We seek and bring warmth. It comes from our self-generated heat when we kick up our feet. It’s felt in the rays of connectivity springing from the genuine smiles of friends from across the room. It’s experienced in the melodic vibrations pulsating through the sound system, lifting us all to a higher place. It’s sensed in the tight embraces that pull us closer to our brothers, our sisters, our friends and our lovers.
On Sunday, Sunshine Jones hosts a harbor of love through the beauty of rhythm, song and dance at The Castle in Tampa’s Ybor City. A San Francisco native, Sunshine has been an ardent participant in its underground music scene for nearly three decades
On his current tour, Sunshine embarks on project of pure passion — playing live, DJing and hosting seminars on his Live Ground Tour. A project that allows him to gain a grounded sense of the communities in which he performs — as he drives in, sticks around and seeks to understand. You can read more about the Live Ground tour in Part 1 of our interview with Sunshine.
In the 90s, he and Moonbeam Jones formed Dubtribe Soundsystem. They toured the country in a van, playing live from coast-to-coast — defying expectations, transforming the norms and bringing audiences together. On Imperial Dub Recordings — their self-operated label — Sunshine and Moonbeam released albums like “Equitorial” and “Do it Now” that impassioned dance floors during that decade’s house music boom.
After taking pause from the world of performing and recording in the early 00s, he returned in ’07 with a blazing passion to create — producing new melodies on his laptop that stretched the boundaries of house music with live vocals and live percussion.
Now he’s pushing the limits yet again, and you’re invited to join us on the dancefloor to delight at the innovation of sound and bob your heads to grooves made live for your danciin’ feet.
~Words and Interview by Megan Garard~
We caught up with Sunshine to learn a little more about him, and here’s what he had to say:
You are such creative individual. Not only do you produce music, but you also create visual arts and the written word. Can you give us a glimpse into your creative process and inspirations?
I’ve always been creative. I started drawing and painting as soon as I could hold a pencil. I wrote my first song when I was five. And I never paid any attention in school. The only thing that ever mattered to me was music and art. It was never a choice and it was never encouraged. I had a rich internal life, and I think that learning to let it out was more of a survival mechanism than anything else. I got attention for it, but mostly it was negative attention.
I didn’t learn to really read until much later, and in art school I began to devour the classics. The second book I ever read was Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I read everything. I listened and watched and learned. I’d spent my youth hating everything, and was decidedly against anything and everyone. By the time I was 20 I felt totally alone, and deeply misunderstood. So I began to learn to write, and talk and listen. Jazz had a huge effect on me. Reggae also had a huge effect on me. By the end of the 1980s I was a completely changed person.
I love the truth. I really look and listen to anyone who appears to be telling the truth. I have always admired people who can let their work speak for them. Painters like Alex Kanevsky really blow my mind. Great artists like Brian Eno endlessly delight me with how they see the world, and how they choose to respond. These are really, truly inspirational times, and there is such a glorious feast of music, sound, images and words out there. I feared that the internet would destroy the landscape — and it may yet do that — but for now everything is at our fingertips and the world has grown very close and connected.
For myself, I have always tried to live in real time, and to express whatever it is I have inside of me as faithfully as I can. I always fail. I never get the symphony out the way it feels inside of me, but it seems that the virtue is in the effort — the attempt itself. There are many people who are capable, it seems to me, of producing exquisite results. But I am never happy with results. For me the process itself appears to be my métier.
I’ve read that you were once a punk rocker. I was one once, too. Can you walk us through your transition from punk rocker to the musician you are today?
Punk rock in 1978 was something very different from what passes for punk today. At the outset punk was largely gay, very small and close knit; it was adventurous, creative, political, smart and pushing at the edges of everything. Consider the era of Rush and Journey … literally everyone had huge heads of hair. The pressure was on to say yes, and to be super groovy. Life felt like a bad episode of Love Boat, and I wanted some truth, man. So I cut off my feathered hair with some pinking shears, poured beet juice down my Andy Gibb t-shirt, burned his eyes out with a cigarette, stuck a safety pin in his nose and I was punk. I never looked back.
There’s really something beautiful about finding your people. Walking down the street in a black rubber jacket with a bloody earlobe from the safety pin I had just stick into it — scraping my cowboy boot heels along the sidewalk. People responded as if I were either the scariest thing they’d ever seen, or I connected with them. Getting your look together is a great matriculator. Of course when you’re young you don’t want anyone to pay attention to you, but then again you can’t ever get enough attention, right? So there was definitely some of that, but the instant community that just looking punk brought in the late 70s was amazing. My very first group of friends, my first tribe was punk.
Drugs were a huge part of punk rock for me. Smack took me out. I had a couple of friends who would come along every once in a while and scrape me up off the sidewalk and force me to go dancing with them. It was really the last thing in the world I wanted to do, but we’d go, and it was always fun. Dancing to Grandmaster Flash, and The Sugarhill Gang saved my life. It began to open my mind.
Later, after I kicked [smack] and after I got over myself with the whole Jazz thing, I was onto Ibiza. It was 1989 and people were drumming along to old Paradise Garage B-side instrumentals. I sort of realized that when it all comes together, something really revolutionary happens. Something far more punk than punk. I felt immediately at home, and went with it. I never looked back.
Do you have any words of wisdom for artists beginning their professional journeys?
Artists make art. Writers write. Filmmakers make films. Photographers take photographs. Designers design. Singers sing. Drummers drum. Do your thing and don’t let anything or anyone stop you. Don’t wait for a great camera. The best camera in the world is the one in your hand. Don’t be discouraged when absolutely no one gives a shit. It isn’t for attention, or success or money. It’s about art. And lastly, know yourself … be honest with yourself. The worst enemy I have has proven to be me. When I believe the defeatist garbage in my head, and I do sometimes, I stop … and to stop is to die. I washed my brushes carefully back in 1983 and set them into my painter’s case and went out to meet some friends. I’d finished a tryptic of portraits that had been bothering me for weeks. I had no idea that I wouldn’t paint again for more than 20 years. As an artist, we are full of a kind of love. An obsession with communicating what can not readily or easily be communicated. If we don’t refine that language, and work at it, it starts to come out wrong. For me anyway, that simply must come out. I don’t care if anyone’s watching or listening really. I mean I want to succeed, and take care of myself, and most importantly continue to have the opportunity to produce and perform and create, but I do what I do because I must. That’s first and last for me.Be true to yourself, and try to be kind to others who are also trying. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s time well spent.
What can fans expect from you musically at your show in Tampa?
Two-three hours of Sunshine Jones performing live. I am only playing my own music on this tour. And the theme is home. I’ve been working out a lot of my troubles and torments and attempting to turn them around into love songs. Lots of new music and a few songs from my solo albums, but mostly it’s brand new, and it’s awesome.
I am sure you’ve seen a lot happen in the industry since you got your start – trends come and go, this music’s popularity has waxed and waned (almost cyclically), and technologies have evolved. What are some of most surprising changes y
ou’ve seen since your days with Dubtribe Sound System?
I don’t see this as cyclical. I mean, things come in and out of fashion, people get older, and the landscape shifts and changes. But that’s a really good thing, right? Maybe from a mainstream commercial point of view the attention that electronic music receives — its relative value in the eyes of the masses could potentially be cyclical, but I really don’t see it that way. For me it’s a straight line from where I began, dancing to Kraftwerk in my steel-toe boots to right here today. I am pushing the door to the 21st century. I’m ready for your manifesto, your new phrases, your new rhythms — to meet and mingle with the forgotten past. We are still aching to connect, to speak, to sing, to dance, to fly … and as long as we are aching for that indescribable connection, then I’ll be here cheering you on. It’s what makes life worth living.