Glen Suneson and The Early Days of Breathe

Back in late 84, my friend Ed Snyder and I were talking about putting together a new music project. Inspired by Cocteau Twins, Joy Division, This Mortal Coil, Norwegian guitarist/composer Terje Rypdal, and “Unforgettable Fire” era U2, we were both interested in doing something more impressionistic – more melodic – than our past projects. We recorded a song called “Rain” as a duo that reflected some of these influences. Our friend Al Olefer saw what we were doing, and highly suggested that we connect with a local guitarist friend of his named Glen Suneson. I had heard of Glen, and had seen him around but didn’t really know him. Upon meeting him, I was immediately impressed! His musical influences were extremely broad and he was a very gentle natured guy. His guitar tone was quite beautiful, his playing melodic, and he had a good sense of the value of space in music. He was fun to hang with!

For a period of time, Ed, Glen and I used to get together to improvise and generate ideas. Our friend Shane Stewart had a local rehearsal space that he let us use. I remember some memorable nights where we would go to Shane’s rehearsal space, light candles, turn the lights off, share a bottle of wine and play. These were magical times! It was mostly improvised on the spot, but we would sometimes take ideas generated from the improvisations and develop them further into pieces.

Glen turned me on to a lot of great music. He introduced me to Wire, Julian Cope, What Is This? (who we later did a gig with), and The Blue Nile. We were both fans of the English experimental guitarist Fred Frith, so Glen and I went to check out his 80’s project Skeleton Crew at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. These are all artists that I still listen to and enjoy to this day.

We later joined forces with drummer Ernie Woody and bassist Mike Patton and became a band – Breathe – which would later evolve into Challenge the Light. Ernie and Mike had both played in Jack Grisham’s band Cathedral of Tears, and Mike was a founding member of the seminal Orange County punk band Middle Class. Once we became an actual band, we started to incorporate more elements from pop, rock and dance music into our sound. We all shared a desire to create music that defied many of the conventions of the times – music that was simultaneously edgy and accessible, melodic and powerful, introspective and celebratory. In 1985, we recorded some 4 track demos of our songs on my cassette portastudio. You can check it out here:

The first song on this demo – “Overcome” is what I always think of when I think of Glen’s guitar playing. I really love those beautiful ringing arpeggios! It also most closely resembles the direction we were moving in during those earliest days of playing with Glen.

What I remember most about the earliest incarnation of Breathe was that all the players took a melodic approach in their playing. Mike’s bass playing was unique in that he retained the edgy energy and drive from his punk rock roots but would compose bass lines which were also quite melodic. His playing always reminded me a bit of Peter Hook’s (Joy Division, New Order) style.  As I stated earlier, Glen was a very melodic player whose parts and sounds always served the songs. He never overplayed which is a rare commodity amongst guitar players who have chops!

Glen and Mike left the band after about a year. Ernie, Ed and I went on to play with several other lineups of players through the next few years and the band evolved in other directions. After Glen left the band, we drifted apart and I didn’t really see as much of him as the years went on.

A few years ago we re-connected through social media and I was so happy to catch up with him a bit – if only superficially. I was very sad to hear about his recent passing and wish we could have connected more. I send my love to his family and friends! I feel very blessed that our musical and friendship paths crossed during a very important period of my life and artistic development.