Sunshine Jones Interview Pt 1: Shining a Light on the Live Ground Tour

Corral your funkiest friends, fill up your tank and prepare to hit the road. On June 26 Infiltr8:Celebr8 is chasing the Sunshine — Sunshine Jones that is — in Tampa, and this one’s extra special.

We’ve teamed up again with our compadres at Serious Soul. They’ve hosted quality dance music events in Florida since 1994, building on the raw inspiration from epic nights spent in Gainesville at Simons in the early 90s. This time were bringing you an unforgettable musical journey at The Castle where Sunshine Jones will be our guide — treating us to the innovative sounds and sights of his current tour.
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Brought about from calamity (more on that later from Sunshine himself), his Live Ground Tour is composed of three parts: A live performance where Sunshine plays on a collection of hardware, including drum machines, synthesizers, modular patches and sequencers. A live DJ set. And a seminar, that includes a demo of his rig and an open dialogue about music, technique and inspirations — occurring separately from his performance at The Castle.

This really is no ordinary dance music experience; as such we’re not throwing this shindig in an ordinary venue. The Castle in Ybor City is filled with history and cloaked in lore. Built in the 1800s, it was once Vincent Marinez-Ybor’s cigar manufacturing plant set amongst a thriving small town that met its demise during The Great Depression. After remaining closed for several decades, The Castle was restored in 1992 and opened as raucously alluring nightclub. Once the partygoers and club kids filled its dancefloor — ready for revelry — reports of ghost sightings began to float among them. No tales of the super natural circulated more than that of the Vampire Rex — drawing fans of gothic legends hoping to grasp a hint of his mysterious presence. No one has seen Vampire Rex enter or leave The Castle, yet several have claimed to have seen him and a select few have spoken with him.

But before we crank up our engines and head out in search of groovy-yet-innovative sounds, a steamy dancefloor and super natural sightings, you’re going to want to read on as Sunshine Jones tells you — in his own words — more about his three-part Live Ground Tour, its soul-clenching inspiration and his unique gear curation process. – words by and interview by Megan Garard


Take it away, Sunshine …

About a year and a half ago I was leaving town. I packed up the car and was headed to Death Valley to finish vocals on my new solo album. I had all my gear in the car, my entire music collection (which had been digitized carefully, one record at a time, and then the vinyl given away) and the pre-production for the new Dubtribe album — as well as a handful of art projects, design sources and most everything valuable to me. It was all packed for travel — discretely tucked under the back seat — and ready for a road trip.
I stopped off at the bank on my way out of town to deposit a very small royalty check, just to be absolutely sure everything was good for a few weeks away. As you know, in most cities these days the “bank” isn’t a bank — it’s a kiosk in a grocery store. So I pulled into a good, well-lit spot at Safeway, went inside for nine minutes and deposited the check.

In the nine minutes I was away from the car, someone smashed the rear window and stole my entire life. It was gone. The police showed up slower than a handful of my friends. When they did, they couldn’t help and didn’t turn anything up. Everything was gone.

Naturally, I was devastated. The kind of devastated that makes you reconsider most everything. Such grief. But in the center of that grief 13336099_10153440808875793_4846119217815416807_nI said to myself, “Nothing can be this bad. There has to be some good that will come from this.” At that moment, I honestly had no idea what it could be. Friends rallied and raised a little money, and that was one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me.

But with the money in hand, about to replace my laptop, I had to ask myself why … What am I doing? I reflected on the world around us. We are chronically and helplessly addicted to our little screens — alone together all the time, and yet no one is really any happier than they were before all this distraction came along. Was I happy? What did I want? Where would I like to go?

In that moment, I realized that I was totally free. So I asked myself, “Sunshine, honey, when were you last most productive and happy?” The answer was immediate: When I was playing completely live, using hardware synthesizers. I laughed and rolled my eyes, but really … I’d just lost EVERYTHING. So why not rebuild in a way that inspires me and makes me happy?

I set about browsing what’s being made, the prices of vintage gear and how to assemble a simple live situation that would delight me, come everywhere I go and make the crowd move. I assembled some pieces, and found I was sort of going backward. So I started the old buy things and then sell things, and buy different things. Then I set a few rules: 1. It has to fit in the box. 2. It has to come with me — if it isn’t coming with me, it can’t stay. 3. It has to be tactile and work well in the dark. With those rules in mind, I developed a rig that really turned me on.

From there, I stumbled into my debut art show. Originally, I was going to play a live set at the San Francisco Design Center for a friend who wanted me to print and hang my collage and photography on their walls. But that went south, and at the last minute Olivia Ongpin of Luna Rienne Gallery (formerly Fabric 8) in San Francisco invited me to show my work and host my event there. She also invited Mark Farnia to show his work. So we both had our debut gallery exhibition together, and — thanks to the mighty Buckner — I played my first live set in a decade at that very art opening. It was amazing.

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Eventually I made that drive through Death Valley to Santa Fe. On my way home, it occurred to me that I really love to travel. The ideas of cities and “home” have been weighing so heavily on my mind so much over the last few years as I watch literally everything I value about living in San Francisco — and even living in a city — simply hemorrhage and evaporate. It’s been a very difficult half decade. People are being displaced. Landmarks are being destroyed or burned down, and replaced with horrible buildings — for the immediate use of people who won’t be here in three years when this “bubble” is finally acknowledged as the recession it is. People are waiting for months for a U-Haul to get out of the city and go back where they came from, because there’s no work, no money and they can’t be upside down in their $2 million mortgage (for a two bedroom condo) in a city they don’t even like anymore. It’s felt like warfare, and the resistance has more or less lost. So the question of home — and the importance of it — has been the one thing that grabs my attention, and holds it. On the road I felt that maybe I was home. I decided in the car, and said it out loud, that when I got home I was going to announce a tour, and book it, and go. And I did.

I am performing live because that’s what I seem to have been born to do. It’s what I love, and it’s also a huge piece of how I prepare music for recording. The music evolves and grows as I experience it over the course of 40-50 shows. By the time I get home in August, I will be ready to record it — finishing this album of work, and start writing new ideas for the next tour.

I am DJ’ing as well on this tour because I am also a DJ. And I felt that since I was arriving somewhere on the ground, that I would be able to stick around and hang out. Usually when you fly in and fly out, there’s time for a chill in the hotel, but really I’m there for the gig and that’s it. This [tour] is amazing — I arrive a day before, hang out, relax, host a seminar, meet the community’s electronic musicians and see the local modular boutique. Then I mix some records with friends and we dance, and then I play a live set — it’s really blown my expectations away. I really didn’t know what to expect, but this has far exceeded whatever I was thinking before I left.

And finally, the seminar is something I’ve always done. But because of the new look at live performance, improvisational sequencing, arrangement and execution of these patterns and rhythms, I felt it was time to open myself up to hopefully inspire people to finally grab sequencers and synthesizers and start making music for themselves. These have proven to be such meaningful get-togethers. I’ve loved every single one of them. Each one is different, and I always come away totally connected and inspired.

So that’s the three part experience, and how I got from wherever I was to where I am now.

Check back soon, Part 2 of our interview with Sunshine Jones will be published soon.


Sunshine Jones

Serious Soul