Album Stream: Sun Cycles, ‘IMAGINARY”

Sun Cycles is the musical brainchild and latest project from Omaha native Jessica Hottman. Steeped in deep synth, big drums, and soaring vocals – the act pulls inspiration from artists like Imogen Heap, Lorn, and Yaz.
“I was listening to the song “Days” by The Drums, and it dawned on me that so much happens, from the most menial thing to the greatest discovery, as our planet cycles the sun. I like to think of my music as just a piece of all the beauty that our world is creating: a thread in the quilt that humanity is weaving. To me, this is a humbling and beautiful thought. And with that, the name Sun Cycles was born.” Today, Sun Cycles has released IMAGINARY EP. You can listen the EP below.

We chatted with Hottman to learn more about the EP.

So right off the bat, I would love to know more about your intent when you started making “IMAGINARY” because we’re living in a very different world than the one this was recorded in. It’s an indie dance club record in a world where gathering en masse is forbidden. How has this affected the way you look at the record?

My intent with “Imaginary” was to let out the part of me that exists in my mind. To invite others into my imaginary world, where thoughts are swirling wildly, and it’s okay to contemplate everything from love to death. Each track is designed to pull the listener to a different daydream, exposing the polar opposite thoughts that exist in my mind (and how quickly I jump from one to the next). It’s like the movie “Inside Out” where you see these imaginary characters that represent various human emotions, like happiness and sadness, interacting. It’s a bit of a jumble, but somehow they all work together to create a beautifully complex human mind. I also wanted to emphasize a blur between the lines of reality and make believe.

The EP is intended to feel playful, like a child playing with an imaginary friend, so I always knew that the songs would take on a more “dance-y” vibe. For me, it was less about making club music, and more about exploring and experimenting with playful elements in these songs. It seems like this EP would be best ingested at a live performance where people could dance to it, so I find it quite interesting to be releasing it during a time when this is not happening. But I think it will actually help the take-away to be less about the “cool beats” in the music and more about the lyrical twists and turns. I think that some of the darkness behind my pop music will stand out more. I personally have appreciated and noticed that deeper side of the EP in my more recent listens.

Speaking of the indie dance sound, where do you draw your influences, big artists and small?

I listen to everything I can get my hands on. It’s my secret mission to listen to as much music as I possibly can in my time on this earth. Indie, pop, country, rock, rap, world music, metal, acapella harmony quartets, all of it. I memorize lyrics, melodies, instrument riffs, and repeat songs in my mind until I know them like the back of my hand. I must understand the composition and decomposition of each song I lend my ears to. It’s through this practice that I am able to mold and mesh together my own music. It’s very hard for me to pick just a few inspirations, but I will go ahead and say Imogen Heap, PJ Harvey, Caroline Polachek, and Enya know what’s up. I’m all about female singers…but especially the ones that have these beautiful alien brains, and are able to think of other-worldly vocal melodies. It feels like I’m witnessing something that has never been done before in the context of one of the most personal human attributes – the voice. I get chills just thinking about it.

“IMAGINARY” has that mid 00s NYC glitz pop sound, how does NYC influence you, and how do you feel about NYC now versus then?

NYC has been such a constant influence in my life, especially in the last two years. The city has always had this untamable allure to it. Even when I find myself in a train station, standing in a puddle of god-knows-what, carrying more than I can handle, sweating through my layers of clothing, I can’t help but feel glamorous and a part of this matrix of others who understand this same allure. I grew up and have lived most of my life in the midwest. I always wanted to live in NYC for at least a few years, but it wasn’t until the later part of 2019 that this became a reality. I was flying out to NYC every few weeks for various reasons: modeling in NYFW, acting in commercial shoots, playing shows on tour, recording music, and meeting up with my long-distance boyfriend and NJ resident, Ben Petty. The traveling was a lot and I decided I had enough opportunity in NYC to finally make the move (oh how things have changed haha). At the beginning of 2020, I packed up all of my belongings and moved from Omaha, Nebraska (where I was born and raised) out to Montclair, NJ. It’s like a slice of NYC, in the suburbs of NYC, with a charming, historic, mountainy feel to it.

Before the pandemic hit, I was taking the train into the city a few times a week to work as a background actress on tv and film sets. I would ride the subway in the dark, dragging a huge suitcase across many many blocks, working 16 hours days, just completely immersed in the fast-paced lifestyle. I was also writing this new music in a dark basement at a house in NJ, so it makes sense that the end result would be a fast-paced, glitz pop EP, with a dark grittiness to it. I guess I can’t help but let my surroundings soak into my musical creations. As far as it feeling mid 00s, my close friends know I have an affinity for all things retro and nostalgic. The Sun Cycles project as a whole feels equals parts from the past and from the future, and the songs always tend to take on some retro musical elements in the process.

“LAUGH UNTIL WE DIE” is an amazing closing track, triumphant and optimistic. I definitely hear some Discovery if you’re familiar vibes (especially their S/T LP). What is this song about, what inspired it?

Thank you! I appreciate this reference greatly. This song is definitely the weirdest, deepest cut on the EP, and it’s possibly the one I am most proud of. It’s a clash happy music and terrifying lyrics – the moment where I lay it all out on the table and let the emotion surge like a wave. “Laugh Until We Die” is about the conundrum that I live in daily: how to enjoy life with inevitable death before me. The title is a bit humorous in some ways…the thought of us laughing to keep ourselves sane in this insane predicament we live in. We seek comforts and laughter to mask the painful reality that sits before us. All of us will face this end, whether that be a permanent end or an end to this chapter. I find our existence so beautiful and miraculous, but at the same time, I have always struggled to become too invested in any one thing or person or job. I don’t like to put all of my eggs in one basket. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism because I fixate on how quickly things and people and entire lives can disappear. This song is about wanting to feel something that lasts beyond this death.

This has obviously not been the year any of us expected, but what are you most optimistic about as an artist? What should we be on the lookout for with Sun Cycles going forward?

I am very optimistic about the extra time I have had to create more music. I find that when I walk through tough or uncertain times, my writing often finds a new level of depth. Sometimes pain is a predecessor for beauty, and I am hopeful of the music that is to come. Not just from me, but from all artists across the world who are enduring in their own ways. Many who have more extreme depths they are wading through. I am hopeful that no matter what happens, beautiful art is always around the corner. Stories are waiting to be told. The barriers of competition in the music industry have been taken down in a lot of ways, and we have this amazing opportunity to lift each other up in new and fresh ways. I have been working on more music for Sun Cycles and I have some neat merch coming out soon! …I have also been secretly working on a side project that is set to debut in early 2021!! I look forward to sharing more on that soon.