Ash Reiter and Will Halsey–known in the music world as the stunning duo Sugar Candy Mountain–are an absolute delight, and we mean that in the most sincere way possible. They’re charming as all get out, and their music is incredible. They go to great and humorous lengths to describe their sound, their bio boasting: “If Brian Wilson had dropped acid on the beach in Brazil and decided to record an album with Os Mutantes and The Flaming Lips, it would sound like this.”
When we read that line, we knew we had to feature them.
Sugar Candy Mountain is currently promoting the title track off their upcoming album 666. Yes, it makes it sound like a very devious album, but don’t let the title fool you. “666” is reminiscent of slow dance songs you might hear at a school dance decades ago. It’s got a smooth sound, partnered with the airy vocals of Reiter and Halsey and brimming with sing-along potential. We’re enamored, so we had a little somethin’ somethin’ to talk about in addition their creative genius, recent packing up of their life in Joshua Tree, and all of the things they have to look forward to with their music.
How would you introduce yourselves to our readers if you could?
Ash: There is a place in Oakland right on Lake Merritt I used to go to as a kid called Fairy Land. It is inspired by fairy tales- so as you walk around you can climb up the mast of the pirate ship from Peter Pan or wander around a maze of cards from Alice In Wonderland or slide down into the belly of the whale from Pinocchio. They give all the little kids these keys that you use to unlock the story of each fairy tale- when you put the key in a voice from an audio box narrates the tale. I think it would be pretty fantastic to build our own surreal Fairy Land and let our listeners loose, they could unlock each song with a key and have a cool exhibit to interact with as they listen.
We know you’ve all been involved in several musical projects leading up to this. When did you decide to pursue music as a career? Was there an “a-ha!” moment at all?
Ash: It’s been a slow evolution towards doing music full time. First I quit my teaching job- I used to be a 2nd grade teacher. Then I became a substitute teacher/ music promoter/ bar tender/ caterer/ booker. Working non stop at 5 jobs for a year while we recorded most of “666” allowed me to save up enough to quit all my jobs and move to Joshua Tree. I think moving out of the Bay Area and deciding to tour as much as we have this year is what launched this new chapter as full time musicians.
Will: I think it is what we wanted to do all along- it was just a matter of taking the leap.
Sugar Candy Mountain started with Will Halsey. Why that name?
Will: I was rereading “Animal Farm” by George Orwell – Sugar Candy Mountain is the heavenly place that Moses the raven says that all animals go when they die. I liked the sound of it and I felt like it fit the sound of our band. It’s kind of nice to have your band name be associated with something euphoric like Nirvana.
Ash: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” is the final line to Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”. Sugar Candy Mountain is just a nice thing to dream about and aspire to. Plus I can say the name in front of my nana and not feel weird.
When we think “666”, we don’t think of vintage inspired tunes. What made you choose this name for the track–and for the album?
Ash: A big theme with this album is defying expectations. The event that spurred the song “666” involved meeting a man who at first seemed really hilarious and genuine but later revealed himself to be kind of a creep. The song “Windows” talks about how you can see more through a window that is closed than an open one- suggesting the power of our imagination to fill in the blank space. We’re always creating these expectations for people and situations- but things are never quite how they seem. This album looks a lot at the play between reality and perception. Choosing “666” as the title of the album seemed to give the record a nice duality especially with the wonderful artwork from Jess Willa Wheaton which portrays an idyllic American backyard scene, upon second glance you notice there is a snake in the grass and everything is stitched together in this strange surreal way.
Will: Hail Satan!!
SPIN says you have a “wicked sense of humor”. Can you validate that claim? (We see it. We see it so much.)
Ash: I think it all spawns from my scrabble strategy- I’m the kind of player that will put down one letter and score 4 different ways. I have that same economy of language in my songwriting. I like when the same word or phrase can be used to imply as many meanings as possible. I use a lot of double entendres and like turning things on their head- like writing a yacht rock groover called “666”. A line from that song goes “I’ve seen the view from Lookout Mountain/ I watched the ‘Battle Above The Clouds’/ It was one the TV in the gift shop/ Another war with the volume turned down”. Now these lyrics tell the story of my real experience in Chattanooga – there is a literal mountain called Lookout Mountain where there was historic Civil War battle known as the Battle Above The Clouds which I watched a muted re-enactment of in the visitor center. That’s what really happened but I think it also expresses a modern relationship to war for many people- distant, muted, televised and something for purchase. But I guess that’s not funny – whoops.
If you could play alongside any musician–living or dead–who would it be?
Ash: We’ve been on a big Os Mutantes kick for while now. It started a little before we started recording Mystic Hits and Will went down tour Brazil with The Blank Tapes. We have been listening to their albums non stop ever since. Discovering that band was like learning there was another Beatles who were maybe even a little weirder. They use the studio in really exciting ways, and have been a huge influence on our writing and production style. They were also some of the leaders of the Tropicalia movement in the 60’s- it would be amazing to play with them during that time period and experience the energy behind the music and the movement. There are also quite a few gear nerd questions I would ask them. How do you get that fuzz tone? I’m mean geez nothing compares.
What serves as inspiration for your music?
Will: We’re often inspired by our friends’ music, books and traveling. We especially enjoy playing/writing in wilderness settings and near water. There are a few places we return to regularly for hiking and strumming.
Ash: Sometimes a melody or lyrics will come when we’re not expecting it (i.e. while driving or chatting). Luckily with these new fangled smart phones we can capture those song babies whenever they decide to appear and come back to those ideas later. It can be a real trip going through my voice memos and see how a song has evolved. I also read quite a bit, some stories just jump out at you as launching pad for a song. If I’m feeling stuck I often turn to Lyn Hejinian or Charles Baudelaire, two my favorite poets. Chinese poetry is also often helpful too perhaps because it is often so concise. I think reading helps me remember how to write and think creatively.
What do you envision as the best environment to listen to your music in?
Will: I’ve always enjoyed listening to music while traveling- so planes, trains, automobiles, in bed, and basically anywhere on vacation with a good set of speakers. I love how some records bring me back to a specific time and place in my life.
Ash: Our friend Nate works at sensory deprivation tank place. I have always wondered what it would be like to hear our mixes in there- it would be pretty cool to have no other sensation but the music, with that kind of focus you can really experience all the details of a mix.
You just moved out of your place in Joshua Tree, and are traveling in the meantime. Any fun plans during your travels?
Will: We’re planning a surf trip to Mexico, releasing our record in Europe and plan on touring over there soon. We’ll be celebrating Summer Solstice in Northern California at Hickey Fest– our camping, swimming, music festival that we throw each year at The Peg House and Standish Hickey State Park.
Ash: We’ve got a group of really talented friends in the Bay Area (Indianna Hale, fpodbpod, Assateague) we’re planning to do a little camping caravan show up on the Yuba River. There’s no better place to camp out with friends and there are endless swimming holes. Oh we’re also getting married in September on the Russian River that should be a good time too.
Who is your favorite superhero and why? (You must substantiate your claim.)
Ash: Captain Planet he’s my hero!! It’s an obvious choice with all environmental problems at hand today we need someone looking out for the whole planet not just saving babes from the top of the empire state building.