Track Work: Sun Machines, ‘Mono Mind’

By Keith Mathias

D.C.'s Sun Machines make their debut with "Human Subjects," a cassette-based concept album about space and human nature.
D.C.'s Sun Machines make their debut with "Human Subjects," a cassette-based concept album about space and human nature.

During the three years he spent in Japan while working for the U.S. government, Greg Gendron didn’t play the drums much. He didn’t have enough room.

“It’s kind of hard to play acoustic drums in my surroundings here,” says the 37-year-old Silver Spring resident, “let alone someplace with even more space [restrictions].”

When Gendron returned to the U.S., he immediately pulled out the instruments he hadn’t touched in a long time. “When I got back, I had started tinkering around with home recording some more, and I got all my stuff out of storage — a bunch of instruments and equipment that I hadn’t seen in years — and one of the items was my old Tascam 414 analog cassette tape recorder.”

Gendron — a big fan of tapes who had dabbled in home recording while in Japan — turned to longtime collaborator J. Forté (Lejeune, Secret Pop Band, Light Arms) for help. “I asked, ‘Are you interested in passing tapes back and forth?'” Gendron says. He recorded some drums, gave Forté the recording, then Forté put down bass, passed it back, and so on. Gradually, their recordings became a full-length, Human Subjects. Released in limited quantities on cassette, it marks the debut of Forté and Gendron’s duo, Sun Machines.


Originally, Sun Machines wanted Human Subjects to be built entirely on the idea of passing tapes back and forth. But Forté’s musical experiments with his iPad yielded a new approach: Side A for rock songs, and Side B for electronic songs.

“Mono Mind,” track No. 7 on Human Subjects, falls into the electronic category. “I got the drum loop and the synth part from [Forté], and I just put my headphones on and did that tribal thing with the toms and rolling around the kit,” Gendron says.

After several seconds of tumbling, polyrhythmic bliss, synth sounds envelop the listener, closing in ever-tighter circles. “The song itself is about anxiety,” Gendron says. “Just the two words ‘mono’ and ‘mind’ refer to tunnel vision — looped thoughts.”

“Mono Mind” also suits Human Subjects‘ overall themes of space, love and loneliness. The album’s story, Gendron says, concerns a guy who is recruited for a space mission and finds love. “By the time we get to ‘Mono Mind,’ the guy is already in space,” the musician says. But his protagonist’s voyage to the stars is a weighty one: He’s en route to the sun, tasked with sabotaging a mission. It’s enough to trigger the kind of anxiety that courses through “Mono Mind.”

But to Gendron, the song also comments on human nature — in all its foolishness. “It’s a bad idea for us to be traveling in space,” he says. “Humans belong on Earth. Like, what do we really want to know?”