Summer Salt Aims to Find the Silver Lining on 'Sequoia Moon' [Q&A]

Photo:  Andrew Reiner

After two canceled tours, a year-and-a-half of waiting for the world to open back up, and months of releasing a series of summery and strong singles, Summer Salt has finally released their second full-length album, Sequoia Moon. Fans old and new have been waiting patiently for the twelve-track record to inject some tropic vibes into their daily listening diets, and Austin-based duo, comprised of vocalist and guitarist Matthew Terry and drummer Eugene Chung, have certainly delivered the goods just in time.

Ones To Watch had the opportunity to chat with Terry and Chung about the album and to discuss its themes of finding your people and your way back home and what’s next for the band.

Ones To Watch: So far, y'all have released a series of really amazing singles leading up to the release of your sophomore album Sequoia Moon. Which one have y'all been most proud of?

Eugene: I think for me, and this might be different from Matt’s answer, but I think “Monday’s Facil” is my personal favorite just because it was the first one of the bunch. It was the first one we recorded as well when we started working on the record. Also, we did the video ourselves, and, I don’t know, there’s something kind of nostalgic about that.

It feels like all of Summer Salt’s music videos have a solid identity tied together by the band’s easy-going and authentic energy. What is your creative process like when it comes to coming up with visuals for your songs?

Matt: We try to make a little bit of a mood board and exchange ideas with each other. Eugene and I will text a lot of our random thoughts that we have that we think will be cool for certain videos and try to recreate what we feel like we see when we think about our videos. “Monday’s Facil” is the only one we’ve directed ourselves.

Eugene: Yeah, sometimes we’ll always bring up ideas, and we love everything we have, but sometimes our original ideas don’t get shown or don’t come across the way that we intended, which is totally fine because I think there’s magic in that.

Matt: Yeah, sometimes things take a different direction. I feel like for “Fire Flower,” we wanted it to be very story-oriented. We always try to start with a story, but then it just ends up becoming more vibey because the story just gets kinda lost in translation. So in the video for “Fire Flower,” we wanted to be like, okay, we’re getting ready to go to like a New Year’s dance, and we’re going to be the band that plays the show at the New Year’s dance. And so that’s what we wanted to do, and then afterward, we were gonna go shoot off fireworks, but then it kind of became, you know, it took on a life of its own, and we were kind of just having fun. We found that with the videos, because Eugene and I are both a bit camera shy, having a story opens us up more, and we can have more fun with it.

That makes sense! The opportunity to play a character puts less pressure on you in a way.

Matt: Exactly! When you have to do something that’s so you, you end up overanalyzing the parts you may be self-conscious about and worry about how you come off on camera. I think that’s how a lot of actors are.

A personal favorite music video for the singles y'all have released so far has to be “Hocus Pocus.” Where did y'all shoot it and tell me about that day?

Eugene: Yeah, that one has to be my favorites so far too.

Matt: Same here!

Eugene: Yeah, fun location, fun story. We shot most of it around Crescent City, California, in the Redwoods and Jedediah National Forest. It’s the same place they shot Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

It did look extremely familiar now that you mention it!

Matt: Haha yeah, we’ve been getting that a lot from people. I really loved that video because we got to play these big characters, which is something we hadn’t done before in past videos, which is really cool.

From the songs that haven’t been released yet on the album, which one are you most excited for people to hear?

Matt: I think people will really like “Neptune,” but I’m especially excited for people to hear “Trouble In Paradise.”

Eugene: For me, I’d have to say “Lewa Lani.”

Sequoia Moon takes the listener on a beautifully vulnerable sonic journey, and it feels like although there’s evident influence from your previous work on it, yet the record also feels like it’s a chapter full of growth for Summer Salt. How would you describe this “era” for you guys? What does this album mean to you?

Matt: I would say that this era of the band, I think is just more of us being able to be more honest. I think the more and more we’ve kind of gone from our first releases to just writing, to releasing EPs and then Happy Camper, and then now it’s like, it just kind of coincides with just growing and then like being true to ourselves. I feel like when we were writing Happy Camper and Driving To Hawaii, I don’t know why, but I’ve always felt like it was just us wanting to write about fantasy and real-life things were never mentioned, and we kept things kind of playful and light. I think it’s just been so much more of an emotional and genuine relief to write very real and honest things. I think that definitely has been where we’ve been recently in our writing, and I feel like that has progressed in this album.

So it’s safe to say that you’ve learned more about what kind of artists y'all want to evolve into while working on this album?

Matt: Absolutely.

Like many pieces of work that are coming out right now, this album was recorded during the pandemic. What was that experience like for you guys? Did you have to tweak your creative process, or did things end up staying relatively the same?

Eugene: I mean, I think for me, and maybe for Matt too… I mean, we’ve always worked well together, so that’s never been a problem, but just being more open to more ideas or different sounds. Communication goes a long way.

Matt: Yeah, to kind of go back to the last question and to answer this question too, one thing I try to remind myself is, like, when I write a song, and perhaps Eugene, you’ve had the same experience, and you’re inspired by another artist, that you’re like, “Well, I want to write a song like that thing. How did they do that? How do they come up with such like a cool transitional hook?” I ask myself all the time how did they come up with something that’s so lucid and kind of dreamy, but then also keep it very pop sounding. I wonder about these kinds of aspects of songwriting that are really neat and seem very crafty. However, I learned that when I overthink how to do those things the way they did it, it’s almost like I’m trying too much to be perfect, then the song kind of loses the essence and coolness. When you take that thought process away, it just naturally becomes you being you and the song becomes more naturally beautiful that way. It’s so hard at times to take yourself out of that when you’re stuck on a song because you just want it to be perfect.

Eugene: Yeah. It’s hard to replicate stuff, and I think things kind of coming naturally is always the best way for us. I think better songs just happen when you sort of step out of that place. Also, working from a distance virtually was super easy for us because both of us are such homebodies. So it was easy for us to share ideas and come together over the pandemic.

What does the name Sequoia Moon mean to you?  

Matt: I went to the Bay Area for a while, like a long time ago, and then went to the Redwood Forest for the first time, and I just came back and wanted to write some songs about it. Like three of those songs, “Two Of A Kind,” “Sequoia Moon,” and then “Lewa Lani,” other than those three, they’re all kind of relatively new, but those three were I wrote from back then. So like I said, one of those songs was called “Sequoia Moon,” and I thought that that was a beautiful name. So Eugene and I went on this name quest to try to figure out what to call the record, so we searched through all of our lyrics several times because we just wanted to, for the first time to pick something that wasn’t like a track name. So we were trying to find something we did like and finally just accepted defeat and went back to our original idea and just do Sequoia Moon and accept that. We just ended up really liking it and thinking that it was a really pretty name.

Eugene: Personally, the name fit for me not just because of the few songs that Matt wrote before writing the rest of them and being inspired by that area, but I think, for all the songs, there’s kind of a deeper meaning between Matt and me and that time in our lives.

Matt: You know, I feel like all of the songs are about finding this kind of duality of sadness and beauty. Life is a rollercoaster of happiness and sadness, and you’re just trying to find this silver lining and beauty in all of it. And so I feel like that name just kind of sounds a little lonely. Sounds a little bad or bittersweet, but it also sounds beautiful.

Outside of the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, what else inspires you as creators and inspired this body of work?

Eugene: I think relationships both new and old. Growing.  

Matt: Yeah, like thinking about your interpersonal relationship with people and what they mean to you in your life. I think that that’s a very inspirational thing. When I was writing some of these lyrics, I was just becoming very close friends with Eugene, and my girlfriend and I just began dating. I started writing these songs three years ago, and so just finding those people that are just the kind of people who can pull you out of any funk that you have or be there for you through your best and worst time, that’s an inspiration. I think lots of songs we have, like “Patch Your Jacket,” “Clover,” “Hocus Pocus,” “Two Of A Kind,” “Colors Of Your Love,” they’re all just about people being there for you and saying, “It’s cool, dude. I got you.”

Now that touring is back up and running, are there some cities that y'all are excited to revisit or visit for the first time this summer when y'all hit the road?

Eugene: Yeah, we’re super excited to tour. We have a mini-tour this summer, and then we actually have a longer one starting in September.

Matt: Yeah, I’m excited to play in San Francisco. We’ve also never been to Miami, so that’ll be cool.

Eugene: Yeah, it’s weird we’ve never been there, but it’ll be cool.

Matt: Oh, and Santa Fe! It’s gorgeous there, and we’ve never been there. So those three cities for sure!

Sequoia Moon is available everywhere you can stream it.  

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