LUKE SWEENEY has come a long way from the strict parameters of his old approach to recording. As a member of San Francisco trio Vows, Sweeney incorporated wide-ranging influences into his pop-oriented grab bag of songs. And while his stylistic foundation remains suitably ambiguous, Sweeney's willingness to embrace the recording studio has resulted in Adventure: Us, one of the best albums released last year.
"Six or seven years ago I would only record onto analog tape, and not use anything I couldn't cut in one take, and not do any overdubs, and all that stuff," Sweeney says. "I don't think there's a single song on this album that didn't benefit from some kind of studio touch."
Adventure: Us was released by Aerobic International in October 2014, and was recorded with producer Robin MacMillan at Media Blitz East in Brooklyn over the course of about four years. Sweeney originally visited MacMillan with his band Vows, but subsequently sent demos to MacMillan of some ideas for a solo album. At the time, Sweeney had only a vague idea of what the project might become. In the meantime, following the breakup of Vows, Sweeney released a heralded solo album of older songs called Ether Ore—a sly reference to the spirit parasol of Elliott Smith and a shortcut to explaining the vibe of the album's acoustic-based inspiration.
Under MacMillan's hand, Adventure: Us expanded into far-reaching pop, psychedelic, and classic-rock realms with humor and irreverence—both calling cards of Sweeney's songwriting. "Miss Me?" combines Big Star riffs and squirrely melodies, while "Open Those Savage Eyes" takes on a kind of soul-pop that Sweeney says he couldn't have imagined without the help of MacMillan.
"When we first started recording ["Open Those Savage Eyes"], it was barely two minutes long," says Sweeney. "By the time I left, I thought it might be a throwaway. But Robin called me up months later and was revisiting the tracks to start mixing them. He was like, 'I'm hearing something kinda like Sly and the Family Stone; I'm gonna try this treatment on it.' I said, 'Go for it.' It kind of revitalized the song and pumped it back to life. I might have left it for dead if it'd stayed what it was."
Following performances at Noise Pop, CMJ Music Festival, and several West Coast tours, Sweeney and his band—drummer Brett Eastman, bassist Roberto Pagano, and keyboardist (and Sweeney's wife) Rohini Moradi—are working on another record, which Sweeney reports is to be as wide ranging and curiously fluid as Adventure: Us.
"Each song and each album deserves its own character," he says. "On Adventure: Us, we happened to have the ability to make it sound like a full-on studio production, so that's what we did. It's about giving each song as much of its own kind of character and template that you can, and not worrying about the old punk ethos that we kind of might have suffered from, that's like [adopts British accent], 'Plug it! Track it! Release it!'
"Some of it was hard to shed," Sweeney continues. "It was really me not caring about if anyone thinks it's too fancy or not. I personally feel like doing studio magic is just as authentic."