On A Sun looks for ‘Watershed’ moment

They've only been around since 2001, but Milwaukee-based rock outfit On A Sun has been making plenty of noise in its brief existence. Brothers Thomas (bass and vocals), John (vocals and guitar) and Michael McWilliam (drums) have moved on from their humble beginnings — a second-place finish in a local battle of the bands competition under the name Sam Hill — to play Summerfest the last three years and tour the Midwest.

But On A Sun still has plenty to look forward to on the horizon. The band's first full-length album, Watershed, finds the McWilliam brothers expertly treading the line between angst-riddled, grunge-tinged rock and brilliant acoustic- and harmony-driven tunes and should vault the band to new heights. John McWilliam recently chatted with the Tribune about the band and Watershed, set for a March 15 release.

Tribune: Critics have described you with comparisons to artists as diverse as Jeff Buckley to Radiohead and the Police, but which acts do you think you most sound like?

McWilliam: There's a band called Sunny Day Real Estate that has been a recent comparison to people in Chicago and Milwaukee, but I'm not even familiar with them. (laughs) I think if you were to cross Radiohead with Soundgarden and Jane's Addiction that would probably work.

Tribune: Comparisons aside, what makes On A Sun stand out as unique?

McWilliam: I think it's the musical landscapes that we explore. I think it's the attention to musicality, which can be banal I suppose, but we add a fervor to that. And because of our desire to burn — it's kind of like a burning of musicality, like burning a bunch of ladders — not to destroy it but to watch it go up in flames, its brilliance. We perform with the conviction of a howling wolf; it's not always the most beautiful thing, but we push ourselves on stage … It's a complete, turned up to 11, excretion, so to speak.

Tribune: What impression do you hope people come away with after listening to Watershed?

McWilliam: I would like to pick at people's listening palette. I'd like for them to hear the landscapes that we've developed, feel the energy that we exude as performers and the feel of the vibe. There's an enthusiasm twisted with melancholy that I hope that people get. There's a certain earnestness and there's a certain vulnerability that keeps it from being too polished … I think we're able to escape that with this album. It still incorporates modern technology while having this classic, hopefully not archaic, old-school rock texture that hopefully can be appreciated. I hope people find it to be unique, as something that they don't have yet in their collections.

On A Sun appears in concert with The Girls and Automatic Gool at 10 p.m. Friday at the Union Sports Annex, 16th and Wells streets. The cover is $5, $3 with a valid MUID.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Jan. 27 2005.