Sunday Cruise on Balancing High School and Setting Expectations

Courtesy of Sunday CruiseSunday Cruise’s newest album — “Am I Pretty?” — is the group’s first full length release. The album contains 13 songs, which more than doubles their discography.

Indie-rock quartet Sunday Cruise is a young band hailing from the Northwest Chicago suburb Elgin. The members are also high schoolers who have grown in a local scene, one that has produced successful musicians in the past.

The band is composed of 16-year-old Levi Hansen on drums, 17-year-old Cass McGill on bass, 17-year-old Cam Kiefer on lead guitar and 17-year-old Zoe Garcia on guitar and vocals. All of the members are still in high school, though all but Hansen will be graduating this May.

High school extracurriculars became an obstacle for the group when trying to put out new music. While recording their latest record “Am I Pretty?” — which dropped March 21 — Hansen said he was often out of town to compete in show choir competitions. This meant that recording was mostly done individually, with band members sending tracks back and forth to each other until everything was perfected.

The group has also faced adversity when it comes to planning tours due to their class obligations. While planning a March tour — which has since been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the group had to decide how much time they could take off from their education.

“That was a big thing, trying to figure out ‘How much school can I realistically miss?’” Hansen said in an interview with The Phoenix. “I am pretty serious about my education so it’s hard getting around it. … though it’s on me to catch up with band stuff and school stuff.”

According to Garcia, the group plans shows in advance, sometimes months ahead. The planning isn’t just for the band members though, it’s also for those they depend on. Sometimes members of the group have to rely on their parents for rides to events as not all of the members drive. 

“[Planning ahead is] easier for our parents too since they are a big part of it,” Hansen said in an interview with The Phoenix. “For some of us, they are our rides.”

Despite the members’ young age, they’re experienced in the local scene. Garcia began her involvement in the local music scene at 14 years old, attending shows at Side Street Studio Arts — a local Elgin venue — with the first being then-local bands Mt. Pocono and Beach Bunny. 

Elgin has gained a reputation for its DIY music scene over the last few years. Side Street Studio Arts has played a large role in that — part of which has been hosting an annual battle of the band competition.

The winners of this competition have a knack for becoming local legends. Mt. Pocono, the 2017 winner, played with most touring DIY acts in the Chicagoland area until it disbanded in January. During its 2017 run, it defeated a young band named Beach Bunny, which has since headlined Thalia Hall and The Metro in Chicago.

Sunday Cruise won the battle of the bands in 2018 — it also happened to be its first time performing for an audience.

“The battle of the bands was our first show [and] I did not think we would get past the first round,” Garcia said. “By the end of it we had a good amount of people that supported us. … It definitely helped us.”

Garcia listed Beach Bunny as a main influence for the group’s new album both because of its sound and because it has seen success in the three years since it competed in the battle of the bands. 

Despite being younger than the members of Beach Bunny were at the time they won, the group’s accomplishments have helped Garcia set goals for Sunday Cruise.

“The way [Beach Bunny] has succeeded helps me set expectations for us because I look up to them and they were a big part of me starting my own band,” Garcia said.

The group still tries to hold itself to the same standard it would if their circumstances were the same as their older counterparts and with the success Sunday Cruise has seen, Garcia said she could see music becoming a full-time gig.

“Although we are still in school, I spend a lot of my free time on this band,” Garcia said. “We all still hold ourselves to the same expectations. … I could see this becoming something I actually do [for a living] but we are still in high school so that’s hard to figure out.”

“Am I Pretty?” is available on all streaming platforms.

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