The latest release by TheSunManager is a sonic journey into someone accepting herself.
text by Ren Aguila; Photos by Jeremy Caisip
There is something one immediately notices about April Hernandez, the woman behind the singer-songwriter project TheSunManager. She is compact, a little reserved, and full of laughter. She has nearly almond-shaped eyes and a face almost as round and bright as a rare porcelain plate. Her beauty hardly betrays someone who has gone through a lot emotionally. She has had to come to terms with the darkness where, as she once sang, “the light shines bright.” This is the message of her carrier single for her new EP Promise, “Girl in the Rough.” Her gentle voice in this number builds to a more confident tone as different beat patterns keep the rhythm going as instrument layers upon instrument, soaring and tinkling. As the song ends, it goes back to her soft voice, echoing, as the instruments fade with one last chord from her acoustic guitar.
April has a little secret about “Girl in the Rough.” “Actually, this wasn’t supposed to be the single,” she says, laughing. “It just so happened that the collection of songs came from a common time,” she says, “and then looking back at it right now, listening to the songs, I realized they represented my state of mind at that time, and I didn’t realize it [then].” The songs all date back to the first few months of 2019, and they resulted from a series of losses that led to a severe depressive episode. One might hear the mood this episode evokes in particular in the track “Danger.” In the song, the keyboard and guitar are in a dialogue depicting the bleakness of the protagonist’s mood, until her voice soars. At the same time, both instruments increase in volume as others join in, representing a sense of release. The song starts by depicting the protagonist in a pose describing a state of unease: feet aligned, knees together close to the body. It ends with a wordless cry.
The protagonist may very well be April herself. She says, “It’s kind of weird, but that’s how the [point of view] works in most of the songs, I end up writing the song like I’m talking to myself, and I’m consoling myself.” She adds that music is her way of pulling herself out of “black holes and rabbit holes,” something people can fall into now and then. What all the songs have in common, one might notice, is how they end cathartically. She draws listeners in with her insistent call to listen to her story and join her as she lets loose the emotional burdens she carries at the moment.
The record reflects a sea change in April’s view of life, from the sunny optimism that characterized her earlier work to the realistic acceptance of her “dark and twisty side” in “Girl.” “The idea behind the EP,” she says, “is about trying to be more forgiving and more accepting of ourselves for everything.”
April’s close friend, Clarence Garcia of the band tide/edit, convinced her to release the songs in a final form. It took her a month to produce the EP. She had some help from Francis Lorenzo (the Ringmaster), who both mixed and mastered the record. He was responsible for the beats one hears in “Girl.” Francis likens the process of making the record to making dessert: “The core cake type and recipe [are] all April’s doing. I’m just zooming around throwing peanuts/almonds in or switching out the ingredients while she’s all [about] mixing the batter.”
April says that on her part, it was a challenge making the record. This challenge required her to switch back and forth from having an artistic mindset to being critical of what she performed. It is a throwback to her 2014 EP, which she also self-produced, but some things have changed about her. “I guess I have more patience now,” she says, “and my skills are better!”
As April grew as an artist and producer, she went back to basics for this record. “I guess I went back to the essentials of it all,” she says, “remembering how to express myself through the music.” Going back to basics means revisiting the purpose of what she puts into her songs. “I wanted to explore more sounds and textures,” she says, “because [I] wanted more ways to express the emotion.” The result is a record that shows off her improved abilities in putting together instruments, textures, and poetry. For instance, her use of soft percussive beats at the beginning of “Sparks,” the author’s favorite tune from the record, seem to echo the beginning of a Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transatlanticism.” Her voice sings over a muffled piano at the start. As she sings the song’s chorus calling on the listener to “keep it burning,” the notes soar in ostinato, bringing piano, percussion, strings, and voices together in an urgent, layered, plea for confidence in one’s self.
April’s growth as a musician was something Clarence noticed: “She’s grown a lot, continues listening to more music and is more confident experimenting with new ideas. I always thought of her as a brilliant songwriter, and this release proves it.” Her usual formula of voice and acoustic guitar may keep her sound familiar to longtime listeners. On the opening track of the record, “One,” she depicts the tragic moment of a relationship at its end with voice and guitar. Synthesizers fade in at first, providing harmony and contrast, then strings at the climax, then a cello note evoking the sadness almost at the very end.
Describing why her EP has that title, April says, “It’s a promise I’m making to myself [that] I’ll do better for myself.” Judging from the music, it seems that she is keeping that promise. Her listeners, both new and old, will get the chance to hear the results of that growth. But she wants listeners to be provoked too in a small way: “We spend a lot of time thinking about okay, what am I going to do today? What do I have to do for work? But I don’t think a lot of people spend time to like, [ask] hey, how am I? Do I need to rest? Do I need to work? What do I need right now? Or like, I guess just, yeah, spend a bit of time to take care of themselves or think about themselves. I don’t know, does that make sense?”
TheSunManager’s new EP, Promise, will be released on July 3 on Spotify and Apple Music.