November 7, 2014
by Paul Blest

Going to The Fest in Gainesville, FL every year and watching bands such as Timeshares and Hold Tight! play to big crowds and get the love that they deserve is refreshing. For Sundials vocalist and guitarist Harris Mendell, it’s awe-inspiring. “Fest is always weird because it’s not at all reflective of what our shows are normally like,” he says. “We usually play to 20 or so people in basements and the last two years we’ve come to Fest and have played for four or five hundred people.”

And yet, for the Richmond, VA punk trio, you get the sense that they’re on the verge of playing for those kind of crowds way more consistently. Off the heels of the critically acclaimed LP When I Couldn’t Breathe, released last year on Asian Man, they released their follow-up EP, Kick, on Topshelf Records, a label more known for being at the forefront of the emo revival, and it’s hands down their best material in a catalog full of bangers. With the exception of closer “Eugene,” the songs are all short and to the point, showcasing Sundials’ knack for writing honest, hook-laden indie rock that’s equal parts current-era DIY punk and ‘90s Merge Records. Opener “Dealin’” explores agoraphobia and the panic in social situations that comes with it, while the title track drives into Pixies territory and effortlessly throws out brash lines like, “Thought about writing a song / Jerked off instead.” All in all, this is the perfect record for Sundials to release that will, in all likelihood, introduce them to a new section of the punk scene.

“I don’t know how much things have changed,” observes bassist Carl Athey. Mendell continues, “I don’t think we’re seeing the same situation Spraynard is having, but it’s a really cool thing to witness Spraynard’s popularity, and it goes to show if you continue to play music, stuff can change and grow, but it’s not really something you consciously think about.”

But for Sundials, it seems as though the reception doubles every time you see them. Whether at a last minute show in Newark, DE during a recent tour with Pet Symmetry, Golden Tea House in Philadelphia, Stay Sweet Fest at Richmond, or FEST in Gainesville over the past couple of years, the band is absolutely making waves in a completely natural way.

“We’ve been a band for five years, and in that time, so much has changed in our scene,” Mendell reflects. “When we first started, this emo revival wasn’t a thing. And it’s been nice, that while all of this stuff has been happening, people still seem to be down.”

And while the band might be more regularly playing shows to dozens rather than hundreds, earlier this year they watched themselves being played in front of tens of thousands of people at Camden Yards in Baltimore during an Orioles game. “A friend of ours got us into the show—sorry, sporting event,” explains Mendell, before Athey sold him out. “Harris had never been to a major league game before.”

“So we have a friend that got us in and I was rushing to find my friend to get the tickets, so I see this gate and walk through it, and wave to the guy and find my friend and he goes, ‘How did you get in here?’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? Just give me the tickets.’,” Mendell continues. “And he said, ‘You don’t need the tickets, you’re in the stadium. You just walked in?’ And I guess I was just so oblivious that I waved to the security guard and just walked in.”

“You had the air of a man that didn’t know he was doing anything wrong,” Athey laughs.

“So anyway,” continues Mendell, “We told him what seats we were in, and he put the teleprompter on us and started playing ‘New York Crunch,’ and we were freaking out because our song was being played in front of thirty thousand people.”

After the release of a record like Kick, it’s hard to believe that Sundials has never been the main focus of the band. Mendell graduates from college in the spring, and left the door open to making the band a full-time priority after he finishes his education. “It’s always been a thing we do when we have the time, but maybe in the future we’ll have the chance to do more.”

If there’s any justice in this weird, hype-driven punk scene in 2014, a band like Sundials that has put the work in for the past five years is going to do a lot more. As I wrapped up the interview and left the Palomino in a somewhat drunken haze, Mendell remarked, “Sorry we’re boring.”

But it’s in that “boring” space where Sundials really thrives, taking some shit that doesn’t seem like it matters on the surface and crafting a narrative that’s so relatable to twenty-something punks everywhere. And if we’re lucky, we’ll be getting a lot more of those stories for the foreseeable future.