Interview conducted by AriesUBG
Some people have a calling that is undeniable. Avery*Sunshine is that force of nature. Yet the former church pianist/musical director, who scored a #1 Billboard chart hit, was at once a reluctant warrior. Bringing people together through her riveting stage performances, candid and often humorous stage banter and optimistic anthems about love and life is what Avery*Sunshine does best. In fact she does it so well, that she has garnered praise from iconic musical figures like The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who raves, “I love Avery*Sunshine!” The Atlanta based singer’s no holds barred signature soul/R&B sound has also made believers of such luminaries as Patti LaBelle, Berry Gordy and Boy George who proclaimed on twitter “@averysunshine love this woman’s voice.”
Avery*Sunshine and her musical partner (now husband) and guitarist Dana “Big Dane” Johnson, have collectively either collaborated and/or toured with everyone from Anthony Hamilton, KEM, Will Downing, Gregory Porter, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Babyface and Roy Ayers to B.B. King, Michael Buble and Jennifer Holliday. They also recently co-headlined the national Nu-Soul Revival tour alongside Musiq Soulchild, Lyfe Jennings and Kindred The Family Soul.
Since the release of Avery*Sunshine’s critically heralded 2015 Shanachie debut The SunRoom, featuring her #1 hit single “Call My Name,” a lot has happened for the humble and dynamic songbird. For one, Aretha Franklin invited Avery*Sunshine to perform for her at her birthday party and then again at Christmas. It has been two years of sold out shows and career milestones that have included opening for Babyface at Madison Square Garden, performing for Smokey Robinson at his Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame tribute being invited to perform by and for The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, (twice in one year) and touring the world: everywhere from many countries in Europe to Asia, Africa, the UK and Australia. Dana was awarded ASCAP’s Rhythm and Soul Song of the Year 2016 for ”Call My Name.” As an artist, Avery was nominated for a Soul Train award and a BET Centric Award.
“Twenty Sixty Four,” Avery*Sunshine’s sophomore album for Shanachie, features organic soulful in-the-pocket grooves, sublime ballads, exquisite arrangements/orchestrations and exuberant life affirming tracks. The vocals shine throughout, the production is tight and the songwriting hits home.
Get acquainted with one of our favorites Avery*Sunshine…
UrbanBridgez.com: First off congrats on the upcoming release of “Twenty Sixty Four.” How excited are you for the release?
Avery*Sunshine: Thank you sweetheart! I am so excited, super excited and I’ll be celebrating in Amsterdam. I won’t even be here in the states for the release. So that’s a good issue if you can call it an issue. I would love to be home doing something, but you know I’m grateful to be able to be on the road.
UrbanBridgez.com: I’ve had the pleasure of getting an advance copy and I have to say, it is a great sounding album. From the sound of the R&B, to the jazz fusion, to your incredible vocals and productions. One of the best albums this year hands down.
Avery*Sunshine: Wow, thank you so much sweetheart I really appreciate that.
UrbanBridgez.com: My favorites are Jump, Heaven is Right Here, Come Do Nothing and the Two Eighty Five (interlude).
Avery*Sunshine: Are you kidding? Wow, and that Two Eighty Five interlude is so old. I can’t even tell you how many years ago I wrote that. It’s just been sitting and I was like you know what, we need to put that on there. We have so many numbers like Twenty Sixty Four, so let’s just throw it on there. I am so happy you like it, thank you!
UrbanBridgez.com: What’s your favorite song from the new album and why?
Avery*Sunshine: The Ice Cream song for sure, because that’s my wedding song. That’s the song where I grabbed my husbands guitar and I don’t play guitar at all. I figured out these four chords and I wrote that song. Look, I had to go to the piano to finish it, because I couldn’t figure out anymore chords (laughs). That’s the one that is closest to my heart they all are but that’s the one. My favorite because it means so much.
(Watch Avery*Sunshine and Dana Johnson performing “The Ice Cream Song” below)
UrbanBridgez.com: What is the main thing you want people to take away from this album after they listen?
Avery*Sunshine: I want them to trust what they feel and I hope that they get that. This album from the subject matters to the performances, it’s all trusting what you feel. With the title track that’s really what it’s all about. Dana and I both had said that we would never get married again. We shook hands on it, we pricked our fingers and put blood on it (laughs). And we got married to each other (laughs). The song is a testament to not say what you will never do. When you do that, you limit what God can do. Not what God will do or even what his ability is to do, but you limit the possibilities in your own life. So we have to learn to trust what we feel and go with that. This album is a realization of an epiphanic moment for us. So I hope that people get that, trust what you feel first.
UrbanBridgez.com: What are your upcoming goals with this project?
Avery*Sunshine: For it to be featured in any movie that comes out, anybody that wants to license it on every show, everything! I want it to completely saturate every market, no (laughs). That is partially true though. I would love for it to be like a Frankie Beverly and Maze album, you don’t even have to put out anymore records and you tour (laughs). But I love what I do and I want to put out more records. There is nothing like putting out some music and people are singing along with it. When you start playing the song on stage and even before you can start singing it they’re singing it or clapping. That’s an incredible feeling. I want to make music that people want to hear and music people want to come and hear me sing.
“The song [Twenty Sixty Four] is a testament to not say what you will never do. When you do that, you limit what God can do. Not what God will do or even what his ability is to do, but you limit the possibilities in your own life.”
UrbanBridgez.com: How do you think growing up in Atlanta prepared you for a career in entertainment?
Avery*Sunshine: It’s interesting because I grew up in Chester, PA right outside of Philly. So that’s partially true because I moved to Atlanta when I was 18. So I was still a baby. I’m a mixture of the East-coast and the south. So I call myself a East-coast Peach. 50% of who I am is Atlanta. It may be a little more than that because I’m almost 42. I use to perform at Apache Café, that is an Atlanta staple, it use to be called the Ying Yang Café. Anybody who was in the industry and especially soul music they came through. I was there and was a student of the Apache, Lil Jon, India.Arie and so many others. That was the heart of soul music. So you’d find me there on a Wednesday night watching and paying attention to what I called, the Apache stars. People that were bigger than life to me blowing it up! I couldn’t believe it and some of my love for entertainment I got there. So I would say Atlanta has played a huge part in my musical development. As well as spiritual with me working at Churches here in Atlanta. I worked at 3 or 4 Churches and one almost 20 years. The most recent that I had to take a leave from was the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. The touring became so rigorous I couldn’t even get back to Church. There would be times where we would drive in to town from a gig. Drive straight to the Church parking lot, change clothes in the car at 5 or 6 in the morning. I think we would go in the Church to brush our teeth (laughs). But go in do Church service (two) and then go home. Then I said look I can’t keep doing this to myself, it was killing me.
UrbanBridgez.com: How has marriage been treating you and Big Dane?
Avery*Sunshine: It is…I know this sounds so corny but it is so beautiful. We are creating our marriage, we decide what it looks like. And we’re not letting anybody else decide that for us. Not our children, our family members or anyone. All of the things to follow they say to have a great marriage, none of that. We’re deciding and it is absolutely one of the most gratifying beautiful things in my life. Something I’ve been telling people is I use to think in order for a man to show his love for me he would buy my gifts, candy and send me notes all of the time. Tell me how beautiful I am all of the time and blah, blah, blah. And Dana does those things, but they don’t mean the same like when he does something like…Our title track Twenty Sixty Four Dana said listen, before we get it mixed and mastered I want you to hear what I did with it. He actually took an excerpt from a video of our wedding and he put it at the end of the song. So when you get a chance, listen to it again and at the end there is some talking. He took an excerpt from the sand ceremony that we did at our wedding. He and our children all had different color sand, and we all poured the sand into a vase. Each time we would pour the sand, we would say a word. Our family the village around us would repeat the word, our youngest boy said loyalty. Then everybody says loyalty and we all did that. So he put that on the album and I couldn’t believe it. I thought the stuff that would make me feel loved and what everybody else says should make me feel loved. This is the thing that far exceeds all of that. This is what means something. I want to educate my children, I want to educate my sisters and brothers who are looking for love. They keep missing it because they’re deciding what it should look like. And not allowing the love to tell them, this is what I am and this is what I look like. Instead of I need my love to look like this.
UrbanBridgez.com: You’re so right!
Avery*Sunshine: Because that’s what we do, I need him to be this tall, I need him to drive this, he needs to talk like this, he needs to say these things to me. Then when you get love, you’re asking why does it not feel right? Why don’t I like this person? So you know.
UrbanBridgez.com: Oh yeah, I love black love and y’all are an inspiration.
Avery*Sunshine: It is real and it exist. Thank you so much baby and I’m going to talk about it as much as I can.
UrbanBridgez.com: Anything else you would like to leave with your fans?
Avery*Sunshine: Keep shining, no matter what! Find the silver lining in every situation. In every situation! I thank my Sunshine supporters for choosing to support me and what I do. Also my fellow musicians and artists. Because we need each other. I feel like Hezekiah Walker, I need you to survive. We really do need each other to survive, bottom line. We absolutely do!