Mike Huberty, lead vocalist and bassist for the rock band Sunspot, spoke with me recently about the group and their newest release, Deus Ex Machina. Sunspot plays a brand of rock and roll that I would call eclectic, quirky and refreshing and different enough to help them stand out in the crowd. Here’s how the conversation with Huberty went.
Different groups have unique ways of writing their songs. How do you guys go about writing your music? Is it a collective effort or is it more the efforts of one particular member of the band?
Mike: Every song is a little different, but it usually starts the same way. Somebody in the band has the germ of an idea and then presents it to the whole group. It can be as incomplete as a fragment, a statement, or a melody line or it can be as large as a finished demo. Then we all come together and try to come up with music and lyrics that make the song as exciting as possible. What makes it really collaborative is that it’s a democratic process, when we disagree we vote. One band member, one vote. And with only three members, that means that there’s never a tie. And hopefully the winner is the audience! Because they’re getting songs that we all agree upon and that we all believe in. If somebody hates a track, we don’t use it.
Every band has its musical influences. What are some of the other bands and artists that have greatly influenced you guys and your music?
Mike: Cheap Trick, Green Day, Van Halen, The Beatles, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Andrew WK, Barenaked Ladies, Fountains of Wayne, Depeche Mode, Everclear. We’ve been together for almost 15 years and in that time, we’ve explored a ton of different genres and styles. Soft acoustic music to loud heavy metal, punk to industrial, we’re constantly listening to new music and learning more about writing a great song. Our tastes run eclectic and since we’ve been able to perform in so many different kinds of venues and created music to fit different types of moods, we’ve really had a chance to branch into almost everything. We haven’t done a hip-hop song yet, or a straight reggae (but we’ve messed around with ska) so that’s something we’ll have to get to eventually. We probably work best as pop-rock that can go heavy when we need to, without sacrificing the “good” parts of songs, mainly melodies that stick in your head.
The name of the band Sunspot is interesting to say the least and sounds as if there is a story behind it. Where did the name come from and what is the story?
Mike: We brainstormed a ton of names and that one was the one that was on everybody’s list. Not only are sunspots awesome because they’re dark mysterious parts of the sun that interfere with radio waves on Earth. We’re all into sci-fi, so having an astronomical event be the name for our band sounded about right. Plus, it was the 90’s. Compound nouns were all the rage then. This was before everyone started putting a “The” before their names like it was the fucking 50’s again.
Now that your new CD, Deus Ex Machina, is complete how do you feel about it? Are you satisfied with the outcome?
Mike: It’s the best-sounding thing we’ve ever made, easily, but I’m never completely satisfied with anything. I’m a tweaker and I would constantly go back and redo things if I could. That’s why we need a budget and a release date! Once those are set, there are days when you just have to let go and say, “Alright, we have to get this out.” This one was a little bit easier, though. Maybe we’re just better musicians, ha. But we could hear it right away that this was sonically exciting out of the gates.
What is the significance of the title, Deus Ex Machina?
Mike: Deus Ex Machina literally means “The God From The Machine” in Latin and it was used in ancient Greek drama as a plot device where a God would come save the day by being lowered onto the stage with a harness at the end of the play to bring justice to the wicked and to solve the plot. We were working on a song about the singularity (coincidentally the name of our last full-length album). The singularity refers to a point in history when humanity becomes completely unrecognizable to the humans that came before. The singularity is when we change to something new, something different, hopefully something better.
Many people have taken the next singularity to refer to a point where our consciousness can be uploaded to machines and our personalities can live on after we die. It’s a Heaven of our own creation without relying on the mystical. Deus Ex Machina is about the desperate attempt to reach that point. Instead of God creating us in His image, we create God in our image. A God without the rules and limitations of old religions, an afterlife of our design. Faiths create a magical dream world for life after death, but the Singularity is Humanity fully taking control of its own fate.
We transubstantiate our souls into streams of code, data that can never age, data that isn’t a slave to our frail mortal bodies. We become one with “The God From The Machine”. That’s what the song is about and since we’ve been introducing some more electronic elements into the music, we thought that it fit perfectly.
What can fans expect when they pick up a copy of Deus Ex Machina?
Mike: The best songs that we can come up with recorded in the most interesting way we can possibly think of. We’re interested in trying to make songs that are rewarding on the fiftieth listen as they are on the first. In fact, we’d like them to get better with time! So you can understand we’re trying to make the lyrics thoughtful and layered and we want you to hear that little instrument in the background that you missed the time before. The songs on this one are full of stuff like that, it makes us want to listen to it over and over again. So, hopefully it’ll do the same for you!
Do you have any touring plans made yet?
Mike: We’ve already started touring regionally on this record and really hitting Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois and we’ll be out on the East Coast for a short jaunt at the end of the Summer.
When can fans expect a full-length release?
Mike: We’re working on integrating Deus Ex into a full release for November.
What artists would fans be surprised to find on your iPod?
Mike: On mine? ABBA, probably. I’m a sucker for the Swedes.
Tell me about a book or two that you’ve read that you think other people should read?
Mike: ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’. The perfect mix of comedy brushed up against deep thoughts. I guess I should have said ‘Vonnegut’, but I like Douglas Adams better. People who like his books usually like our music.”
If you had not become a musician what other career path would you have liked to attempt?
Mike: We try to keep as current in our non-band interests as possible, it keeps us from writing KISS and Motley Crue songs that are just about life in a band. Look at me; look at how much sex I’m having and how many people love me. But the road is so, so hard (wipes away a tiny tear). Whatever, it’s important to stay interesting! Ben loves teaching and children, Wendy Lynn loves science and engineering, I’m into haunted history and parapsychology and all the weird stuff I can handle.
What three words best describe your band?
Mike: Awesome. Mind blowing. Humble.
If you were a superhero, who would it be and why?
Mike: Swamp Thing. He got to go out with Adrienne Barbeau, Heather Locklear, and Kari Wuhrer. He was written by Alan Moore and directed by Wes Craven. From a creative perspective, he’s sitting on the top shelf. Pretty good for a weird looking vegetable man.