The Sundays, a British pop group that has success fully “crossed over” to the American alternative market, emerged out of the music scene in London in the late 1980s. Fronted by the distinctive vocals of Harriet Wheeler, the quartet has clinched trans-Atlantic success with just three releases over a period of several years and a sound sometimes likened to a hybrid between the Cocteau Twins and the Smiths. The Sundays are guided creatively by Wheeler and her partner David Gavurin; as guitarist and co-songwriter, it is his distinct lo-fi style, combined with co-songwriter Wheeler’s vocals—a voice “unfurling like a silken ribbon and ringing like brass,” declared one review in Time— that have earned the band accolades and impressive record sales. They emit, wrote Billboard’s Karen Schlossberg “a kind of postpunk new age mellowness.”
The Sundays’ origins stretch back to the romance between Gavurin and Wheeler that occurred while both were students at Bristol University in the 1980s. Wheeler came from a town near Reading, England, the daughter of an architect and a teacher. She was a student of
Members are Paul Brindley (born November 6, 1963, in Bristol, England), bass; David (Richard) Gavurin (born April 4, 1963, in Wembley, England), guitar; Patrick Hannan (born March 4, 1966, in Bristol, England), drums; and Harriet (Ella) Wheeler (born June 26, 1963, in Reading, England; daughter of an architect and a teacher), vocals.
Band formed in London during the summer of 1988; first live show took place at London’s Vertigo Club in the Camden Town neighborhood, August 20, 1988; signed to Rough Trade Records, c. 1988; released first single,” Can’t Be Sure,” in 1989; released first LP, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, in 1989.
Addresses: Record company —Geffen Records, 9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069.
English literature at the time. Gavurin had grown up in Wembley and once described himself as “a failed punk;” he was working on a degree in Romance languages. After graduation, the co-habitating pair collected unemployment and wrote songs in their vast spare time. They had absolutely no musical background. “But by the end of the year we were thinking, ’Hang on a minute, some of this is good!” Gavurin told Rolling Stone writer Jeff Giles. Galvanized by a small spark of ambition, the pair sent demo tapes to several London clubs—but then decided to avoid the inevitable rejection by going on vacation.
Yet when they returned home, their phone was ringing, and someone from the Vertigo Club in London offered them an opening slot. By this time, the pair had recruited equally low-key pals Paul Brindley and Patrick Hannan to fill the bass and drum slots. “Brindley and Hannan were guys who could be trusted to flee the limelight with the band in case any sort of horrible success did crop up,” reported Details writer Caren Myers in an interview with the band. They had also decided upon a name, by default: “The Sundays” was the only one everyone could agree upon. That first show was in August of 1988, and the journalists who showed up to interview the headlining band ended up writing about The Sundays instead. Over the next few months, the newcomers were the subject of glowing articles in the British music press and quickly tagged as the next big thing. A bidding war ensued between labels, and the Sundays signed with Rough Trade Records, the Smiths’ home.
Their debut album, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, was released to great fanfare in 1989. Rolling Stone reviewer Ira Robbins called it “an alluring slice of lighter-than-air guitar pop, a collection of uncommonly good songs graced by Harriet Wheeler’s wondrous singing.” Each of its singles—“Here’s Where the Story Ends,” “Can’t Be Sure,” and “I Kicked a Boy”—charted in the U.K. and helped turn them into low-key, inadvertent pop stars there. Released the same year in the United States on Geffen, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic would sell over a half a million copies around the globe—and the band toured in support of it for nearly a year, an exhausting undertaking.
Yet it would be nearly three years before The Sundays released a follow-up. Both Gavurin and Wheeler, the principal songwriters, confess to being chained by pokiness and perfectionism when it comes to writing and recording music. The hiatus was also lengthened by business problems: Rough Trade came into severe financial difficulty, and the band finally decided to resign with Parlophone for their U.K. releases; Geffen remained their American home. Their second album, Blind, appeared in 1992, led by the single “Goodbye.” Again, the record sold nearly half a million copies, giving Wheeler and Gavurin another gold record to hang on the wall of their North London home. Melody Maker called it “at hing of great and laudable… grace.… The gorgeously meandering tunes and words on ‘Blind’ have this way of complementing each other almost subliminally, like ballroom dancers in blindfolds.” Again, Wheeler’s vocals won the lion’s share of praise in reviews. “Her singing is fluttery, mischievous, and full of unexpected, perverse flashes of tenderness,” wrote Myers.
After releasing a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” —which did well in the U.S. but took some heat in England—The Sundays embarked upon another American tour but canceled dates near the end when exhaustion and homesickness threatened the quality of their performances. After a band vacation in Thailand, they returned to England and put their music career on the back burner for a time. Wheeler and Gavurin built a recording studio at their home, which would give them a much greater freedom in making music—not being tied to hourly studio rates, they were now able to work as slowly as they pleased. “We’ve never particularly enjoyed performing in a studio,” Wheeler said in Geffen Records publicity material. “Live gigs are one thing … But 11:00 in the morning in front of a row of faces in the control room is another thing altogether.”
Gavurin and Wheeler also welcomed another addition to their home—a daughter, Billie, born in February of 1995. Both recording studio and new parenthood conspired to lengthen the process of recording a third album even further, and a full five years passed between Blind and Static and Silence, released in September of 1997. Its title, Gavurin disclosed in the promotional materials accompanying the release, derives from his recollections of watching lunar landings on television as a child—“how those moments of nothingness—when the screen went fuzzy and the sound died—seemed only to heighten the excitement and sense of anticipation,” he explained.
Static and Silence’s first single, “Summertime,” entered the British charts at #15, and charted on the American modern-rock charts as well. Like the other tracks, “Summertime” sounded like a typically Sundays-esque tune, and the band was accused of avoiding any musical growth. “They remain exactly the same in every way: the sound of Young England in 1985,” wrote Jimmy Blackburn in Vox. Wheeler and Gavurin did confess that they had settled down a bit with age and were no longer the naive, shoe-gazing university grads of their youth. Their own musical tastes had changed as well: they now favored Van Morrison, Frank Sinatra, and French film music from the 1960s, and admitted to drawing heavily upon the mood in Joni Mitchell’s 1976 album Hegira. Yet another reviewer, Raygur’s Kevin Raub, critiqued Static and Silence and called their first two albums “inherently boring.” He praised the refreshed, reinvigorated sound. “While the band’s musical colophon remains ethereal lullabies drifting alongside jangly guitars and youthful melodies … the result is the band’s most solid effort to date,” Raub opined.
Touring for Static and Silence threatened to present problems, with a two-year-old in tow, but Gavurin and Wheeler planned to bring along hired help. The demands of rock stardom did not seem to trouble the pair. “If my career disappeared overnight because we weren’t on the rock ‘n’ roll treadmill and we weren’t quick enough to keep putting out our products, then too bad,” Gavurin once told Boston Globe writer Jim Sullivan. “So be it. We’re not prepared to sacrifice what’s musically important to us just to keep a profile up. Were not prepared to rush and get involved in stupid situations just to keep a career going.”
Albums; on DGC
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, 1989.
Static and Silence, 1997.
Singles; on DGC
“Can’t Be Sure,” 1990.
“Here’s Where the Story Ends,” 1990.
“Wild Horses,” 1993.
The track “Don’t Tell Your Mother,” previously released as a b-side to the “Can’t Be Sure” single, was included on the DGC Rarities Vol. 1, 1994.
Billboard, August 11, 1990, p. 32.
Boston Globe, February 26, 1993.
Details, November 1992.
Melody Maker, October 24, 1992.
Raygun, November 1997.
Rolling Stone, June 14, 1990, p. 140; June 28, 1990, p. 22; April 29, 1993, p. 25.
Time, January 11, 1993, p. 53.
Further information for this profile was obtained from Geffen
Records publicity materials, 1997.
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