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They were one of the '90s defining acts, spawning legions of bands in their wake. Sunny Day Real Estate's arty, churning post-punk textures, led by Jeremy Enigk's impassioned vocal croon, were instrumental in codifying the elements of emo's first wave. Yet despite the resonant chord their music struck, the band didn't survive long.
Formed in '92, they released their seminal LP Diary in '94 and broke up while recording the follow-up. There was no title or artwork until, absent any input from his bandmates, drummer William Goldsmith told Sub Pop to make the cover pink. Enigk has suggested that lyrics weren't even added to many of the songs, as the members collectively and completely abandoned the project.
Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel would go on to join Dave Grohl in the Foo Fighters, while Enigk embarked on a solo career with the release of Return of the Frog Queen, exploring baroque pop structures. But the break-up wouldn't stick, and the quartet reconvened in '97 to record How It Feels to Be Something On, with Jeff Palmer replacing Mendel.
They left Sub Pop to release their fourth album, 2000's The Rising Tide, on Time Bomb Recordings, but the label went belly-up shortly thereafter, and the band disbanded again. Three years later, Enigk, Mendel, and Goldsmith would release an album under the name The Fire Theft, while guitarist Dan Hoerner stayed home and focused on his family. But that didn't last, either. Enigk returned to the solo circuit, and, given the tangled circumstances, a Sunny Day reunion seemed unlikely. But never say never.
"Honestly, I've never really felt like SDRE was broken up," Hoerner writes in an e-mail interview. "This musical language we speak together transcends relationship labels. Sometimes we're engaged in the dialogue, sometimes we're not."
Nate Mendel instigated the reunion, with a series of calls to Enigk. He first broached the subject last year, but with Enigk in the midst of recording his fourth solo album, OK Bear, the timing wasn't right. With Foo Fighters enjoying an extended break, Mendel approached Enigk again early this year, and this time the pieces fell in place.
The return of the original four members dramatically enhances the sound. They were never able to adequately replace Mendel's rubbery bass runs, and Hoerner suggests the difference Mendel makes is transformative.
"Playing these songs with the full band again is an incredible experience. Nate's an amazing musician. He really completes SDRE's sound in a way that we have missed for a long time. To play these songs again with the full band is pure pleasure," writes Hoerner, who describes Mendel's contributions as being "like opening up your garage in the morning and realizing that your minivan has become a Ferrari overnight."
Though most of their set is focused on the first two albums (which have been remastered and re-released), they are playing a half-dozen songs from the last two albums, including the dreamy, drifting "Guitar and Video Games," How It Feels To Be Something On's wondrous, flowing title track, and ringing pastoral beauty "The Ocean." They penned an entirely new track during tour rehearsals that's also found its way into the live show, offering fans a special treat.
In their absence, SDRE's legend has grown only larger, as evidenced by the string of sold-out shows that have dotted the tour. "I'm incredibly proud to see how our music is standing the test of time," Hoerner says. "The reaction of the fans to our shows so far has been earth-shattering, and I continue to be blown away every night. I'm having the time of my life."
The members have noted in other interviews that they're older and wiser, not the mercurial young men who broke up 15 years ago. The fact they've already created new material ("It came together within the space of a couple hours," he affirms), suggests that the old energy is still there. Could it be that Sunny Day may stick around and record another album?
"You cross your fingers," Hoerner writes, "and I'll cross mine."