Chris Burney, frontman for Ohio newcomers the Sun, doesn’t put on airs. His appearance, with round, black-frame specs and scrawny build, is the antithesis of a rock star, recalling equal parts Elvis Costello and Rivers Cuomo. He pauses deliberately between sentences and often consults his bandmates — guitarist Bryan Arendt, guitarist/keyboardist Brad Caulkins, bassist Brad Forsblom and drummer Sam Brown — for a “democratic” answer. He, too, has girl troubles but doesn’t discuss that sort of thing, and while en route from Salt Lake City to Portland, on the quintet’s U.S. tour in support of its debut album, Burney admits he’s at a crossroads.
“We’re young men coming into the realization that modern society is all about sport,” Burney says. “I’ve sort of had a falling-out and disillusionment with art and have been trying to play more sports, get tougher. It’s a crossing point between idealism and realism — all that bullshit. I thought I had a whole lot to say for so long, but that kind of imploded on itself.”
Despite the Sun’s emergence from indie-rock anonymity to major-label must-haves, courtesy of gigs alongside the Flaming Lips and Hot Hot Heat, this kind of jive isn’t particularly out of character for Burney. The band’s Warner Bros. debut Blame It on the Youth is equally — and deliciously — ambiguous, teetering between chaotic punk, psychedelic rock and acoustic, shoe-gazing pop. Moreover, it’s the first album to be released as a DVD, containing videos for each of the fourteen tracks, as well as convertible audio formats so fans can rip the songs onto their computers or iPods.
“It was half-art, half-marketing,” Burney says of the idea. “It started out with the label giving us $5,000 to make one video, but we made three with some of our friends and they turned out really good. And the label said, ‘Let’s make a video for every song.’ And we were like, ‘OK.’ We were wide-eyed and easily swept up.”
The videos run the gamut from the animated, politically charged “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vein” (Burney’s favorite) to the controversial “Romantic Death,” which features footage of more than seventy people masturbating (from the shoulders up) and their faces during climax.
“This crazy editor kid in L.A. [Alex Lam] just loved the song and asked if he could make a video for it,” Burney says. “And he came back with that. I really liked it. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what the song’s about.'”
But the band isn’t relying on controversy alone to garner attention. Formed in 2001, the Sun released two EPs — 2003’s Love and Death and last year’s Did Your Mother Tell You? — before Blame It on the Youth last month, and have been touring their razor-sharp lyrics and foot-stomping beats around the world for the better half of three years. And while major-label marketing may not exactly be hurting their cause, Burney admits it’s a long way off before the Sun can trade their van for a much cozier form of transportation. But he also insists it’s not been a bad trip.
“We’ve gotten plastered a few times, hosted [director] John Waters in our van and even had a couple of run-ins with transvestites,” he says. “They were very nice, sweet, beautiful. But they stole Sam’s wallet.”