Sun Wizard takes an old-school approach to rock ‘n’ roll



“SUN WIZARD ARE your favourite band from when you were in high school,” begins the bio accompanying local guitar-rock quartet Sun Wizard’s full-length debut album, Positively 4th Avenue. That’s a pretty grand statement, but of course its accuracy depends on when and where you went to high school. It wasn’t until I read a little further into the promo bumf and learned that the group was influenced by Tom Petty, the Steve Miller Band, and Fleetwood Mac that I realized the claim had legitimacy for my past.

Although Sun Wizard isn’t blatantly reminiscent of any of those acts, I was happy to find—right from the breezy opening blast of “World’s Got a Handle”—that it creates the same type of melodic, guitar-drenched music that kept me rockin’ back in Grade 12. The discovery made me want to take singer-guitarists Malcolm Jack and James Younger out and buy them cheap beer, so we assembled down at Chinatown’s funky Brixton Café for that express purpose.

“That list of influences isn’t really definitive,” explains Jack between sips of a Pabst Blue Ribbon, “but we’re just approaching music from the same angle that those people were.”

“That’s the golden era really, isn’t it?,” adds Younger, a transplanted Brit who likes answering questions with questions. “There was a lot of bloated classic rock in the ’70s—all proggy and things—but those three bands are pretty straight down the line, and more credible, really, aren’t they? We just like the classic songwriting, you know, choruses being like a valid form of expressing yourself, creatively and artistically. Imagine how great it would be if that kind of stuff was still topping the charts.”

While its title is an obvious riff on the 1965 Bob Dylan single “Positively 4th Street”, the just-released Sun Wizard album was also recorded at Mushroom Studios, which is located just off Kitsilano’s 4th Avenue. “It’s also like a lighthearted jab at the idea of making pop music but not being interested in what neighbourhood we’re in,” says Kits resident Jack.

“You know how divisive Vancouver can be sometimes with its imaginary dichotomy between different neighbourhoods,” adds Younger. “So the title is just a play on that ridiculousness.”

Positively 4th Avenue was recorded with Dave Ogilvie and Colin Stewart, the latter having also helmed Sun Wizard’s self-released 2009 EP, Maybe They Were Right. “He’s like the go-to guy for people in our position,” offers Jack, “a good kind of indie-rock producer. When we did the EP with him it was just super-enjoyable. He’s got a great knack for encouraging creativity without being like a ‘producer’, you know.”

“And he’d done stuff with Sloan,” stresses Younger. “That was the reason that I wanted to work with him.”

One of several standout tracks on the new disc is “Sick of Waiting”, which sports a slightly twisted, off-the-cuff guitar solo by Younger that Rory Gallagher might have winked at. “It was a bit ridiculous when we did that,” admits the 26-year-old rocker. “I remember it because Darcy [Hancock] from Ladyhawk was there at the time, and I remember bein’ like, ”˜Is this too much?’ We spliced two solos together because there was another one that was even more ridiculous.”

Both Younger and Jack are lefties, so when it comes to seeking out sweet six-strings they’re at a bit of a disadvantage. “The guitar market gets cut down about 90 percent,” says Jack, before his bandmate adds that they have to take the “scraps” of what they can get. But Younger does okay with the American-made Tele he’s had since he was 15 (“I’ve never been able to surpass it”), while Jack recently added a “beautiful” hollow-body Gretsch to his arsenal of instruments. “I used to play my dad’s old Gibson Marauder,” he points out, referring to the short-lived cross between a Les Paul and a Flying V that Paul Stanley used to smash at the end of KISS concerts.

Since Jack and Younger formed Sun Wizard with bassist Francesco Lyon and drummer Ben Frey in the spring of ’09, they have scored some impressive gigs, opening for the likes of Vetiver, the Cave Singers, Deer Tick, Girls, and Immaculate Machine.

“We just played with the Smith Westerns,” notes Jack. “Their album’s really great, so I was particularly interested to see how they actually do what they do.”

Positively 4th Avenue was released on local indie label Light Organ Records, home to such acts as Adaline, the Fugitives, Louise Burns, and the Zolas. Younger expects that partnership to be fruitful, but his ultimate goal for Sun Wizard does not include world domination.

“We just want to make as many records as we can before people get bored,” he says, “or the record label doesn’t want to buy our records anymore—and then keep makin’ ’em anyway, until we get sick of each other.”

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