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30 Years On, Sunny Day Real Estate Return To Diary

Legendary 1994 album is out today (May 3) in newly recorded version as part of a retrospective tour
Sunny Day Real Estate

Jeremy Enigk was barely 19 years old when he and his bandmates in Sunny Day Real Estate recorded their hugely influential debut album, Diary, at Chicago’s Idful Studios. A year later, the band would split for the first of several times, but despite lingering interpersonal drama, Diary has endured ever since as a pillar of emotionally resonant post-hardcore music.

When Enigk, guitarist Dan Hoerner and drummer William Goldsmith reunited in 2022 after a 12-year break, they found themselves approaching the Diary material with a wisdom and maturity only attained with the passage of time. To memorialize this evolution, Sunny Day set up shop at Seattle’s famed London Bridge Studios to record a live-in-the-studio, song-for-song rendition of the album, which arrives Friday (May 3) in a limited vinyl run of 3,000 copies. Click here to listen.

Led by an evocative animated video for “Grendel” directed by Alexander Blais, Diary – Live at London Bridge Studio is the perfect accompaniment to the band’s in-progress 2024 tour, which features a nightly complete performance of Diary with a band augmented by touring bassist Chris Jordan and guitarist Greg Suran. It’s also a showcase for “Novum Vetus,” their first new song in a decade. Enigk, Hoerner and Goldsmith spoke to Spin via e-mail about why the time was now right to revisit Diary and how the album continues to resonate with them.

What are some key reasons the band decided to re-approach Diary in this way? I presume it was at least partially influenced by how well the band was playing when it returned to the road in 2022?

Jeremy Enigk: We have played these songs for years. I feel like this current iteration of the band is one of the best representations to date and it really just needed to be documented. The 30th anniversary was a perfect opportunity to do something special to celebrate.

Dan Hoerner: Yeah, the new sound is so special [that] we just had to capture this moment in time. The addition of Chris Jordan and Greg Suran to the mix takes everything to a new place. I think it was important to us to show people what they were in store for in 2024.

William Goldsmith: It was a lingering curiosity for myself at least — the concept of what the record would sound like recorded now as opposed to when we were essentially still kids. There was also the motivation to track ‘Novum Vetus’ as well if time allowed, which it fortunately did. 

Are there songs on Diary that for you personally have really morphed and evolved over the 30 years since its release?

Enigk: Well, on Live at London Bridge, the most noticeable evolution to me is on ‘The Blankets Were the Stairs.’ The original vocal approach was always difficult to sing because I was constantly hitting the peak of my voice while screaming the whole time. It isn’t sustainable to sing every night and I’ve always asked the guys to scratch the song from the set over the years because of the damage it does, not to mention the heart-on-the-sleeve feel of it. In order to just get through it this time, I sang in lower registers and had to reimagine it. I was encouraged to actually embrace the change and turning what seemed a weakness into a strength. 

Another that comes to mind is ‘Pheurton Skeurto.’ The new live record it’s still piano, bass and vocals, but we have a fun full band version of it that is still morphing and evolving that we are playing live at shows.

Hoerner: It’s crazy how much I love ‘Round,’ given that we pretty much shelved it before Diary was even released, and we never played it live. I absolutely love playing it live now, even though it’s a hell of a workout. During “Seven,’ when I sing ‘you’ll taste it in time,’ I feel like I’m talking to my past self who maybe despaired at times about never succeeding at music. Sure, I’m not rich or famous, but Sunny Day’s music lives on and I still get to enjoy it.

Goldsmith: My main focus has been on an all-around better pocket for all of the songs.

Were there things about the original album that bugged you back then, or perhaps you’d always secretly been itching to modify?

Enigk: There were small things maybe, but ultimately I’m proud of the snapshot of where we were at at the time. The tearing out my heart and impromptu nature of ‘The Blankets Were the Stairs’ was difficult to perform and also accept, but it’s the nature of what it is that makes it special.

Hoerner: No. In my opinion, Diary is perfect and untouchable. There was never any intention of trying to improve on it or surpass it in any way. Live at London Bridge is a love letter and an homage to Diary more than anything. It’s maybe also a warning to folks coming out to hear us play the album in its entirety of what to expect.

Goldsmith: Speaking only for myself, yes. 100%. The whole thing start to finish has bugged me for a long time. I know that some people find the naive, filterless ADHD drumming charming, but I personally do not. I’ve never been able to listen to that record without cringing. It was a snapshot of a time and place — that much is certain. 

What’s the genesis of the ‘Grendel’ video?

Enigk: This video was a long time in the making. We had always talked about creating animated videos for our songs and ‘Grendel’ was at the top of the list. I’m so grateful to the animator, Alexander Blais, and Dan for storyboarding this because it felt like it had always been there — it just took awhile to finally realize. When I listen to the song now, it’s hard to unsee the video in my head.

Hoerner: The new video for ‘Grendel’ is something I’m really proud of. It brings the song to life in a way that we always wanted, from its very inception. So, I guess ‘Grendel’ hasn’t really morphed so much as delivered on its own prophecy and potential. This iteration of Grendel’s story is definitely inspired by the John Gardner book, but in a lot of ways it’s a retelling of our own story. We were very much a weird, lumbering, awkward outsider looking in at the shiny Seattle music scene. We tried to break the door down, but instead we broke ourselves.

Goldsmith: The video for ‘Grendel’ seemed to appear out of thin air. It was something that Dan was in communication with Alexander Blais about, and it’s still a mystery to me how it came to pass. We are all fans of interesting and unique animation. The song ‘Grendel’ and the mythology itself, and even more so the John Gardner book, are well-suited for story telling via animation. Great idea and great work by Alexander Blais. 

A couple songs from Diary were barely even played live back in the ‘90s. Does it feel like they’ve been given a new lease on life through this project as well as playing them every night on this tour?

Enigk: Playing ‘Round’ is so much fun. Most of our songs are emotionally heavy so it’s nice to have a bit of levity. It takes me back to a very specific time growing up. And to me, ‘Pheurton Skeurto’ is an important segue and tone-setter for who the band is. Our sense of humor is something I don’t think is highlighted enough, but ironically, it also has dark overtones and meaning.

Goldsmith: I would say that ‘Round’ and ‘The Blankets Were the Stairs’ have definitely been given new life. Hoerner: I already answered this, but I’ll add that for the few shows already this year, I’ve come out first with Greg at the opening of the set, and we start the intro to ‘8.’ I just sort of close my eyes and play it until I hear Jeremy’s voice come in. I get chills. When it kicks off, it’s a hell of a racket. I love it.