As bright as their name, Little Suns’ first album Normal Human Feelings is a carnivalesque ride, rich in its orchestral sections with a joyous vibration all around. The band began in 2006 as Ottawa’s Dry River Caravan, but changed its name two years ago. The original band went through various member changes and only John Aaron Cockburn remains. I talked to him about the history of Little Suns, their process for making music, and also a rather inspiring tour through Eastern Europe.
Rachel Levine (RL): What inspired the name change?
John Aaron Cockburn (JAC): Well the idea was that we felt the name Dry River Caravan had too many genre connotations with it. I wanted to have a name that didn’t have that. I didn’t want people to tell what kind of music was played by the name.
I had a song called Little Suns, an instrumental song. We were trying to decide on a name and bounced around dozens of names and everyone agreed on it. I kind of have a fixation with sun worship and sun mythology. We’re like little representations of the sun on earth.
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RL: I read that you were inspired by a trip to eastern Europe. Who went and to where?
JAC: It was myself and Rob (Robin Meyer-MacLeod) that went. We were really into eastern European folk and gypsy music and were playing as a trio at the time. We played Klezmer and Balkan stuff. So, being into that music, we thought we should go to the place where this music comes from. We were fascinated with the culture. I took my accordion, he his clarinet. We took trains around Eastern and South Eastern Europe, trying to absorb the culture and see the music. There was a lot of couch surfing, staying mostly with students and people who were young professionals.
RL: Did you play at all when you were there?
JAC: We stayed with a young couple in a small village in Romania. The guy invited us to come because they saw I had an accordion. The husband played accordion as well. We had a jamboree in a tiny village in Romania. We also while waiting for a train in Transylvania at a train station. We were being harassed by gypsy kids. They just wanted change and we didn’t have anything. I had my accordion and busted it out and everyone started dancing around the train station.
RL: How does the band write its music
JAC: I write the songs, but in different ways. It’ll depend on the instrument that the song is written on, whether on guitar or accordion. Also it depends if I came up with words or rhythm first. There is no one particular process. It changes. Sometimes I’ll have a basic skeleton of the song, sometimes its fully finished, sometimes its a few melodies and we’ll get together as a band and flush it out the ideas.
RL: Are you more of a studio band or a live band? Do you prefer one or the other?
JAC: They both have their advantages. I don’t prefer one over the other. They’re completely different. I love the craft of being in a studio and fine tining things and having fun and building things. But, live performance is about the immediate response from crowds. You’re face to face with a stranger and you get to see their reaction in real time as it’s happening.
Little Suns is performing with Karim Debo, Les Bouches Bées, and Soucy at the Cabaret du Mile End (5240 Parc) on April 12 at 8 p.m. as part of the Vue Sur Relève festival that takes place April 2-12. Tickets to this show are $10.