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Sound Off! 2021 - Meet the Artist: Sundust


Now in its 20th year, MoPOP’s Sound Off! is the premier 21-and-under music showcase in the Pacific Northwest. This year, we’re celebrating a milestone anniversary of the program, which has built upon an incredible legacy in the local music scene. Celebrate with us at 7 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 15 with a virtual music showcase featuring performances and interviews with eight artists from across our region.

Rooted in Seattle, electronic duo Sundust combines the intensity of dance music and the melodicism of orchestral music to create new, yet accessible sonic landscapes. Building upon danceable beats, Xander Johns and Sam Clement lay down dazzling synth lines with bright bursts of saxophone and vocal melodies into songs that are impossible not to move to.

Introduce yourself!

Sundust (Sam): We met in high school through the jazz program at our high school. We became friends pretty quickly after that because we also had some classes together and some very similar interests. Then after jazz, we were both in this rock, fusion funk group, and that was cool. Then I'd say about a year, year and a half ago is when I sort of discovered producing by myself and that was really fun. Then we decided to try it together, and somehow that escalated into this.

How did you hear about Sound Off! and what encouraged you to apply to this year's program?

Sundust (Sam): It just seemed like a fantastic opportunity to work for something, especially because we knew before applying to Sound Off! that you couldn't get any gigs anywhere. We'd both been making some music together for a little bit and it seemed like a very cool thing to try to get into. We thought we might as well try it again because why not? It's just another cool opportunity.

Sundust (Xander): Yeah, and working towards Sound Off!, putting our audition songs together and preparing for this, the show has made us so much better at producing. We finally finished some songs together and we're not very good at finishing songs in general, so it was very beneficial.

What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be part of Sound Off! 2021?

Sundust (Sam): It was kind of relieving because I was like, "Oh, someone thinks that I'm not terrible at this."

Sundust (Xander): We put in a ridiculous amount of time into our audition songs. So we were like, "We can't not make it."

Sundust (Sam): That was our mindset is that we were really very determined. It was just a very discreet goal and there was nothing else happening.

xxxxXXSpeaker 2: (02:16)
My reaction, when I found out that this was the year we were going to do sound off, I was kind of surprised and excited that it was still happening. And so I was just very excited and it felt a little bit validating to have my songs get a chance to kind of stand alone. Um, and it was very vulnerable submitting them because they were kind of just rough demos and I'm excited to see how far they've come in this performance and with some new instrumentation and everything. So, yeah, very excited. 

What challenges did you face as artists this past year and how did you stay creatively engaged?

Sundust (Sam): Obviously, we haven't really gotten to play any shows. Honestly, in a sense, it sort of was a motivator because it forced me to stay at home and I had to do something productive at home and that productive thing was typically trying to make music. 

Sundust (Xander): Also, we make computer music now. So we don't need real people.

Sundust (Sam): And we can do it just by ourselves, in our rooms, for long periods of time.

Sundust (Xander): We really, really want to play live shows with this kind of music together. Playing music for people who are dancing to your music and connecting with you on that level is my favorite part about music, the audience interaction.

How would you describe your sound?

Sundust (Xander): We both come from a jazz background, so a lot of the chords we use are informed by jazz harmony, and a lot of the rhythms too.

Sundust (Sam): We both sort of discovered different EDM genres around a similar time, like a year, a year and a half ago. And I feel like we sort of tried to combine what we know about music from jazz with the intense and pounding sounds that come with dance that we both like. It's a cool combination, is how I like to think of it. 

Sundust (Xander): What's also interesting I think is, of anyone I've ever met, Sam has the closest music taste to me. And my music tastes, I feel like I don't know a lot of other people that like similar music to me. We both went through phases of being really into math rock. And basically I would say our friendship is really built on being kind of obsessed with different interests and passions that we work really hard on and get really into.

What are your favorite attributes of each other's musical talent?

Sundust (Xander): Sam is just incredibly thorough with the message and emotion he wants to deliver and he's good at following through on a vision. He can communicate his thoughts very clearly to me through his music.

Sundust (Sam): Xander is very good at making something sound good very quickly. I will easily become inspired by a short little idea that he can come up with, like somehow, with his music theory knowledge that I would've never dreamed of. So it's like we sort of feed off of each other, because he definitely is much more knowledgeable in music theory. So when I need help there, he can help me out a little bit.

If you had to describe your music as an emoji, what emoji would it be and why?

Sundust (Sam): It's a flower. When we were trying to come up with imagery that we wanted for our backdrop, nature was definitely a theme that was coming up frequently. That's something we both like a lot. We both like the aesthetic of nature and we want people to evoke that sort of imagery listening to us. 

Sundust (Xander): We're both really into impressionistic visual art and music that sort of paints a broad emotion. We're big fans of Debussy and van Gogh, and I think our music is inspired by that, makes us feel emotions that are powerful.

Sundust (Sam): Which is sort of our ultimate goal that we think in making music. We want people to feel something.

Sundust (Xander): Other musicians that we love are able to affect us on such a deep and personal level. We can experience such a large range of emotions from their music. Being able to touch someone else with our music like that would be pretty cool.

This program takes a village to build, and we are grateful to The Looking Out Foundation and Mackie for their generous support of Sound Off! 2021.

We’d like to thank our community partners in helping to amplify the work of these young artists and for their support of Sound Off! 2021: KEXP, London Bridge, and The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. 


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About the author

The Museum of Pop Culture’s mission is to make creative expression a life-changing force by offering experiences that inspire and connect our communities.