Sun Dial interview (20.03.2003)
Sun Dial from the U.K. has been one of my favourite artists for about ten years now.
They have won a lot of fans all over the world with their 60's, kraut, and new wave
influenced psychedelic rock. This legendary band released five excellent studio albums,
one live album and a lot of singles and 12"'s in the early to mid 90's. Now the band
is activated again, so it was time to ask Gary Ramon, the bandleader, singer and guitarist,
a few questions.
When did you first learn to play guitar? What were your influences back then?
Gary Ramon: I had an acoustic guitar first when I was 10, but didn't really get on with it originally.
I got another acoustic guitar when I was 13 and realised I could play much better if
I played it left-handed. And first of all, I just tried to tune it in a way to get
some interesting sounds. It wasn't even any conventional tuning -and then I learnt
to tune it properly- and lost all the songs I'd written first of all! Musically then
it would have been things like Beatles/Pink Floyd/Led Zep/Hendrix/Sex Pistols...
What was your first band and when was that? What kind of music did you play?
My first school band was with the same guys who were on OWO. That was our first band -
it was a very open and experimental set up. We just liked making a loud noise in
retrospect, but we got better and even recorded some great things in the studio
(which was the first time I'd been in a proper studio). Perhaps it should be
released some day... Musically it was like an early 70's kraut rock band in
some ways but a bit new wave too. It was totally not like anything musically
at the time because this was after all the 80's!
When was Modern Art first formed? Who played in the band?
I formed it in the mid 80's and it was mainly just a name to use for myself as
I didn't have a regular band at that time-although I also played in various other
bands at the time, including another school band called The Lord - which was
psychedelic and another band called Mystery Plane which was more garage like
the Cramps, and in Anthony Clough's band at that time, WeR7, which was quite
experimental. Modern Art was mainly me, but I guess everyone who played in
Sun Dial early on was also playing in Modern Art sometimes too. It was a very
loose line-up really; the band never gigged, for instance.
When and why did you begin to play psychedelic music?
Gary Ramon: I got into it very early one really, I got a second-hand copy of "A Nice Pair"
the Pink Floyd double reissue of Piper at The Gates of Dawn" and "Saucerful of Secrets"
when I was about 12/13 from a local record shop called Small Wonder in Walthamstow.
It was an esoteric place really: lots of incense. The owner was definitely time-warped
from 1969 - but amongst all the hippy vibes was all the punk singles up on the wall.
It was a great place to hang out. And from then on I was hooked. This was the late
70's early 80's and one of my teachers' at school also used to bring me in obscure
kraut rock albums by Ash Ra Temple and so on, and my interests grew from there.
Sort of a mix of punk/new wave with old style psych etc.! I used to also just
pick up cheap albums by obscure bands. For 25 pence or 4 for £1.00, then I figured
I had a good deal. But I picked up things like Bulldog Breed, Nirvana and Gong -all
shrink-wrapped but in the deletion/bargain bin box. There used to be racks of this
stuff, which is now worth a fortune. There were others, but I didn't keep most of them.
Why was Modern Art disbanded and when was that?
Modern Art released 2 albums and I just thought it had reached its conclusion as a project.
How did Modern Art transform into Sun Dial? Any special reason? Have Sun Dial
played a lot of Modern Art material?
I just wanted to switch off from that project...and wanted to make a more live
sounding group that could go out and play. Sun Dial resurrected just one Modern
Art song, "All Aboard The Mind Train" (as far as I can remember), although a couple
of bits were sampled for the Libertine album!
Sun Dial's Other Way Out is considered by many to be one of the highlights of
neo psych. How did you feel about the album back then when it was released? How about right now?
In recent years there has been quite a lot more interest in this album -and I'd not
listened to it for a number of years- so I listened again more recently, and I think
it stands the test of time. I think it's a humble album - not trying hard to be
something its not. I was pleased with it when it was recorded. It was exciting to make,
and it certainly provoked a lot of very good reactions when it was played to anyone back then.
It was nice to know two years ago, "Alternative Press" voted it one of the top 10 albums
of the 90's and Mojo magazine recently claimed it was the greatest unknown psychedelic album.
So all this kind of stuff makes me want to get back and play again. At the time, we never
played OWO live for instance -apart from "exploding in your mind"- because I didn't think
we could pull it off. Now I know we can -and we did! So to go back to your question again,
I'm enjoying this record again maybe more so than when it was originally released.
8. What bands were you listening when you wrote OWA? Did you try to sound like 60's psychedelic rock?
Gary Ramon: Well we just had some equipment in my house, and we set up and played and. That's how it was.
We had primitive gear. There was no master plan at all. I had some riffs and half songs and
it gradually took shape from there. I asked Anthony Clough to bring along all his weird and
strange instruments, flutes, etc. and we used what we had. Musically at the time, I guess
listening to anything from Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, and of course
Hendrix, Floyd, Can. We never thought we wanted to sound like a 60's rock act, because
I still don't see the point in it. I really love the way bands were more experimental
back then. So my influence was more what was produced than any one band in particular.
Are there any unreleased studio material left from the OWA and Return Journey period?
We recorded a lot of material back then -probably even more for Return Journey, which should
have actually been our second album! For instance, there is a 15-minute version of "Visitation"
somewhere, plus I think, about another six songs but I don't know what they're like, as I've
not listened to them for 10 years now!
There is a great live version of "Sunstroke/Mind Train" recorded in '91 on a compilation
2LP by Danish Adventure mag. The sound is also excellent, so it makes me wonder if the whole
gig was recorded? What are the odds of ever getting a live album by early Sun Dial?
That whole gig at the venue in London '91 (I think) was recorded. I think another track
"Let It Go" from the same gig was released as a free 7" with Reflecter. We recorded most
of the early gigs in varying degrees of quality. It's possible at some time in the future
to make some of this available.
There seems to be a change in style with Reflecter. I feel it's a bit more in the
indie/guitar rock vein, although still being very good and psychedelic. What do you think?
It was a totally new line up, so we went to a new studio to record it and had a producer too.
And by this time, there was a lot more people trying to influence the sound I think in some ways.
I listened to the original demos of those tracks for Reflecter and they're much more like Other
Way Out in spirit. The album was made in a shorter time than Other Way Out, so this reason alone
I think means we had to make short cuts and compromise -which in turn affected the sound a bit.
It was quite a successful album though and made the independent charts top 5.
How would you describe the music that Sun Dial have been playing and is playing at the moment?
Gary Ramon:A few magazines have mentioned a parallel with Nirvana. We're from the same generation as
Nirvana and we're not the same musically or anything, but we came from that same influence
and generation - while our influence is psychedelia. I would hope and think we have developed
a sound that is regarded as being a Sun Dial sound. So I don't know if that answers your
question or not!
Should the name of your band be written Sun Dial or Sundial?!
We're into Sun Dial at the moment as this is how it was written for our first 3 albums.
Do you have a favourite Sun Dial album? Is there an album that you don't like that much?
If so, what and why?
I like Acid Yantra as it has all the elements of Other Way Out but played in a proper studio.
My least favourite is Libertine. I think it was over-produced and again I prefer the demos,
which give a more accurate view of the songs.
What Sun Dial album has sold the most so far?
As I understand it, Acid Yantra sold 20,000 copies throughout the world.
There are quite a lot of Sun Dial rarities (promos, 7"s, different coloured vinyls etc.).
You must be a record collector yourself, what kinds of bands do you collect?
Yes, Sun Dial seem to be collectable and I'm always getting emails from people asking about
certain releases on formats I've never seen! I went through a phase of collecting all the
different pressings of Piper at The Gates of Dawn... Now I just collect stuff just if it's
interesting or I go through phases of things. Like at the moment I'm into collecting
anything to do with the Banana Splits, Hanna-Barbera Records and The Monkees!
Did you start your record company Acme to release your own stuff? Is it your own label,
or do you have partners? Have you had any success with Acme?
I set it up mainly to release Sun Dial stuff and it expanded from there. Well it's been running
for 10 years now and it keeps going. I like the fact it can exist outside the mainstream.
What was the purpose of the Prescription label limited editions of 99 copies vinyl?
Gary Ramon: Prescription was a good idea, but it eventually became too much after the 2nd series.
The idea was to copy the idea of the private pressings phenomenon from the 60s/70s. But
to make it different, we got all the artists involved to design the sleeves themselves.
I had a studio in London at the time, which was there to help me write and come up with
a new Sun Dial album... So we just invited bands down to make albums. In some ways it
was a crazy idea and never to be repeated... We had a lot of people asking us to
make a 3rd series, but in the end, I found it took too much time. It was a great
artistic thing to do but financially a bad move! I'm vaguely thinking of making
a 3rd series at some stage, but it would be made in a totally different
way -it would have to!
After Live Drug album not much was heard from Sun Dial until now. What exactly happened?
We were due to go to America to tour with Echo & The Bunnymen and at the last minute,
the band fell apart
they all wanted to do other things... Management company didn't
want to talk to me and then we got dropped by Beggars Banquet as we'd not sold
enough copies. I later found out we sold a healthy 20,000 copies of "Yantra".
I got fed up with playing live and in a band, and I got involved in helping and
producing other bands recording at Sun Dial studios. We made albums by Hypnosis,
Chemical (later to become Groop), Fantasyy Factoryy, and others. For a time, it
was set up as a commercial operation and had engineers in there and actually made
a few albums for major label signings.
Apart from this I did QUAD -which again was just me mainly...a sort of ambient electronics
project with kraut rock influences too. I'd been making these recordings since the early
90's and just put a collection of them out on Acme. We did it just as a vinyl edition and
it was very well received. I did a second album via Prescription, and at some point this
year or next, I'd like to issue a 3rd album.
What have you been doing during the late 90's early 00's?
I didn't stop really as there was still lots going on -but just not with Sun Dial. I set
up a new studio just like my first studio, Third Eye, except better as it has a proper
live room. I worked on a new project with Russell Barrett (an old friend from The Bikinis
and recently Inner Sleeve) and David James (our engineer at Sun Dial studios) called
VELVET SOUND, and we made a whole album of very interesting instrumental soundtracks.
There was a film company over in the UK that was going to use it, but I think it fell
through. I'd like to release it at some point (or get someone to), as it's a great album.
I actually made a remix of one of the tracks "Wild Bug" which made the b-side of our
recent single. I produced and played some guitar and bass and backing vocals on the
2nd album by HYPNOSIS "Apple 13" and played bass for them when they did a gig in
Italy last year. I've been slowly making steps back into doing Sun Dial again and
playing live. I did a low-key solo gig in London in 2000 at the opening of a club
and Sun Dial made a low-key gig in 2001 in London. I also played guitar for Current
93 at their shows at Bloomsbury Theatre and played guitar for Attack Wave Pestrepeller
(one of the bands' on Prescription) at a live show at the ICA in 2001. So there was
a lot going on here and there but not directly.
Sun Dial played in London in December 2002 after a long break. Please tell me
something about it! There were also some live recordings made, right?
Gary Ramon: I had a call out of the blue would you like to play? And I said yes. Then I panicked
as at that time didn't have a proper band as such or a set - then I decided I'd like
to try to play Other Way Out live, and we did. Not entirely, but I think we played
a set I was happy with. We had Joolie Woods from C93 on keyboards/recorders/violin,
Laurence O'Toole on acoustic guitar and keyboards, Peter Dunton on drums from the
legendary T2 and other legendary 60s bands and Moonus on bass. Also on the bill
was my other offshoot band Quad -and they'd never played live before. We had
David Tibet from C93 playing harmonium. Also playing were Hypnosis... So you
could say it was an ACME night of sorts! We did try to record the entire gig,
but due to some misunderstandings only a small part of our set was recorded.
The whole of the Quad set was recorded, and I think at some point it could
make a good live record.
Your new album Zen for Sale will be released soon. Who play on that album?
How would you describe it? What songs are on it?
The new album Zen for Sale is out we hope in the end of May/early June. Who's on it?
Moonus is playing bass and some keyboards on it, Joolie Woods is playing violin and
recorders on it, and Laurence O'Toole is playing some acoustic guitar on it.
David James, who isn't actually in the band, but was our engineer at Sun Dial
studios was also there to engineer most of this album too. It was quite a flexible
line-up for the album -it was a case of whoever was around at the time to be on it
as it was made over a long period of time...2 years in fact. The single
"Out of Space Out of Time" is on it. Other tracks include "Acid Test"...a track we
did first of all, it was literally a sound test to see if everything was working -and
decided it should be on the album. You can hear the beginning of the track is missing
where we were just switching stuff on! There are some melodic spacey tracks like
"Blue Sugar" and "Tumbling Down" and heavier ones like "Open Your Eyes" which is
like this album's equivalent of "Exploding in Your Mind". Musically I'd say it's
the closest in philosophy to Other Way Out without it being a copy of that album,
because there's no point in trying to recreate something again, and I couldn't do it.
I'd say the album is more concise than OWO. There's not a 10 minute track on there
for instance, but there are a few longer tracks: one lasts 7 minutes ("Blue Sugar")
and "Supernatural Man" lasts 6 and a half minutes.... Since playing the C93 gigs
2 years ago it was interesting because it brought out a more melodic style of guitar
playing that I've got into on this album -using a fair amount of slide. And it was
great because I think solos should say something rather than just be there just for
the sake of having a guitar solo. So I'm happy with it and I feel it's our best album
and most psychedelic album since Other Way
I've heard that the new album was originally recorded as long ago as 1997/98, but
has now been re-recorded. Why didn't you release it back then?
Gary Ramon: We started making the follow-up after Live Drug came out, just Craig Adrienne and myself.
I had a whole bunch of tracks ready -an album in fact that were recorded in 1996-97 time-
and I gave them to my management company expecting them to get us a deal, and nothing happened.
So I just got fed up with it all, and just put the tracks on the shelf where they've
remained un-issued. I listened to them 2 years ago to see if I could use any of it, and
decided the vibe had gone from them. And I just wanted to start again, which I did.
In the end, we only re-recorded four of those tracks from '96/'97, and only "Believe in The Spaceman"
and "Tumbling Down" made the album. In theory we had enough tracks for a triple album, but
I don't think they work, unless your name happens to be George Harrison and your album is
called "All Things Must Pass"!
Acme will also re-release Other Way Out in May. Haven't it been issued enough before?
There must be like half a dozen different editions or so. Is there going to be some unreleased
songs as bonus tracks?
It's been reissued about 8 times already, on all different formats, but it's not been
available in the UK for about 6/7 years. And so, with the renewed interest in the band,
we're starting a programme of making all the old albums available again, eventually.
It's strange, but being away not doing anything has actually helped us! We have
started getting people interested who didn't know the album when it first came out,
so that's great! Mojo magazine virtually ordered me to make this album available again!
The first pressings on CD of OWO was taken from a copy of the masters, the first ltd
edition Acme version from 1994 contained the first true edition taken from the original
tapes. For this edition we have put together all the available tracks and material
surrounding this album session including several previously unavailable tracks.
So I think it's the best, most complete edition yet.
Acme has re-issued a lot of classic late 60's/early 70's prog/psych albums
as well as some unreleased stuff by these acts. Who decides what you put out,
and how do you get to know all these old geezers?
We decide what goes out depending what our distributors say to a certain point.
We licence material either from record labels or sometimes, the bands themselves.
Sometimes bands come to us, or maybe other labels just don't want to release them
and ask us if we'd like to do it.
I love all the "modern" bands that Acme has put out (Polyphemus, Chemical,
Spiral Sky, Hypnosis
). Are these all friends of yours, or how did you meet
these bands? Are there any new releases in the pipeline by any new bands?
Of course they're friends of mine. I think it's very rarely would I issue
material by a band I don't know, or didn't know for some time
are plans for new albums... I have an album in the pipeline by THE BIKINIS.
This is a sort of retrospective type thing, and they also have the Sun Dial
connection, as several of the band were in an early line-up of Sun Dial,
and the Bikinis first 12" EP (a hideously expensive rarity now) was
released at the same time as the first Sun Dial album by the same label.
They made a whole album, so it will be great to put it all in perspective.
There's also possibly an album by a band called GREAT GREEN. The main man
from this band also used to play keyboards in Sun Dial for a time.
When will the www.sundial.org.uk be online?
Good question. As soon as possible, really!
What are your future plans for Sun Dial?
Gary Ramon: I think we'd like to make a European tour later this year. That's possible,
and we have one gig confirmed again in London at Camden Underworld on Sat
21st June followed by (I think) a festival appearance in Italy on 29th/30th
June and possibly another date in Bologna. I think there will be another
single too. Even before we stopped playing, we never did a lot of gigs
(I think less than 60), so I don't think we'll be just playing for the
sake of playing. I like it that gigs are a bit more special.
Is there any other Sun Dial related material to be released in the near future?
As mentioned, I'd like to issue a 3rd Quad album at some time... There's the
Velvet Sound album which is just too good to remain un-issued and of course
the Bikinis album too.
Anything else you would like to add?
May the be with you.
Thanks a million for Gary for taking time to answer my questions! Make sure you
buy the new album, when it's out. Also, if you don't own Other Way Out, this
new re-release is a perfect opportunity to get a true classic! We can only
hope that we'll see Sun Dial also in Finland some day
[ back to top ]