which just about shredded the sound into pure white noise if you wanted. I've never seen one since - and I'd love to get one again!
But I learnt alot how to get the best out of very basic equipment from that time. I got into a regular system of working. Doing The Modern Art stuff or WeR7, Anthony and myself would both record stuff and release tapes too. I was involved in other groups too at the time. The Lord was another teenage band - quite psychedelic really and in fact I've resurrected an old song I wrote in the Lord as the new Sun Dial single! ("Out of space and out of time") There was also Mystery Plane who released a pile of cassettes too. I played guitar on some of them. (they issued a 12" too in Germany) Some of those Modern Art cassettes have just been copied, but to distinguish if you have an original cassette, the cassettes would have proper printed labels and printed sleeves (with the exception of "underwater kites" I think).
SH: I have only heard the Underwater Kites and All Aboard The Mind Train releases but it appears that the releases move in a more guitar oriented direction. Some of the Underwater Kites was less 60's inspired and a bit more like Depeche Mode or something.
GR: All the Modern Art stuff was guitar based, but in some cases, when I couldn't find any sound I wanted on guitar, I put it on synth instead. But I used whatever was around at the time. I used to listen to tons of things back then that was all going in the melting pot. One moment I'd be listening to say, the new album by New Order or Echo And The Bunnymen, but then I'd also be listening to say, live bootleg tapes of Can or Ash Ra Tempel or the Blues Magoos! Just loads of stuff really - and same as today!
SH: Can you describe what your life was like during these years that inspired so much musical output and discovery?
GR: I was just open to listening to as much as I could. I used to buy albums all the time - still do!. Just a time of pure music playing, jamming, partying, playing in other bands, going to lots of gigs. We were just too young to get in the punk scene so it was the post-punk stuff that we got into in a big way - Wire, Cabaret Voltaire, Joy Division/New Order/Echo And The Bunnymen/Pere Ubu/Durutti Column/Teardrop Explodes... in a way this scene was more psychedelic!
SH: During these years were you slowly building up a proper home studio? How did Sundial form out of the Modern Art?
GR: Well the Akai 2000 2-track was a revelation for me because that opened my mind to multi-tracking and how that worked. In a way, that machine taught me alot. How to create the best sound out of the most basic equipment. I got to a point where I was thinking I can't record anymore like this - I'd outgrown the gear I had - and I couldn't face using a drum machine again! So that's when I was just starting working as a music engineer for voiceovers mostly. I got a new Tascam 38 half inch 8-track and a secondhand late 70s Soundmaster 16-track desk, both of which moved things on again.
After all those cassettes, I'd really given up on the Modern Art after making a couple of albums, although the second Modern Art album pointed the way for Sun Dial. But they both sunk without any interest, so I was happy to let it rest.
From Modern Art to Sun Dial it was quite an organic process. Even quite early on some of the unissued Modern Art material is extremely psychedelic and you can see where Sun Dial came out from. The last tracks recorded by Modern Art could've been Sundial. The ideas were already forming by this time - even by late 1988.
I got offered to make a third album and it had no name or project name and it just evolved - this was late 1989. I'd listened to lots of psychedelic albums by this point and some were great but for me, apart from the first Floyd album, there was very little to touch it as far as I could see. Some of the bands at the time were obviously tapping the old psych scene too like the Stone Roses, Charlatans, Happy Mondays/etc. I didn't want to get "baggy" or join some bandwagon so I went into what I thought was a totally different direction and just did stuff I thought was great and not part of any fashion. So I encouraged Anthony to start playing bamboo flutes (he'd used them previously on some of our old industrial/experimental tapes) on some of the tracks, played more acoustic guitars and lead guitar and it just seemed to work.
SH: Were you hanging out with a different group of musicians or friends or influences around 1989 when Sundial started, as the music you produced for Other Way Out and Return Journey was a lot more 60's psychedelia influenced and quite amazing stuff?
GR: I just think there's different influences throughout your life and I don't think there was any different people involved. The first Pink Floyd album had a feel that was never captured later on - and perhaps in a way - this is also true of Sun Dial.
SH: I just love that fuzz guitar sound you had on Return Journey and Other Way out. Can you describe what equipment you were using at this time (Amps, guitars, effects)?
GR: For the first Sun Dial album I used a Fender acoustic guitar and a customized Fender Strat. The amp I used was a Peavey Studio and it was all overloaded on the desk. Effects - I used wah-wah, electric mistress, I can't remember any more I used... oh some kind of echo machine too - which I don't now have. I've still got the desk, but it's in the attic.
SH: Am I wrong or did the band not really play very many gigs before Reflector (1992) came out? This was the first time you would play outside of England? Any memorable gigs?
GR: We did about three/four gigs I think before Reflecter. The first was a crazy gig at the Borderline - it was sold out - and I couldn't believe it really. Tthen halfway through the amps blew! We didn't play outside of England until 1992 and toured Italy about three times I think. Most memorable gig was in 1993 in Bologna - a 2000 sold out gig on a revolving stage! I think in all we played about 50 times up till 1995 when everything just stopped.
SH: The versions of several of the songs on Return Journey, Other Way Out and Reflector appeared on CD singles. Were these different mixes or totally different recordings? It sounds like the later to me.
GR: There's definitely a few different recordings and mixes of some of the stuff on those albums which were released as singles - although sometimes they may just be slightly edited perhaps. "Exploding In Your Mind" exists as two mixes I'm sure. There's alot of material which was issued on formats other than albums, so at some point, would be great to go back and piece together some compilation. Because there's some great things which just appeared on compilations - and maybe no one knows them.
SH: Bark Studios, where Reflector was recorded, was this the first real studio the band had recorded in? The sound was very different on Reflector compared to Other Way Out.
GR: The first studio I ever went to was Denmark street studios where I recorded the first Modern Art 45. Sun Dial originally started recording the follow-up to Other Way Out in 1991 at commercial road studios which was engineered by Vic Keary, famous for being the first person to record Marc Bolan and of course, Secondhand and his Mushroom label.
But, we spent AGES there! We virtually lived there for about 6-8 months. Not just recording, but rehearsing a live set and jamming. The idea was to make the second album, but for whatever reason it was out of our grasp! I think we managed to salvage the sessions and release the "Overspill" EP - but really the second album was "Return Journey" because a fair amount of it was recorded at Commercial Road studios during that period.
We gave up recording at Commercial Road and started using it as a rehearsal studio in the end putting a live band together. Anthony was still involved at this point and I recruited Chris Dalley and Nigel Carpenter from garage band THE BIKINIS. It seemed to work really well as a five piece for a while, but then Anthony dropped out because of university commitments. So as a result of that we also deliberately didn't play many songs from Other Way Out because I didn't think we could do it justice then with no keyboards or flutes.
We re-started the second album in early 1992 at Bark and the album developed with an ear on what we did on the first LP and what we could now do. We definitely didn't want to just recreate what went before. The sound changed because, again, Other Way Out was fairly basement sounding - quite primitive - Reflector gave the band another side to it perhaps.
SH: The first Sundial track that I ever heard was Mind train on the Psychedelic Sauna compilation CD by Delerium Records. This totally blew me away, the raw and far out psychedelic guitar. I have noticed there are many versions of this song on singles, compilations, etc. Have you recorded this song on several occasions or has it just been remixed quite a lot? What inspired the Mind Train?
GR: It started out life on the second Modern Art LP and it turned into a popular song to jam out on - so it always got played. Sun Dial re-recorded it on "reflecter" and it's turned up subsequently as a live version on a Swedish compilation LP and as a jammed version on the Delerium LP. I wanted a song that could be jammed out quite easily and it fitted the slot at that time. As we've played it so many times, and was a staple end of set live number, I don't think we'll return to it now.
SH: Libertine and Acid Yantra were actually distributed by Atlantic in the US (via Beggars Banquet?). How did this deal happen? That is a huge step for the band but it did not really turn out that successful.
GR: We were offered deals with Silvertone (Stone Roses label), Polydor and others, In the end we went with a label who were fans of the band. But what happened was that for me the band lost it's uniqueness on the major label. I lost my enthusiasm for the band after Acid Yantra. I didn't think I could do it any more as it stood.
SH: Speaking of Libertine, this CD has some really excellent songs on it and copies of it were everywhere in the stores in the US when I lived there. Where and when was it recorded as there is no information in the CD about this?
GR: Libertine was the second to be recorded at Bark. This album in a way sums up our big production and studio expenses period! It was the hardest album to make because it came exactly a year after Reflecter. But by now the songs were written for the album so there was more urgency in it with record company people getting involved at every stage. I listened to it recently and of course now I would make it differently!
Every album for me is, to a degree, an experiment. I'm not looking to create a Sun Dial album by numbers. The first Sun Dial LP was unique in the sense that it was very experimental - not in the avant garde sense, but musically where I didn't know where it was going to lead to sound wise. Libertine was the one album where I knew where it was going because we had demos before the album. So libertine was the first and last like that. Acid yantra was a return to that looser feel and it's definitely the best way of working.
SH: Acid Yantra was an excellent CD as well. A return to a more raw guitar sound and loose jamming feeling. Did you use the same studio as Libertine for these recordings? Were there any other extra tracks that did not make the record besides Fairground and Poster Paint?
GR: What happened with that album was that we decided we couldn't record in that way again. We wanted to make it more loose. So we rented a place in St Ives in Cornwall, bought an 8-track and recorded all the basic tracks there over the course of about 4 weeks. But this time we recorded every jam, every take, and just picked the best versions when we got back to work on and complete - and I think it's one of the albums that unlocks the Sun Dial sound very well.
There were certainly a few other tracks not ever released from then. Probably as many as 4/5 songs I would think. Poster paint was actually recorded around the "Other Way Out" period, but mixed around the Acid Yantra time.
SH: I was really hoping that when Acid Yantra came out you guys would tour in the US? Did you ever play any gigs in the US?
GR: We came over to the US at the end of 1993 and headlined the Beggars Banquet night at the Knitting Factory, New York, and then Washington and Boston (I think).
SH: Live Drug - when and where was this recorded? Was this from a big tour to support the Acid Yantra CD?
GR: We did a big European tour in the winter of 1993 and came back to promote Acid Yantra in 1995 with just one gig at a club in London 1995 - and THAT, was the last Sun Dial gig with the old three piece line up that recorded Acid Yantra. We were offered a tour of America in late 1995 but with band members all wanting to do different things and Beggars Banquet not picking up on any further albums it wasn't to be.
SH: Soon after Live Drug came out you released two solo LPs under the project QUAD. I really liked these a lot. I only own the first one on clear vinyl. Can you tell me more about these? How many copies of each were produced and how many songs do you have from this very creative time period that did not make the records? Quad 3 in the future?
GR: Quad (the clear LP) came out in 1997, although it'd been recorded over a period of about five years. I think around 600 copies were made of this one. From early on (1990) there was always stuff not suitable for Sun Dial releases, and often or not, would be suitable for Quad releases, so there's definitely more stuff not released out there. The second one was issued in just a 99 edition (1998), although after it came out I know some white labels were in circulation in clubs and some record shops, so it's been pirated. The first Quad was meant to have been reissued on CD and LP by Man's Ruin, but as I understand it they went bust or something. So at present there's no material available, but I'm certainly thinking about Quad 3 soon enough though.
SH: For many years you were recording and releasing your own material on your own labels and then UFO Records came along and then Atlantic (Beggars Banquet), then Acme (you again). How did this transformation occur? You seem to drop out of producing your own music for some time from 1996-2001 but working on side project groups like Current 93, Coil, Fantasyy Factoryy, etc. How much did you work with each of these bands? Did you play any guitar with Fantasyy Factoryy?
GR: After a very productive period with Sun Dial I felt I couldn't carry on as it was with Sun Dial, but I was still into the music. Sun Dial (existing in name only) by this time (1996) had our own studio in London Bridge (the old part by the River Thames) in an old debtors prison. We had a studio about three floors down below ground! It was totally set up to record bands. I brought all my equipment down there and you could quite easily live down there for days without seeing the light of day. Some people did.
I just felt like working on production and helping other groups. So I just started releasing bands on Acme and this insane label called Prescription which was basically issuing albums in editions of just 99 copies. A crazy idea as it lost money from day one. We financed most of the recordings then put out LPs in a small edition by mail order only. We did 8 LPs in total, most of which I'm involved in in some shape or form. I think it was successful musically and we could've released a third series but I couldn't possibly do it again. A phenomena for the time.
I'd been into production and recording and sound from way back but it started off with Spiral Sky around 1992 (which Anthony was involved with also). Their album was recorded at my studios and was complete but I felt had more potential. They just allowed me to remix it and add or detract stuff, which I did. I figured as a whole LP I thought it made sense and that was the first non Sun Dial Acme album release - and it got some good reviews. I think I played guitar on one or two tracks.
Then came Chemical - I played on it - but can't remember what exactly now. Fantasyy Factoryy came in recorded it, and I added some effects and helped with mixing. Didn't play on it though.
Hypnosis were a real Who/mod styled band when I first recorded them, but slowly the band developed in the studio and issued a great album.
Recording the Prescription albums, we had Coil, Quad, Leitkegel (Anthony's band), Azalia Snail, Attack Wave Pestrepeller, Ohr Musik, Mother Yod - all albums that I either play on or was involved in the mixing.
SH: Did you build up your own studio during this time and worked more as a producer? Did you create a lot of QUAD like material during this time that we just have never heard?
GR: We were eventually building up the Sun Dial studios doing a lot more stuff there. I brought in all my gear from home - all the equipment. Mellotron, Hammond, vox, Leslie speakers, Burns amps, Wurlitzer pianos, vox amps/etc. Some of those sessions I had no involvement in. They were engineered by either Craig Adrienne (ex Sun Dial drummer) or David James who became pretty much house engineer. There was some big major record company financed stuff, but it was the Prescription stuff I got more into. We recorded Current 93 there, although I didn't get involved at that time with any recording. It wasn't till later (last year in fact) when David Tibet invited me to play lead guitar for them at their shows at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London. I've known David Tibet on and off for about 10 years now. Even during the "musically silent" years, I was still recording of course, either as Quad or with Sun Dial, but I just felt the time was not right for any new material to be released. So there is alot of unissued Sun Dial material from this period.
SH: How does Sundial write songs? A lot of the compositions have a real feeling of being based on jams? When you get together do you jam a lot?
GR: Songs are recorded in all different ways. Sometimes there's a verse and sometimes just a riff. But sometimes too its great when a piece of music can be moulded into a song. That's in a way more creative. And so for Sun Dial it works both ways - sometimes formulated ideas and other times just a groove which takes shape later. We jam not so often at the moment but I always record any jams and some great stuff has turned up from it all. The end of Acid Yantra features a snippet of a 20 minute jam. I like experiments and I like accidents. Well, especially if they work.
SH: What can you tell us about the new Sundial CD due out in October? Title, influences, where and when it was recorded, song titles, who plays on it? Do you have a US release lined up for this one? Will Acme release it in the UK?
GR: In a way, what went before was Sun Dial part one (1989-96), the door was closed after Live Drug - I couldn't go any further with the band - but I think I just felt there's unfinished work with Sun Dial. So this is now Sun Dial part two or whatever.
The new album is still in production. We had some technical hitches which has delayed finishing the album. But musically I think it has a vitality which echoes Other Way Out. Moonus (ex-Chemical) plays bass on it (and other instruments too). There's Julie (from Current 93) playing flute, violins and keyboards. There's a bunch of us, and its whoever is around is playing. Not fixed. The new Sun Dial has a flexible line-up. There's a taster for the album out in October on a 7" 45 called "Out Of Space And Out Of Time" b/w "Wild Bug". It features vox continental - first time we've used it since OWO, and it was written originally when I was in a teenage school band called The Lord. I don't know if these tracks will be on the album or not at this stage. The title of the album is being kept back until it's all ready, but we've had the title for about two years now. The album of course, inevitably, has been put back, but that's ok.
The label and who will issue it is still under consideration but at this moment it will be on Acme.
SH: Will the band do a proper UK or European tour for this release?
GR: I'm keeping things very flexible and perhaps if the time is now right for us to do a proper tour then we will.
SH: I really wish that I could be at the gig in London on Oct 19th with QUAD opening. What kind of Sundial set do you have planned for the fans? Any comments about the future of Sundial and the fans seeing more of your creative output in the future?
GR: The gig date is now rescheduled for THURSDAY 5TH DECEMBER. This is confirmed, as the original gig we decided we couldn't do. The venue is Ocean 2 in Hackney, East London and support groups will be Hypnosis and Quad. Booking details from the ocean box office which is - 020-7314-2800. We hope it will be very exciting as for the first time we will be in the position to perform alot of songs from Other Way Out - which we've never done before! That and a mixture of material from the new album and single plus a few other surprises!
1984 Underwater Kites (Acid Tapes TAB005)
1985 Oriental Towers (Acid Tapes TAB006)
1985 Dimension of Noise (Self Released)
1985 Modern Artefact no.1 (2-track cassette in A5 plastic wallet)
1986 Modern Artefact No. 2
1986 Age of lights (Independance, Germany)
1986 Pastel Sunrise
1986 Souvenir (with the Cleaners from Venus)
1987 Living in the Distortion Parade
1987 Modern Art (with Opera Multi Steel)
1988 Collectors Item
1988 Guitars on Fire
1988 Full Tilt at the Chocolate Factory
1984 Dreams to Live/Beautiful Truth 7" (Color Disc Colors 1)
1985 Purple Twilight Compilation LP (Color Disc Colors 2)
1987 Stereoland LP (Color Disc Colors 3)
1988 Color Supplement Compilation LP (Color Disc Colors 4)
1989 Penny Valentine/One Way Ticket 7" ((Color Disc Colors 5)
1989 All aboard the Mind Train LP(Out of Depression OUT 002)
1994 All aboard the mind train LP (acme ac8007LP initial copies with Sav X postcard)
1997 All aboard the mind train CD (ether US CD w/bonus tracks)
1998 All aboard the mind train CD (Captain trip japan)
Sundial (1989- Present)
1990 Exploding in your Mind 12" (Tangerine TAN11 withdrawn 50 copies only)
1990 Other Way Out LP (Tangerine)
1990 Other Way Out LP/CD/CASS(UFO1)
1990 Visitation (Bucketful of Brains 7")
1991 Exploding in your Mind 12"/CD (UFO 45001T)
1991 Fireball/A Northern Song 7" (UFO PF2 promo only 45)
1991 Fireball (UFO video)
1991 Overspill EP 12"/CD (UFO 45002T)
1992 Reflector LP/CD(UFO8)
1992 I Don't Mind CD (UFO PF5 promo only CD)
1992 Fazer 12"/CD (UFO 45008T)
1992 Fazer 12" remix (UFO PF8 promo only club remix)
1993 Libertine LP/CD 1993 (Beggars Banquet/atlantic BBQ138)
1993 Going Down 7"/ CD (Beggars Banquet BBQ15)
1993 Going Down (Beggars Banquet Video)
1993 Return Journey LP/CD (Acme 8001)
1994 Other Way Out CD (Acme 8003)
1995 Acid Yantra LP/CD (AC8011/BBQ173)
1995 Bad Drug 7"/CD (Beggars Banquet BBQ 54)
1995 Bad Drug (Beggars Banquet Video)
1995 Apollo 7" (Munster 7079)
1996 Live Drug LP/CD (AC8015)
1996 Other Way Out LP (Lava Germany)
1997 Other Way Out LP (gold edition/ Or US)
2002 Out of space out of time c/w wild bug (ace of discs 001)
2002 Free Sitar/Klunk 7" (acme acfr45001 - Dec 5th, London)
1997 QUAD 1 (Acme 8020LP) 250 only clear vinyl
1997 QUAD 2 (Prescription 3 LP) 100 only
1998 Leitkegel (Prescription 5 LP UK) 100 only
2000 Astral Disaster LP ( Prescription 8 LP) 99 only
2001 Astral disaster LP/CD (world serpent - diff songs/mixes to the above)
Other Prescription Related
1997 Ohr Musik (Prescription 2 LP) 99 copies
1997 Mother Yod (Prescription 1 LP) 99 copies
1998 Attack wave pestrepeller (Prescription 4) 99 copies
1998 Azalia Snail - cooling system (Prescription 6) 99 copies
Groop (SEE ALSO MOTHER YOD/CHEMICAL)
2002 Voodoo Sitar 7" (Ace of Discs ACE000)