Photo: Ga Ji Ashlin Wang

Sun Cycles beams down a vibrant electropop sound on “Make Believe” and answers our questions (BPM Premiere)

Coming from Montclair, New Jersey by way of Omaha, Nebraska, Jessica Hottman makes music as Sun Cycles that could’ve emerged from a club or radio playlist, circa 1986. With a synth-rich sound but not synthetic feelings, Hottman turns her latest song “Make Believe” into something special.

Following the classic electropop design of having her voice quiver and expand as vibrantly as her instruments, Hottman sells the seductive qualities of the lyrics so well. “You loosen my grip, pull me under. Forbidden from this, but I can’t stay away from your kiss.” In the accompanying video, she’s a one-woman dance show, putting the spotlight on you and herself simultaneously.

Hottman also answered some questions for us below.

“Make Believe” has a fantastic sound, it’s great modern pop but also has a hazy, dream-like quality to it. Curious to know what the recording process was like; was this made in a studio or home-recorded?

Thank you! The recording process was actually quite layered and unique. I currently live in New Jersey but I began writing this song when I was still living in Omaha, Nebraska. My parents have this old Clavinova piano from the late 80s and the sounds on it give everything a retro feel. The aesthetic of “Make Believe” originated from these vintage Clav sounds and I recorded a rough demo of this song, in the form of a voice memo, in my parents’ basement (a very classic setting). Fast forward a bit, I was visiting the east coast and staying at a house in New Jersey. I would sometimes go into the basement (which was mainly used for band practices, instrument storage, and occasionally laundry) to work on writing music. I revisited my voice memo of “Make Believe” and was able to put together a more finished demo. That’s where my friend Joel Martin comes in. He is a producer, musician, and synth-loving friend of mine from the Midwest. He co-produced an EP with the band I was previously in, before Sun Cycles. I was confident he would be the perfect person to produce and engineer the track, because he’s the kind of person who is willing to go down the rabbit hole on an idea and see each idea to the end. He’s not afraid to take risks and he’s just a damn good musician. It also worked perfectly, because he had just moved from Lawrence, KS to Philadelphia, PA. I sent him some demos of mine to gauge his interest in working together and he was immediately in. I knew that I wanted to record an EP, but told Joel I wanted to record one song, to see how things went. After day one of being in the studio together, I knew he was the right person to complete the EP with me. “Make Believe” was officially recorded at Joel’s apartment studio in Philadelphia later that year. His set-up is nothing fancy – it’s actually quite simple. And while I am not discrediting the importance of gear, I think a pair of solid ears and a cohesive vision for a song will always produce the best work. I also really like that Joel and I are both midwesterners living in the east coast ~ there’s something special about that combination. “Make Believe” was eventually mastered in NJ (close to where I live now) by my friend Adam Cichoki of Timber Studios, to give the song a final and polished sound.

Your upcoming EP IMAGINARY has some real vision to it, how cohesive was that vision throughout the process? Did you set out to make an album that flowed together or is this a collection of singles? In a way it could function as both, every track is a stand-alone track.

I have always been a daydreamer. Even in my youth, I would find myself wandering off into my thoughts and getting lost there. All of the tracks on this EP are representative of ideas, or fears that I have entertained in my mind. I am playing out these thoughts in the form of songs, whether that be about love, or death, or seeking clarity. It’s all in my imaginary world. All of the songs have an element of seriousness or longing to them, but they are also playful – like a child hanging out with an imaginary friend, deliberating on deep and sometimes ugly truths. I wanted to group the songs together as an EP, because they encompass how polar extreme our thoughts as humans can often be.  

Lastly, I wanted to ask about the role NYC plays in your music, “IMAGINARY” has a really NYC feel to it. Are you currently residing there or did you get out of town with everything going on?

I currently reside in Montclair, NJ which is about a 40-minute train ride into Penn Station in NYC. Pre-COVID, I was taking the train into the city about 3 times a week, working as a background actress on various television shows and movie sets. I often had to wake up around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., just to get to set on time. Even before moving out to the east coast, I was flying in to do various jobs (modeling for New York Fashion Week, acting in commercials, playing shows, etc). All of this hustle and bustle of commuting, traveling in the dark via airplane or train, catching Ubers, and walking all across NYC with a suitcase of clothes or a large synth case, definitely gave the music a charged-up synth feel. It’s pop music with a dark twist, and that was definitely influenced by my fast-paced lifestyle at the time. There’s a certain grittiness to it, but it also retains a playful feel. 

Follow Sun Cycles on Instagram, Facebook, and her website.