What have they put in the water of Wisconsin? “Just Like Kurt” is totally insane and the psychosis oozes out of every pore of this EP. AV Super Sunshine is a time bomb that’s set to blow at any second. Tick…tick…tick…tick….KABOOOMMMM!!!! Don’t ever say that I never warn you.
Not that long ago I wrote about AV Super Sunshine’s “Baby Goodbye”. It was their first single and garnered the band a significant cult following that resulted in the song charting at lucky #7 on the weekly Billboard Hot Singles Sales charts. Not too shabby for a combo out of Oshkosh. More about that song later since it is remixed and included as a bonus track only for members of the media. I’ve got to admit that kind of made me feel important when I received their EPK.
The CMJ Music Marathon recently took place in New York City so I had the opportunity to sit down talk to quite a few of my favorite artists who were in town for it last week. As luck would have it, the AV Super Sunshine band found the time to speak with me.
H.I.N.: What’s the background on the band’s name?
AVSS: It’s actually my artist name. I am AV Super Sunshine. My full 8 piece touring ensemble is the Super Sunshine Band. I got the name when I was invited to Nashville in the summer of 2013 to record a group of songs at Ben Folds’ studio (Nashville’s original RCA Victor Studio A) by Grammy nominated songwriter James House. One of the songs we were recording was titled Super Sunshine Girl and my initials are AV. One morning while we were mixing he got everyone in the studio together for an announcement. James introduced the idea of putting a touring act together with my songs and me at the helm. He threw out the name AV Super Sunshine which he constructed by putting my song and initials together and it stuck.
H.I.N.: From the title of your new release it’s pretty clear that you’re a fan of Nirvana. Tell us more about that.
AVSS: I’m a huge fan of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Musically they shut down hair metal overnight. Whether one considers this good or bad, that was a historic musical event directly linked to their art. I read that they grew up listening to the same mid 70s classic rock I did and when they combined their classic rock influence with the post punk sound of the time they exploded musically. I borrowed Nirvana’s lesson and let my classic rock roots take more control of my art and things started to change for me too. So that’s a huge influence right there.
Kurt himself has been a huge influence. His legacy of peace, love and tolerance has been over shadowed by a mythology the media has created. Most people don’t know anything about the real man. Kurt was brilliant, a creator, a man who pushed hard against the universe. His image and writings gave me strength in my darkest hour and helped me overcome so much. Even though the song and EP is my personal story and my anti-abuse statement, I was still afraid to share the song for fear of being harassed. Kurt’s strength helped me overcome that. He pushed hard against his fears and I’m sure he would want me to do the same.
H.I.N.: When you perform locally what is your favorite venue and why?
AVSS: Before I became AV Super Sunshine I needed a way to test my songs in front of an audience so I started going to open mics with my acoustic guitar. The best open mic is on Tuesday nights at The New Moon Cafe on Main Street in Oshkosh. Oshkosh Wisconsin is a blue collar hard working town with a University. Tuesday nights at the New Moon is where all the local songwriters hang when not gigging and I was the host. So I got to know and hear the other songwriters. The crowd is normally locals, musicians and college students. I got a rep for never turning anyone down who wanted to perform even if we sometimes ran past closing. That’s when the high school kids also started coming in and the place would get packed. As host I would start with a set of whatever songs I was writing at the time. It could get real noisy and I was the police. I had to learn real fast how to get the audience’s attention by writing better songs. Any part of any song that I could hear talking while I was playing I would re-write. When I could get through a song live and keep attention I would consider it finished and introduce another new song into my set. It’s the venue where I made a lot of progress on my art.
H.I.N.: What inspired the songs on your latest release?
AVSS: It’s real personal. I’m a long term severe abuse victim but trying my best to fight the good fight. Years back I was diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression and anxiety disorder. I used songwriting as a way to cope. I’ve had every kind of treatment one could imagine along the way. I recorded everything I’ve been experiencing in my songwriting. Just about everything I write is about a true life experience or an emotional experience I’ve had. I was reluctant to release the songs on this EP, because of what they reveal. I worried that they make me sound like I’m still deep in illness.
I’m feeling much better now and it reflects in my current writing but rolling things out is a slow process and releasing these songs will help the fans know where I came from which will help them better understand and appreciate my future releases.
H.I.N.: How would you describe AV Super Sunshine and its sound?
AVSS: It sounds like it’s 1975 and you’re listening to top 40 radio on a sunny day, except the hits have huge bell bottom bass and thump. Imagine that everything is sounding modern including the background vocals, lyrics and mix. Then up next the DJ spins a high energy classic rock dance track so killer it makes you want Skrillex to do a AV Super Sunshine mix.
H.I.N.: What act would you like to open for?
AVSS: Lady Gaga. She has a very universal appeal and in turn her audiences have a diverse demographic. My fan stats show my music and artist brand appeals to the same demographic which could make an excellent fit. I think if the high school kids sang along with my songs at the open mic why not Lady Gaga’s fans too. She is high energy and so is AV. Her message of peace and love is the same as mine. She’s not afraid of exposing her soul in her songwriting which I admire and emulate. It’s a known fact that she’s rocker at heart so maybe I could influence some classic rock her way if we toured.
H.I.N.: What would fans be surprised to know about AV Super Sunshine?
AVSS: Well, it’s a huge list. Here’s a piece of trivia, I played the lead guitar part on Just Like Kurt with my Fender Jaguar. James wanted it to sound huge so he turned up all the knobs on my amp and effects pedals to eleven. I thought he was crazy but it did get a huge sound. I’ll save the really freaky stuff for the time being.
H.I.N.: Any issues or causes you’re involved with?
AVSS: I’m trying to raise consciousness about the long term effects of abuse. I want to make sure I can point to a path towards solutions before I make any formal commitments. I have t-shirts and other items that say AV Super Sunshine JLK Protect in Memory as a starting point. It stands for Protect Against Abuse in Memory of Kurt who was a victim of abuse as a child. I don’t plan to use his name or likeness, of course, but the fans will get it.
H.I.N.: Tell us about the recording process for “Just like Kurt”.
AVSS: We recorded at Ben Folds Studio in Nashville. Beforehand, I sat with my producer, James House, who checked my arrangements and together we wrote the charts for the band. In the studio we sat and listened first to the home demo recordings I had made for James. Then everyone discussed the arrangement and made changes where improvements could be realized. Everything was played live as a band with me singing the guide track in real time. Joe Costa was the engineer at the board and oversaw all microphone placements, doing much of it himself. Producer Michael Bradford played bass and also made valuable contributions to the arrangements. Ben let keyboardist Andrew Higley use his best piano, B3, Lesley and vintage mini moog which Joe already knew exactly how to mic because he had worked on so many of Ben’s recordings. Ben’s also an excellent drummer and he lent drummer Brad Pemberton his best vintage drum set. Brad also brought an array of percussive instruments including castanets which he used on the Alien Abduction song.
My guitar tracks were recorded later as overdubs. James, Andrew and Brad then put down additional tracks to round out the mix. My lead vocal and all back ground vocals were done later in several locations including Ben’s. James is a formally trained vocalist who sang and toured with the Beach Boys and understands harmonies. During the recording process he coached me as well as Super Sunshine Band backing vocalists Kim Mont and Kim Flemming.
H.I.N.: What do you see in store for AV Super Sunshine a year from now?
AVSS: We have a full CD scheduled to release first of the year called Candyland. I wrote the songs to fit together like a rock opera in the vein of the Who’s “Tommy” during the time I was weaning myself off anti-depressants. My med shrink wanted to double my dosage so I went cold turkey instead to prove him wrong. Big mistake! But it gave me Candyland. A different master of Just Like Kurt is on that disc as well as the album version of the Alien Abduction song. I have a film being made based on the Alien Abduction song which we’re going to be promoting once the CD is released. If it does well I’d like to be taking the whole disc and making Candyland into a full production Hollywood movie. Of course it would be just as great to be touring successfully and recording more of my catalog of songs. AV Super Sunshine recently teamed up with KES Distribution and National Marketing based in Chicago, IL, and they’ve begun to handle the product distribution along with marketing and promotion. They’ve done a really great job.
H.I.N.: How does it feel to be on the Top 10 Billboard charts & what did you do to get there?
AVSS: I’m still scared of failure because the music industry has become a long hard road. We got there by not giving up on a song and learning that our fans can be just about everyone. Once we knew we took some big chances sending discs to retail but the fans started showing up. I am truly humbled and encouraged by this to lift my game even higher as a big thank you to the fans who got me here.
H.I.N.: Give us some background regarding your equipment and instruments and how they contribute to the trademark AV Super Sunshine sound.
AVSS: Everything is played by real musicians on real instruments except for some of the sounds on the dance mixes. If you hear a piano it’s a mic’d piano. Same goes for everything else. The mics, mic preamps, compressors and EQ’s used were all outboard analog gear to yield vintage sound. The sessions were mixed in pro-tools but again with outboard processing. The tracks were then mastered to be competitive with today’s loudest mixes.
H.I.N.: You make some pretty cool music videos. Tell us about them.
AVSS: We’re fortunate to have attracted some very creative people who helped to come up with the set and direction. Most recently I’ve been working with Marcel Chagnon who is a very talented young film maker from Nashville. My creative partner in coordinating the fashion and look is Philomena Sunshine who also co-wrote both the Alien Abduction song and film with me. Together we work on the clothing, movements and scenes ahead of time so that we’re prepared.
H.I.N.: Any one you’d like to musically collaborate with?
AVSS: I’d like to collaborate with a female artist first because the artistic possibilities of the male/female formula is appealing to me. The gals who are interesting to me are many. Lady Gaga would be my first choice because I believe our creativity matches and I think our names would sound cool next to each other. Second choice would probably be Miley Cyrus, it would be fun to try to convince her that she really is a hippie.
H.I.N.: How do you feel about the current state of the entertainment business?
AVSS: I’m a newcomer so I’m just learning. Because of the combination of home recording, sequencing, sampling and social media we are flooded with more music than we can consume. As a new artist it is very difficult to get heard by the masses because there are too many noncompetitive choices the fans must filter to find the good stuff. Making high quality music in a professional recording studio with real musicians is very expensive and time consuming. It is even more time consuming and expensive to get it heard. This means only the work being pushed at the top gets heard by the masses. It takes a major record company type budget and team to achieve that today. I don’t know exactly how the future looks but I hope to shape something better.
H.I.N.: What about the world?
AVSS: I gave up on politics a long time ago, I just hope to make people happy. If I can do that then maybe I’ll feel better too.
H.I.N.: How can our readers find you and your music?
AVSS: Just type AV Super Sunshine into your favorite search engine or ask at your favorite record store. It’s three words: AV Super Sunshine.