The long overdue return of Sunk Loto: Australia’s metalcore pioneers talk reunion shows and potential new music

After 15 years, one of the biggest acts in Australia’s heavy music scene have reemerged for comeback shows and (potentially) new music. NME gets the lowdown with frontman Jason Brown and guitarist Luke McDonald

Note: This story contains discussions of substance abuse. You can find resources at the bottom of this story should you need to seek help.

Sunk Loto are officially back. Following a week of cryptic teasers, the Gold Coast nu-metallers have confirmed they’ll return to the stage after 15 years this July. On Friday July 29, they’ll take to hometown haunt Mo’s Desert Clubhouse for an intimate celebration of their original decade-long tenure (1997 to 2007).

The homely pub, in Burleigh Heads, has a capacity of 200. As frontman Jason Brown tells NME, the band wanted to break their long hiatus by “warming up in a smaller venue”, honouring their underground roots by playing a room close to where they grew up, with a crowd of predominantly locals, friends and old-school fans. That’s before they perform in a setting more apt for their stature – like the 800-capacity Triffid in Brisbane, which they’ll play the following Saturday (August 6).

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Also in the pipeline, though yet to be finalised, are shows in Sydney and Melbourne. Truthfully, the band are flying by the seat of their collective pants: the reunion itself only became a reality in March, weeks after guitarist Luke McDonald ventured to round up his former bandmates for a casual gathering. It’s something he’d thought about doing for a long while, but held off due to a promise to himself: if he could go a year without touching an illicit substance, he’d try his hand at reforming Sunk Loto.

“I’ve struggled with addiction my whole life,” McDonald says candidly, noting that he “turned to drugs and alcohol before [he] was a teenager” and “had [his] first acid trip at age 12”. His lowest points came at the turn of his 30s, when he plunged into crack, ice and speed.

“Towards the end there, I’d do anything – I just didn’t want to face reality,” he admits. “There were times where it was so hard that I literally just wanted to die. The emotional pain was just too much for me to cope with. But in time, you find out that you’re actually far stronger than you thought you were. One morning you’ll be like, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ but the next thing you know, it’s 10 o’clock at night, you’re putting your head down and you’re like, ‘Wow, I made it through that. I guess I’ll keep going!’”

“I know that we’re going to put on the best Sunk Loto show that anyone has ever seen”

The prospect of reforming Sunk Loto was crucial to McDonald maintaining his sobriety, he says, because he’d “been missing everyone in the band for a long time, always thinking about them – even having dreams about playing with them”. After crossing the one-year milestone, he dropped a line to former bassist Sean Van Gennip. They convened to ostensibly discuss rebooting their post-Loto project Jails And Churches, but after meeting for coffee, McDonald cautiously pitched him the idea of a private reunion with Sunk Loto.

“I was kind of surprised when he said yes to it,” he chuckles. “That was the first time he’d agreed to [meet with the rest of the band] in about 10 years. So because he said yes to that, I went a little further and said, ‘Well, would you be interested in actually playing with the guys again?’ And he said, ‘Yeah!’ And that was just shocking, because every time I’d bring it up in the past, he’d flat-out shut me down.”

Brown and his little brother, drummer Dane, came onboard by the end of February. They met for lunch without the pressure of any reunion talk, but “within 30 minutes or so”, McDonald says, “were already talking about having a jam”. Brown adds that by the end of that jam – which led to the first online whispers of Sunk Loto’s comeback, after a fan serendipitously spotted them outside their rehearsal space – the group “just knew that [a proper reunion] had to happen”.

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The band have been rehearsing every week since, and according to Brown, are sounding “absolutely amazing”. He explains: “There was every chance we could have walked away from the first jam and gone, ‘Oh, that was cool, but y’know, we’re getting older now, we’re not up to this.’ But instead, it was like we had 10 times as much power as we did when we called it quits.

“I’m not a braggadocious person,” McDonald adds, “but I know that we’re going to put on the best Sunk Loto show that anyone has ever seen.”

Right now, Sunk Loto are in the process of trawling through their catalogue and hashing out a setlist. They’re quick to stress their lack of current studio plans, but do have their hearts set on playing at least song the public’s never heard, which could eventually be released as their first new single in 20 years: a recently unearthed gem from the sessions of Sunk Loto’s second album, 2003’s ‘Between Birth & Death’, titled ‘Jaded’.

Crunchy, punchy, angsty and loud, it’s quintessential Loto plucked straight from their prime. But it also “seems very relevant”, McDonald says, especially two years into the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s about going through hard times, and how we can all feel miserable and alone sometimes. The beautiful thing about music is that when you express those feelings in a song, you can connect with a lot of people and help them feel less alone.”

As for what else lies in Sunk Loto’s future, Brown says that if tickets for these shows in July and August sell well enough, a 20-year anniversary tour for ‘Between Birth & Death’ – and a deluxe reissue stuffed with demos and rarities – is effectively inevitable. New music in the vein of that record would follow, the singer teases, with his vision being “to make today’s version of ‘Between Birth & Death’” in an effort to reestablish Sunk Loto as “that sort of unique, genre-defining thing again”.

“I back myself,” Brown declares, “and I back all the other guys to be able to do it too.”

McDonald echoes the excitement, adding: “If everything goes well with these shows, we want to make the best Sunk Loto record we’ve ever made. We do want to take it one day at a time, but it’s hard not to get excited – especially after seeing the reaction from the fans when we posted those photos last week.”

Throwing in the towel before the boon of modern streaming and social media, Sunk Loto became a somewhat deified, almost mythical entity in Australia’s heavy music scene. With ‘Between Birth & Death’, they were early pioneers of homegrown metalcore, preceding Parkway Drive, The Amity Affliction, I Killed The Prom Queen, and most of the other bands that led the genre to soar here in the mid-to-late 2000s. But their legacy never totally fizzled out, and especially in the past decade, Sunk Loto’s popularity has surged once more online, often fuelled by latecomers discovering their material for the first time.

“It’s going to be amazing to see all of those fans face-to-face at the shows”

McDonald credits much of that virtual enthusiasm for their decision to go from private jamming to public shows. “As a band,” he says, “we had to come together again as brothers, start jamming and hanging out and all of that stuff, but seeing that presence online – all those comments on YouTube and all those hilarious memes on Facebook – if that wasn’t there, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

“It’s going to be amazing to see all of those fans face-to-face at the shows – seeing their energy, their smiles, their excitement… And I feel like it’s just the perfect time for us to come back. Especially after COVID, everybody wants a little more joy in their lives, y’know?”

What killed Sunk Loto in 2007 was a mix of substance abuse, industry pressure (“We were just pushed to our [breaking] point,” Brown says, “and there wasn’t a lot of enjoyment coming out of the creative process”) and youthful arrogance (McDonald admits he was “a very petty person” in the band’s later years and would “blow things that weren’t such a big deal way out of proportion”). So it’s poetic that the band’s comeback is defined by sobriety, independence and “a level of wisdom that definitely wasn’t there in our early 20s”.

In closing, Brown says the Sunk Loto of 2022 is “just a wiser, better, more refined version of what we were – which is a testament unto itself, really, because we were pretty bloody good back in the day!”

Sunk Loto will perform at Mo’s Desert Clubhouse on the Gold Coast on Friday July 29, and at The Triffid in Brisbane on Saturday August 6. Find tickets for the Gold Coast here, and Brisbane here.

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