Ahead of the curve. Amber Crain and Danny Lackey founded the When The Sun Hits blog back in 2010, based on a shared love of this sound, this music. At the time, it was rare to find a credible news source devoted to shoegaze and dream pop, and well before the current spate of reunion tours. Amber hosted the “When The Sun Hits” radio program on Strangeways Radio from August 2011 until June of 2015, when they shifted away from a streaming radio model. Now, as she is poised to bring the show back to radio after hiatus, we sat down with Amber to talk about the sound, the scene, and the journey here.
DKFM: Let’s start at the beginning, and talk a little bit about the founding of the blog. Back in 2010 there were some quality artists carrying the flag for this sound, but it wasn’t on a lot of folks’ radar. What brought you and Danny together to build WTSH? And what were you hoping to achieve when you started?
Amber: Danny and I met in January 2010, after discovering that we were both members of a lot of the same music-related social media groups and message boards. We had a ton in common and naturally became fast friends. By that summer we found ourselves chatting pretty much daily about music in general, but especially about our shared passion for shoegaze/dream pop music.
We had started noticing that a LOT of new bands were putting out music that was heavily shoegaze-influenced, so there was definitely a lot to talk about! The shoegaze revival had begun and a passionate underground community was forming around it, but music journalism hadn’t quite caught on yet. There just weren’t a lot of online resources for the genre. Because of this, the new shoegaze-influenced bands we were into weren’t getting the exposure they deserved. When The Sun Hits was created to put more information about shoegaze into the world, and to be a vehicle by which shoegaze bands could get the exposure they richly deserved. It also essentially functioned as our ongoing digital love letter to the genre we adored so much.
DKFM: Since Danny’s untimely passing, you’ve managed to build a support team for the blog that keeps the spirit and vision alive. Tell us about the squad keeping the torch lit.
Amber: After Danny passed away, I didn’t know what to do. It felt a little wrong continuing WTSH without him, and the blog itelf was a constant reminder that he was gone from this world. I’d already been doing the Strangeways radio show under the When The Sun Hits moniker for well over a year before he passed, so even if I’d stopped the blog after his death, WTSH would still live on in radio format – the constant reminder was locked in whether I discontinued the blog or not. I also knew that Danny wanted me to keep the blog going. He battled cancer for a long time, and so we had a chance to discuss such things. I knew I had to do it, as I promised him I would, but I also felt adrift without my friend and co-pilot.
After a few months had passed, I knew I needed help with the blog if I wanted it to continue. My heart just wasn’t in it. I’d become close with Dan Joy and Ellie Sleeper, two guest writers who were contributing a lot of content for the blog at that time. They clearly shared the same enthusiasm for the genre that WTSH was initially built upon. I trusted their content-related decisions and enjoyed their writing styles, and I really wanted them to join me as WTSH’s main staff. And luckily for me, they did. I was able to regain my enthusiasm for the blog through theirs. I adore them both and I hope they know how much I appreciate them as writers for WTSH, and also as human beings.
DKFM: You’ve done WTSH for Strangeways, as well as a regular show for KVLU FM. What got you into radio as a platform? Tell us a little about the experience.
Amber: In 2007 I started DJing, simply because it was really fun, and also because I have a pathological desire to share music with others, haha. Later that year I started doing my first genre-specific shoegaze radio show for Rice University’s (now defunct) station KTRU. I had to fight to get that show on the air, since the station manager at the time didn’t know what shoegaze was or why anyone would care, but eventually I was allowed to do it (translation: I bugged the hell out of him about it until he caved).
I know it’s hard to imagine this now, since the genre has been enjoying quite the revival in recent years and the word “shoegaze” is now thrown metronidazole no prescription around in music journalism seemingly constantly, but in 2007 that was definitely not the case. Shoegaze seemed to be a largely forgotten genre, and for a younger generation that had missed its inception, shoegaze appeared to be an almost entirely unknown genre.
When I first started DJing I would get frequent phone calls from people during the show, asking me what this “shoegaze” music was. This was happening so often that it became very clear to me that as a musical genre, shoegaze was a mystery to a lot of people at that time. I wanted to put the music out there; I wanted people to hear it, know it, and eventually come to love it – just like I did.
DKFM: Your happiest experience running When The Sun Hits?
Amber: So many! But the ultimate would have to be bringing it into the world with Danny.
DKFM: Histrionics. What bands first captured your imagination in this genre?
Amber: The very first one was My Bloody Valentine, when the “Only Shallow” video debuted on 120 Minutes in 1994. I was only about 12 at the time, but the impact was huge and immediate. Nothing sounded like that! I grew up in a very small town in the middle of nowhere, so 120 Minutes was responsible for exposing me to so much music – I think a lot of people in my age range would say the same. Unless I could bribe someone to bring me to the mall (to read – but not buy, of course! – all the music magazines), 120 Minutes was all I had at the time, and it was a great resource. Now it’s hard to imagine MTV ever having been a good resource for anything!
DKFM: Here’s a question we’ve always hated, but we’re throwing it at you anyway: How do you define/characterize shoegaze?
Amber: The dreaded question! I actually love this question, and it’s something I used to think about a lot, especially once I started DJing. Most people have a more specific answer for this question (guitar style, use of particular gear, etc., combined with an affinity for pot, striped shirts and cats) but for me, at the end of the day, the defining characteristic of shoegaze is the atmosphere. Within the genre, sonic variation from band to band can be quite dramatic. This is especially true today, but even among the classic bands the style differences could be pronounced. What knits them all together – for me – is the common atmospheric thread they share. It’s distinctive, but hard to describe with words. There is an otherworldly quality to it. It’s ethereal and transcendent, with a certain texture of sound…
There are most definitely shoegaze bands that operate within the sonic boundaries of genre limitations, or whatever, but I like to think of it as an atmosphere that any band can tap into, whether they are defined as “shoegaze” or not. An example of this that I’ve used since the beginning is The Cure’s “Plainsong”. The Cure is not a shoegaze band. Their typical sound is not one I would consider shoegaze. But to me, that song taps directly into the realm of shoegaze via mood and atmosphere.
DKFM: First great show you attended?
Amber: Probably Tori Amos. Haha, is that an unexpected answer? It’s true, though! Seeing her as a teenager was a huge deal for me. So formative.
DKFM: Have you been able to catch any of the big reunion tours, and if so, which? Describe the experience.
Amber: Yes! Although I haven’t managed to see a Slowdive show yet, much to my chagrin. The first reunion show I caught was My Bloody Valentine, which was gloriously deafening and perfect. Most recently was Ride, and that was just stunning. Very emotional.
DKFM: What’s in heavy rotation on your iPod at the moment?
Amber: Drab Majesty, Cold Showers, Soft Kill, Them Are Us Too, Killing Joke, The Soft Moon, Tamaryn, Clan of Xymox, True Widow, Girls Names, the Sisters of Mercy, Helen, 800beloved, Black Tape for a Blue Girl…
DKFM: How does it feel coming back to radio after a well-earned break?
Amber: It feels awesome. The past six months is the longest I’ve ever gone without DJing in some form or another, and I was starting to feel pretty alien. And I’m super excited to be a part of DKFM! I feel very lucky.
DKFM: What can new listeners to When The Sun Hits expect from your show?
Amber: My modus operandi has always been emphasizing the new while never forgetting the classics, and that formula is precisely what I plan to continue delivering.
Amber Crain returns to the airwaves Wednesday, November 4th, 10 pm Eastern, 7 pm Pacific, with a replay twelve hours later. In our opinion, appointment radio.