In 2014, local guitarist Kevin Ray was hanging out on Pacific Avenue, hoping to stumble on some inspiration for a tune. As he often did, he went into Bookshop Santa Cruz and flipped through the poetry books.
He grabbed local poet Gary Young’s Even So and read an untitled poem on page 153. It resonated with him, so he asked each member of his band Eat The Sun to read it and write their own motif—without hearing each other’s creations. He assembled all of the parts to create the instrumental 23:20 minute song, “The Eclipse Suite.”
The song’s sunny vibes mixed with chaotic, jazzy jams very much evokes the sound of Santa Cruz.
“I immediately envision Steamer Lane,” Ray says. “I’ve been surfing all my life. And that coastline has always been a huge influence for my music. That song makes me think of that whole stretch of West Cliff right there.”
Eat The Sun formed in 2007 when Ray met drummer Zack Feigenbaum. They’d jam and listen to jazz, but they believed all of the music they created needed to be rooted in the experience of living deeply, and what creativity that inspired. Eat The Sun played its first show in 2011. A year later, friend and bassist Kai Kopecky joined the group.
Daydreams // Memories, the 2015 record that had “The Eclipse Suite” on it, was their final recording as a three-piece band. After that, Feigenbaum moved out of state to be with his now-wife, who was going to school at the Rhode Island School of Design. A few years later, Ray recorded Field of Dahlias by himself under the name Eat The Sun, then moved to Ventura. He took a break from music, but started back up again when the beaches were closed during the 2020 lockdowns. Recording music was necessary for his mental health.
The process of recording his new album Always // All Ways felt like one of his most profound creative endeavors. He processed his personal growth since leaving Santa Cruz and starting a new life in Southern California.
“I sat down and started recording one day, and it just snowballed into an album. It still took me quite a few months to get through it because I was also working crazy hours at a restaurant in Ventura,” Ray says. “This album is about growing, being better, being a more complete person, loving deeply, and letting go of past traumas. Making a piece of art again.”
The music on the record is eclectic, pulling from jazz, jam music, Americana, and rock. But this time, with just Ray working on it—and with nothing but time during the lockdown—it’s an even more nuanced and meticulous product, as he slowly added layers to each song over time.
“I don’t think too much about stylistic elements,” Ray says. “I have a wide variety of music that I enjoy. It tends to come out naturally in that eclectic feel. I like to combine everything I’m listening to and excited about.”
Like all Eat The Sun releases, this album is entirely instrumental. It’s the way that Ray feels comfortable communicating. Many of the melodies he plays have “secret lyrics” which are usually woven into the song titles.
“They’re like little poems. They have words associated with them. I’ve never been that great of a singer to want to put those words into a melody into the song,” Ray says. “I used to want to convey a certain feeling, to inspire words in people. But on this one, I let go of that. Everyone brings their own life to the table when they listen to something. Conveying feeling without words is more about not being in the way of someone’s experience and letting them have a moment.”
Given the circumstances, recording the album was very isolating and personal. Ray would be humming the songs even when he wasn’t working on them. He dug deep, and his feeling filled every moment of the songs.
“It was the first time where I felt the album had its own life outside of what I wanted,” Ray says. “I feel like this album was a huge benchmark in my life about being more the person I want to be in a grand esoteric sort of way.”
For more information, check out eatthesun.bandcamp.com.