TVD Recommends: Sansyou at DC9, 10/17

While DC instrumental trio Sansyou has an undeniable knack for crafting moody and contemplative soundscapes, their music never comes across as chilly or aloof. Indeed, the four tracks that comprise the band’s new, soon-to-be-released EP, “The Dilettante,” have a warm and elemental quality, seemingly sprung from the earth like exotic wild flowers.

Sansyou members David Nicholas (guitar), Matt McGarraghy (guitar), and Davis White (percussion)—all veterans of DC’s underground music scene—have also widened the band’s sonic palette, offering listeners a more varied range of sounds and tempos, all while preserving their trademark minimalist mix of delicate, interlaced guitar patterns and meditative rhythms.

From the gently driving “Best Ones Choose You,” and the refined title track to the immersive atmospherics of “The Enthusiast” and the seductive “Three Ways of Being,” the new EP takes listeners on a rich journey of tranquil reflection.

Like the band’s debut five-track release, “When We Become Ghosts,” the new EP has an understated elegance that’s more in line with the solo work of Michael Rother than traditional dream pop or post-rock. Put more simply, this is music for ears that appreciate thoughtful, layered sounds that unspool gently and gradually, and are rich with both melody and possibility. Needless to say, Sansyou isn’t the sort of band that relies on effects pedals or keyboards to create a mood.

Not only is Sansyou celebrating the imminent release of a highly recommended EP, the band is playing tonight at DC9 with the legendary Tone. To mark the occasion, we got in touch with Sansyou’s David Nicholas to find out more.

What can you tell us about how the four tracks that comprise “The Dilettante” came about? Was the writing process different in any way from when you wrote your debut EP, “When We Become Ghosts?”

It was very different since this reflects three perspectives now from Davis, myself, and Matt. We tried some new approaches; things I’ve certainly never attempted before. As we were taking stock of what songs to work on, Davis brought in a piece that he had written entirely on keyboards and drum machine. It was a challenge to transcribe it for two guitars and drums, but it was fun and ultimately became “The Dilettante.”

As short as it is, it’s still a demanding piece to play. We also took our time with this one as opposed to recording and mixing the first EP in two days!

The track “Best Ones Choose You” is surprisingly uptempo for Sansyou, yet it still captures the band’s trademark atmospheric, contemplative sound. Was it a conscious decision to introduce a more driving quality into the Sansyou sound?

It’s pretty hard to write downtempo minor key stuff with two rescue beagles bouncing around! During writing sessions at my place, I was in the process of fostering these two dogs that, in the end, really “chose me.” They provided plenty of comic relief to us and inspired the playful feel you hear in that song. Anyone who’s fostered and adopted an animal in need of a home can probably identify with the title and energy of that one.

Where do you stand on instrumental music generally? Do you feel like it gives you more freedom than vocal-oriented music?

I can see it both ways actually. While there is room to stretch out, which we are doing on the newest batch of songs we’re playing now, it does force me to make my technical abilities keep up with what’s necessary to make the song interesting and convey the emotional content that we want. So that kind of growth is good. And working without vocals really brings subtle interactions forward that otherwise get buried.

We spend a lot of time fine-tuning things like how drums and guitars and cymbals create different textures in complementary ways to get as much music as we can out of a trio.

I’ve often felt that there’s an elemental and, dare I say, spiritual quality to Sansyou’s music. The artwork you’ve used ties into this—what can you tell us about your choice of using Kohachi by Risa Sato? It certainly reinforces the otherworldly aspect of Sansyou.

Thanks. That’s definitely intentional and I’m glad you picked up on it. It’s something we spend considerable time thinking about. Kohachi itself is a pretty mysterious object; I’ve had the piece for a few years.

Risa Sato from Tokyo has done some pretty amazing sculptures with this theme. During practices, we’d often look over at it and just feel a connection to its simplicity. We took the photo after a day of tracking and the stillness just took hold of us. The mood seems to be fluid enough too so that it makes sense with all the songs.

So far the band has released a five-track EP and a four-track EP. We will ever see a full-length Sansyou record at some point or are you not too keen on the album format?

It certainly could happen and as I mentioned, the newer songs we’ve got are already stretching longer just naturally. I do enjoy the way an EP encourages me to set an arc on the whole set of music so there’s a clear beginning, middle, and end in an economical way.

This one was mixed and mastered by Jake Reid of Screen Vinyl Image and he did a fantastic job. He really captured the sounds we had in our heads for each song. It will be coming out on Moon Sounds Records so we’re really excited about that. From there, we’ll see what the next one looks like.

Sansyou has been playing live off and on in the DC area for the past several years. How do you feel that the band’s live show has evolved over time? And what are your thoughts about playing with the legendary Tone at DC9?

I think we’re bringing in different kinds of dynamics now. Some of the new songs hit a little harder too. Matt in particular has a really good sense of how to pace out a set so it flows and has some tension and release. That’s our intention for playing with Tone; something we’ve wanted to happen for a long time and are very excited to do. They’ve opened—and kept open—a lot of doors for instrumental bands in DC and beyond so we’re very appreciative of that. And we love their music!

Thanks very much David! Looking forward to the show!

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