Talent and passion precede age, and indie newcomers Bad Suns know that all too well. All in their early 20s—vocalist Christo Bowman, guitarist Ray Libby, bassist Gavin Bennett, and drummer Miles Morris—the band’s EP, Transpose, dropped in Jan. 2014, soon followed by their well-received debut album, Language & Perspective, in June later the same year. Since then the quartet have made impressive appearances on Conan and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, as well as opened for indie-rock group, The 1975.
Less than a year later, as they embark on their first headlining tour, frontman Bowman discusses Bad Suns’ humble beginnings and rising popularity.
The band first began playing concerts officially as Bad Suns in 2012, only three years ago. Did it surprise you how quickly you guys ascended and acquired such a large audience?
Yeah, because we’re so young too. Like, me and Gavin, we both just turned 20, and there’s a lot of sacrifices I think we’ve had to make. And when I say that, it was very worthwhile and what needed to happen. But I had to make sacrifices for music in the sense that before I got interested in playing guitar and writing songs, I was an A-student, I went to a good school, and was getting a good education. As soon as I discovered music, I really had to put all of that on hold. I left school, I started going to a different school where I ended up meeting Gavin and everything. Eventually I went to homeschooling and I wasn’t really paying attention because I was trying to put all of my effort into writing songs and doing this.
So in certain ways, I kind of realize now the sacrifices I had to make in order to get to this point, because it takes so much time. So even though it seems quick since the band has started, it really has been taking a great progression. It has absolutely taken 10 years of me writing songs to get here to this point, where we can write a song to get us to do these things. So really it doesn’t feel like it’s been a quick process at all.
Absolutely! In terms of school, you’d still be in college right now.
I’d be at my third year. My girlfriend goes to UCLA and is an art history major, and I actually got the chance to go and sit in on some classes while she was there, and that was really nice. I couldn’t believe how happy I was to be in class. I have to go back to school at some point and I’m going to be sitting in on a lot of classes when we get back from the tour [for art]. I find it so easy to relate, talking about the way that artists work, and painting. I was sitting there and I was thinking a lot of it was so relatable, the way they format one craft. It’s just interesting I think to gain a new perspective on a different style of art because I’m so focused on songwriting at all times, it’s kind of the way that you think of everything. It’s good to garner a new perspective.
Did the rest of the band have to sacrifice school as well?
… Miles and Ray are older than us, Miles is 22, and Ray is 23. But they were pretty much done with high school by the time we started this band really. And they made several sacrifices as well. For me, I mean at the time I never thought of it as a sacrifice. I wasn’t going, “Oh man, that’s something I’ll miss.” It’s something that I kind of realized in retrospect. You kind of realize, “Oh wow, I really put a lot on hold to do this.” It was absolutely the right call. I don’t say it as in I regret anything. For me, I’m so stubborn, I have to really want something in order to be driven. And if that’s the case, you can’t stop until you get there.
That’s very true. Were your family and friends supportive of the process?
Absolutely. My family has been great in that they’ve really been rooting for me the whole time along the way. I really appreciate that very much. And some of the people you go to school with, they’re never really going to understand until you start to be something. So it’s kind of funny, how I was kind of outcasted for doing this, being the kid in a band. It’s not what you think about, like, “Oh, you’re in a band, you’re cool.” You know? It was kind of always like kids going, “What are you doing?” I wasn’t going to parties or playing sports, I had my own friends and we liked different things and we played music. And other people didn’t understand that.
Now they see it and it’s one of those things, I mean, I’m talking about kids I went to middle school with. When you get older you mature and you’re able to respect what other people are doing. So I can have a conversation with an old friend who’s in college now or starting a new job, and is an engineer now and moved to Texas to work. And it’s fascinating to me that I have friends who are attorneys now, who are a little bit older than me. I love when I find out that someone I went to school with is passionate enough to pursue a career, to me that’s really exciting. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all relatable to a certain extent.
Now all of you are on your first headlining tour. What are anticipating most from it?
We did a couple of shows after the album came out. But this is our first full on tour with a package of three bands. But I think the luxury of time is one. We’re going to be able to play all of the songs we have released and then some. It’s a show now; we have lights, we have production. So it’s not an opening set so we wanted to take full advantage of that since we have fans who have the record coming to the show. We really wanted to make it special.
What has been a standout moment for you over the past year?
It’s really been a collection of moments. I’m going to say, most recently to keep it fresh, the most insane thing to me right now is that I’m talking to you on a tour bus. We made it to the bus, and we’re selling out some big rooms on this tour. It’s all pretty surreal, the fact that we get to do this.
So being on a tour bus is still bizarre?
Absolutely. We just got it yesterday. This is one of those things that makes it seem like it’s going by fast. We’ve been touring now since last January, and we had a van that we are now renting out to one of our opening bands. And when we got that van, we were so excited, and it was like, “This is home base for a while.” Now it seems like we left that so quickly, and we put a lot of time into that so it’s like, “Wow, we’re here.” So in that area, it blows my mind because we’ve been playing shows for so long, and we understand how difficult it is to get people to come to shows. The fact that we can sell about a thousand tickets in a place, it’s crazy. It doesn’t quite process.
Bad Suns are also slated to perform at Coachella this April. How does that feel?
It’s funny that you asked me about a standout moment and I didn’t think about Coachella. Honestly, there are so many moments, it’s insane to me. Me and Gavin, our bass player, went to Coachella for the first time in 2011 when there was Kanye, The Strokes, and Arcade Fire, and at the time I was 16, and I remember we had the conversation, “Gavin, in six years’ time, we’ll be here.” That was four years ago. Now we’re ahead of schedule; that’s pretty crazy.
You guys worked with producer Eric Palmquist [The Mars Volta, Trash Talk] on your debut album. Is he someone the band wants to work with again in the future?
We’re definitely working with him. He’s somebody who I really think was important in the gestation period of the band. It’s like, as it was all starting out, he was somebody that really helped guide us with us being so young at the time. We recorded “Cardiac Arrest” when I was 17, so we’ve been growing and learning throughout the whole thing and he was there for the process and helped guide us.
And we’re writing new songs. While we’re still out touring for our first album, I don’t want to talk too much about the next. I don’t want fans to think that we’re over this one, because we’re not, and there’s still much to be done. But we’re always writing. There’s not a point where we’re not writing. We’re constantly in a state of working. It’s one of those things that we get home and we’re still writing and playing together.
Bad Suns’ debut album, Language & Perspective, is available now. You can catch Bad Suns performing at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on Feb. 14, Bowery Ballroom in New York City on Feb. 15, and at Union Transfer in Philadelphia on Feb. 16. For more information, visit badsuns.tumblr.com.