The band name Sunset Hearts was, initially, just a tossed-off title for what singer and songwriter Casey McCurry thought would be his last project as a writing and performing musician. A sunset, of sorts, on a musical life for McCurry that included his former band Satellite Lot, a staple of the Portland indie rock scene for most of the 2000s.
“I wanted to chase the idea that this would be my last voyage in music. I was planning on doing some tunes with this band and then calling it quits,” said McCurry, 33. “Then it really took off.”
Far from the swan song McCurry thought the band would be, nearly four years on Sunset Hearts has emerged as one of the leading lights of the Portland scene — a seven-piece mini-orchestra, blending shimmering electronic synth waves and danceable beats with a wry lyrical edge.
The new album “wwwindswept” is the third release overall for the constantly evolving Sunset Hearts, which after many lineup changes over the years is now comprised of McCurry, his sister Sadie McCurry, Jesse Hautala, Max Heinz, Erik Tasker, Lily Townshend and Aaron Hautala. It’s been a long time coming for the band, despite the bulk of the songs on the album being written two years ago, shortly after the well-received 2012 EP “Deco Tech.”
“I kind of didn’t know what I wanted to say with this album. So I had to wait until I knew,” said McCurry. “Once I was sure of what I wanted it took maybe three months to put together… I was going to follow up ‘Deco Tech’ with another EP, but decided to add a couple more songs so that it feels more like an album.”
The music on the new album would sit nicely on a playlist filled with New Order, Cut Copy, the Talking Heads, the Pet Shop Boys, mid-period Sonic Youth and the Smiths — the Morrissey influence in particular is all over many of the lyrics. “wwwindswept” opens with the bright, airy synth chords of “I’ll Play It Wrong,” a song that’s likely about a relationship, though McCurry’s words tend to open themselves up to interpretation — they’ll say one thing in a verse, and something very different in another.
“I naturally focus on the idea of a verse and a chorus being polar opposites. Most of my songs have an accusatory verse and a conciliatory chorus,” said McCurry. “Songs that tell one side of a story don’t seem as interesting. In most of my songs, half the lyrics should be in quotes because someone else, in dreams or in real life, is saying them, not me. And then I answer.”
McCurry attributes the dense instrumentation and layers of sound to the fact that his fellow musicians are not only devoted to the band, but are also willing to try new things and get out of their comfort zones.
“I like to recruit brand new musicians or musicians who are sort of entrenched in one instrument [and have them play a different one]. I find this switch-up to be really worthwhile and it motivates people I think,” he said. “And really, raw musical ability like soloing is completely overrated on every level. Our parent’s generation might try to insist that you need lessons and a two year residency at a dive bar in order to get good at making music, but they’re so wrong. Loyalty and enthusiasm are tops.”
Corralling the seven members of the band into one place at one time is no easy task, but as ringleader — or “benevolent dictator”, as his bandmates call him — McCurry manages to make it work.
“Being in this band changed my life. It’s like a wandering party,” said McCurry. “We very rarely have bad shows on the road because we’re always there for each other, like a gang. If given the choice between being one of three passive aggressive jags in a minivan or being in a logistical nightmare like Sunset Hearts, I will choose the nightmare every time.”