Music Bugle Exclusive – Q & A – Sunshine Riot

Artwork for ‘Electrical Tape.’ Courtesy of publi*sist.

By Nicholas Jason Lopez

Sometimes, you have more fun on the way to your destination than at the destination itself.

Already highlighted for the gritty singles “Fast Train,” “Too Old For Love Songs” and “Greyhound,” veteran Boston alt-rock outfit Sunshine Riot focus on the journey on their latest EP ‘Electrical Tape,’ which was recorded with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio in Chicago.

Sunshine Riot are singer/guitarist Jonny Orton, drummer/percussionist Steven Shepherd, guitarist Mark Tetrault and bassist Jeff Sullivan.

The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with Orton/Sullivan about ‘Electrical Tape’ and more.

Music Bugle – How did you guys decide the band name? 

Jonny Orton – I think we genuinely don’t recall. It’s actually a subject of some debate in the band. I guess we were about 19 when that name came around. 15 years later, we’re not really sure where it came from.

Jeff Sullivan – No one had the domain name, which in 2008, was a big deal. Also, we thought it sounded like a cool metaphor for a hangover. 

Music Bugle – What directly inspired “Greyhound”? 

Jonny Orton – Well, I think these things always start with the music. In this case, I had a basic verse riff, which the rest of the band quickly helped find a chorus/pre-chorus/bridge for. Lyrically, the song is inspired largely by a line from a Simone Felice song. I don’t recall the name of the song, but he has a great phrase, “In walked the guests in their animal masks.” It conjured up all kinds of images for me… some kind of Kubrik-ian “Eyes Wide Shut” motif and it seemed like there was a song somewhere in that imagery.

Music Bugle – How would you describe Boston to someone who has never been there before? 

Jonny Orton – Hmmm, that’s an awesome question. Maybe like an antique shop? Small, cluttered, as likely to be freezing as it is to be hot and stuffed with – overpriced – character.

Jeff Sullivan – You know how cities are usually built by people with the idea of getting passengers and cargo from one place to another in an efficient manner? Yeah, cows don’t do that, but it makes for unique adventures if you’re willing to explore, especially if you look for live shows.

Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music? 

Jonny Orton – I guess, for better or worse, we seem to write across a mess of genres. I think what excites us, really, is the process of writing. You’re sort of always chasing the next song.

Jeff Sullivan – It’s that I never know what we’re going to work on next. A lot of bands I hear fall into doing the same thing over and over again. Like, the joke is that the Ramones or AC/DC didn’t write 300 songs, they wrote the same song 300 times. I don’t feel we do that too often and when something is new, yeah, it sounds like us because it is us, but I don’t feel like we’ve at least done it before.

Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your EP ‘Electrical Tape’? 

Jonny Orton – It was a burning hot weekend in Chicago and a pretty tough moment in time for America and the world, but cutting the record felt great. We had just cancelled a tour a few months earlier and it felt really good to be doing something together as a band. Like, we were keeping our heads above water and continuing to be productive. We needed that.

Jeff Sullivan – Kind of accidental. We originally wanted to record three songs in Chicago and since there was a limited time with no click track or the safety net of digital fixes to fall back on – which I’m proud to say we don’t usually do, but the idea of a safety net is reassuring – we didn’t know exactly what we’d be able to accomplish, but the choices we ended up making I feel created a well-rounded EP.

Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians? 

Jonny Orton – I suppose it’s great, though. I’m not sure we’ve ever been that good at it. There is this strange thing that seems to have happened though. I think particularly for mid-market bands, there is an obsession with creating content for social media, sort of for content’s sake. Sometimes, it feels like everyone is standing naked and alone in front of a cave, yelling meekly into the ether and finding some short satisfaction in the returning echo, but hey, it’s all just a canvas and that’s great.

Jeff Sullivan – One thing I’ve noticed is that nostalgia definitely takes precedence over new experiences for music, so reaching new listeners is a challenge just by the way the human brain and our education system works. We’ve been taught at school to feel good about remembering things we were taught and that has spilled over to social media. We don’t seek out new experiences so much anymore because there’s an inherent risk that they might not be enjoyable and so we bank on things we remember enjoying, but remembering how you enjoyed something and enjoying something are two very different things.

Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Jeff Sullivan – I imbibe a lot more marijuana.

Jonny Orton – Well, we are all awfully lucky to be healthy and not have gotten sick or died. We haven’t been able to play shows, but that seems like a silly complaint compared to how so many folks have been impacted by it. It’s been a great chance to write, so we’ve done the best we can to do that.

Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise? 

Jonny Orton – Lucero, Deer Tick, If We Go At All, Stone Roses, California Raisins, Catfish And The Bottlemen.

Jeff Sullivan – This insane college radio station based out of Boston College — 90.3 WZBC — and not just because they play us, the music is absolutely bonkers and usually not something I’ve heard before. I can’t stand stations that play the same 40 fuckin’ songs. Also, South African house saxophone band Ehrling and lo-fi instrumental.

Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need an escape? 

Jonny Orton – Chili’s — always and forever.

Jeff Sullivan – Kaer Morhen or Qo’noS.

Music Bugle – What’s something that today’s music industry needs more of?

Jeff Sullivan – I feel after the collapse of the music sales industry due to the internet and streaming, nobody seems to be willing to take any risks on new acts. Fuck, I saw a teenager the other day with a goddamn AC/DC shirt. People aren’t going to think there’s anything else out there if all the media is talking about is the same damn bands from the ‘70s.

Jonny Orton – If I’m honest, I’m not sure the music industry still exists – and I sure wish it did still exist, but to the extent it does, there is always a lot of lamenting over its current state, etc.. In earnest, I think there are so many great bands making great songs, independently or on-label and I think that’s awesome. Art finds a way.

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