The Isle of Man is full of musical talent, from folk singers all the way to punk rockers, but how hard is it to make a break for it when you are based on the rock?
Talent certainly isn’t measured in music downloads or fame, but if you want to make a living from your love of music then these things certainly don’t hurt, and as a nation only a handful of our musicians have made it to a self-sustainable level of stardom. The Bee Gees reached such levels, and more recently Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam is doing big things in the US, but what about the next generation of music makers struggling to make a name for themselves on the Island.
Sunset Jet are one such Island-based band who are giving it a good old go. They’re a four-piece indie band and since their recent beginnings early last year they’ve had more gigs than you can shake a stick at. Regulars on the local circuit, they’re probably in Jak’s and The Thirsty Pigeon more than any of the bar staff, and as a result they’ve cemented themselves a firm following on the Island. Most recently they played Livestock Festival in support of the Isle of Man Hospice where they had a solid turn out of locals on the dancefloor.
Although starting as a regular covers band, Sunset Jet have released two singles so far which they’ve eased into their set. Their debut single Nice Guy was released in November last year, and punchy follow-up W.D.Y.B followed shortly after in February. Both singles were recorded locally at Ballagroove studio with the help of Gyp Buggane, and despite the fact that some members were taking their studio virginity, Gyp’s done a great job at mixing the two tracks. Influences in mid 00’s indie are clear in both songs, and Marcus’ guitar riffs wouldn’t seem out of place on a Strokes record. Having only been together for a year or so, they are soon to release their 3rd single, seemingly working towards an album, and their drive for success is evident in their fast work rate.
Shortly after Christmas, I saw them myself in Jaks. As you can only expect from a period in which the average person’s favourite past-time is shoving left-over turkey into their mouth, the turn-out wasn’t great for a Saturday night. Although diminished, Sunset Jet’s usual following were there (probably full of left-over turkey) to show their support, and my friends and I brought the attendance up to a respectable level. Despite all of this, the four-piece played their hearts out, and evidently talented musicians, they were as tight on stage as they are on track.
This made me wonder how often up and coming bands on the Island turn up to play for an audience that just isn’t there, and whether there is a way out for band’s like Sunset Jet, or whether they are banging their heads against a wall to no avail. It’s clear from our Homegrown Talent series that there are lots of musical Manxies who are making strides after moving to the UK, and whilst there are plenty of talented musicians who remain, it is certainly more challenging for them to earn a living doing what they love. There is a clear and definite love of music on the island, but how much does that 80 miles of ocean prevent any musical talent from breaking out?
I caught up with Marcus, Dan, Jonathan and Brad of Sunset Jet recently to ask them about the challenges they’ve faced so far trying to break out on the Isle of Man, and what they have planned for the future.
What do you guys find is the most challenging thing about being based on the island when you are trying to make it as a band?
Brad: The most challenging thing for us really is that we don’t have many opportunities to showcase our own songs without having to water them down with pub classics. We’d like to play more half hour sets where we can go out and blast our songs and leave that as the lasting memory of us, not just another cover of Chelsea Dagger.
Marcus: Another big challenge we face is the exorbitant cost of getting to the UK/rest of the world to gig or record. Ideally, we’d take the ferry over and drive with our equipment, but to do that we’d have to look at selling one of Bradley’s kidneys.
Have you got any tactics for overcoming these challenges?
Jonathan: Yeah we are just trying to get as much original material written and recorded as we can.
Dan: We’re committed to constantly pushing original material live. It’s certainly a challenge and in the past we’ve had our fair share of blank looks, but it’s all character building.
Marcus: Also, we rehearse a lot because we want every gig to be great. This extends to everything from making sure the songs we write are really good, to basic stuff like turning up on time and chatting to everyone who comes down to see us, because we really appreciate the support.
Brad: We’ve also toyed with the idea of running our own nights with a few original bands in alternative venues, hopefully somewhere BYOB. We can all just have a good session with some big tunes. Could be something for the future so stay tuned!
Right, we’ve had the bad things, now what do you love about living on the Island?
Brad: The best thing about being over here is that people properly support us, you ask a Manxie to come down and they always do, whereas across I’ve definitely been stood up more often than not. They also look us up afterwards and we’ve even had a few people singing our songs back to us at gigs which is a big thing for us.
Dan: The community here is very tight. Logistically you’re never more than 40 minutes away from a gig, and there’s always a friendly face around. Also, The Riffs guys who run the open mic nights are doing Manx artists a solid by letting us showcase our original material and talk shop with fellow musicians.
So, what’s the long-term plan for Sunset Jet?
Jonathan: I think touring is deﬁnitely our main goal for the foreseeable future, and who knows, even longer term it would be very nice to be able to make a living off performing and releasing music, but I suppose we’ll have to see.
Brad: To be honest I think we can take this as far as we want, we’re all really committed and focused on achieving big things. I’d like to see us landing slots at festivals and touring the UK by 2020. My ultimate goal is to be famous enough to not have to carry my own gear, anything else is a bonus.
Marcus: We’re looking to build up our audience both over here and internationally by writing lots of music and other content, releasing it on social media and then performing it as much as possible. In terms of where we’ll be based, that’s up in the air but I can see that if we were ever to become a touring band (something we’d love to do) the Island would make a great base of operations.
Dan: All the above, and sponsorship from Cadburys.
Despite the Island challenges that face bands such as Sunset Jet, it’s evident that they still hold a lot of love for the local music scene, which is both wide-reaching and diverse. However, there is also a clear desire for more emphasis on the creation of original music rather than the “same old pub tunes”. This would require a few more original music venues, where new bands can play sets focusing on their own original tunes rather than having to play ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ for the hundredth time that month. With music venues like Compton Vaults opening, and Dark Horse festival gaining momentum, it does seem like there is a bright future for Manx original music, and bands like Sunset Jet will keep pushing the creative boundaries. However, all this relies on local Manxies to get down to these venues on the weekends and support their local bands, so next time you fancy a night on the town, get down and have a dance to some live music.
Sunset Jet’s new single Wine Drunk is out Sunday 7th April on streaming platforms.