If you are not familiar with multi-layered independent artist and band “Sonnyboy,” which is comprised of lead singer and guitarist, Shell “Riser,” Eric Wilson on keyboard, Mark Bass on bass guitar and Ron Fleming on drums, now comes your chance to get to know Sonnyboy. Their talents have taken them all over the world and whose passion for music has managed to keep them alive long enough over the years to hone their skills to perfect a great, energetic sound of lyrical bliss that has appeal to different listeners and fans.
Five self-financed, independent albums under their belts, Sonnyboy has been able to give to their audience a fine repertoire of musical aspirations that they can delight on. Their new album, “The Barfly Theory,” released earlier in October 2010, brings to the ears a combination of talent, influence, expertise and creative expression. Singersroom sat down with this modern day musical genius and alternative soul poet to find out how they manage to combine their love of soul, funk, R&B and rock that seem to deliver to their fans emotions, joy and passion as well as everything else in between.
Singersroom: Tell us about Sonnyboy?
Sonnyboy: Started in 1995, I was originally just a keyboard playerâ¦ what happened was, I was recording the music and then I [took it] over to Maurice Hays, who is now Prince’s keyboard player and I had him listen to whatever I recorded. He said, he didn’t like the many vocals that I had, so what he would do, he be like why don’t you sing the material? I don’t wanna be a singer you kidding meâ¦ He was like man, I don’t like the other singers, I love the music but I don’t like the singers. So anyway I went, started after the band kind of dismembered and I decided to move to New York. I started doing shows â¦ so the first few shows ,I was like man, can’t believe I am doing this, kept doing it, kept doing, started working, started really working and I was like, you know, it feels weird to be upfront and not playing that instrument. I didn’t want to do the Alicia key’s thing and sit behind that piano, so I started playing guitar which kind of morphed into what it is â¦ small band, big sounds.
Singersroom: When did you start playing music?
Sonnyboy: I started playing drums in church and I really like playing drums. Then I had this organ that was in my room so I be playing it and my uncle noticed that I could playâ¦ so he wound up teaching me how to playâ¦ so when everybody else [was]outside playing , I[ was]in the church playing an organ. So anyway I got stuck doing that and I realized that I just kind of like it. It felt good that it made me feel good. So once I realized that music did that, it was just like, yeah I like this. Then of course as you get older the technical stuff starts kicking in, you wanna know why this cord works with that cord and â¦ all that kind of stuffâ¦
Singersroom: Let’s talk about your album “The Barefly Theory?”
Sonnyboy: â¦Well a friend of mine was in a bar, we were sitting around talking and actually she was interviewing me about something else and so she asked me about all the clubs I played in and I started naming the bars, clubs and she was like, you were in Indonesia ? Hell you doing in Indonesiaâ¦? So I started naming all the clubs I played in Eastern Europe and she was like all of these clubs and people seeing you all over the world, you don’t have a major record deal, anything, so it just like this big barefly theory,â¦so it just stuck with me all the timeâ¦so that’s one of the concept. And the other concept is that you know, you play in these bars and all of the songs that we re-rearranged put us out [so] just people in general, general conversation.
Singersroom: Do you dream of being signed one day by a major label?
Sonnyboy: The thing about that is that when you do business with people and that’s what a record deal is, you doing business. You have to be in a position to do fair business otherwise it ain’t gonna be fair business. So it’s me asking someone to help me when you know I am a firm believer of help yourself first so then you can walk in the door and do business with people. Because you can’t do business until you’re in that level of doing [it] otherwise somebody is giving you something and people don’t give you much these days.
Singersroom: Do you defined yourself as being successful on your own or not?
Sonnyboy: I have done successful things; I think that it was a big task of being able to tour across Europe by myself without an agent or a record label behind me. Running my label, making sure that the musicians have hotels and they’re comfortable. I feel that having a fan base over there or creating a fan base over there I have been successful doing that. I would like a bigger fan base but you know â¦I just look at things in a whole different way than just saying success [which is] kind of a play on word.
Singersroom: Can we talk about your last four albums?
Sonnyboy: well the first album, “Afro Soul” was an album that I sang and produced and I sang on maybe three or four songs but that was my first experience. I didn’t know, you know, I was like ok. I am just gonna jump in and do this and then see if it works and it was just a growing experience. The second album, “love Child” I kind of went in with the band, recorded half the album and then it was an experimental album because it was a bit R&B, it was a bit rock. He was me actually just trying to find who I was gonna be and what I liked. I think the next album; “Urban Misfit” was kind of me after I went through this big battery love you have to find what you do more. I started kind of pushing myself towards the R&B thing â¦ and that was my first experience in dealing with media and dealing with people trying to pigeon hole me into these areas , where we as people of color we should be doing this and that’s it [and] If you doing anything else you don’t exist. That was an album that I think, I kind of say there was good things [and] things that I kind of regretted it about [it]. After that was “Psycho Delic Ghetto Vibe” which was the album I think after “Urban Misfit” that I just said, you know what, forget it, I am just gonna do what I wanna do and I am gonna try a lot of things â¦.so I went in and recorded that album and I think that I didn’t give that album the thought process that I should have been given to an album if I wanted to. It’s not necessary about marketing an album; it’s the thought process of what would I want to say to you and how do I want to say itâ¦so I think now with “Barefly Theory” it is the common album that I now understand, who I wanna be, what I wanna say, how I am gonna say it and I think I am at that market point, you say, this is who you are, this is what you do, this is your art, this is how you paint your paintings.
Singersroom: How would you describe your music?
Sonnyboy: I call it alternative soul and the reason why I say alternative soul is because if you say soul is has to be very heavenly vocal. I am a vocalist who likes the vocalist that could sing without back up vocalists meaning, needing them, helping themâ¦ To me it’s easy to hide behind a team of back up vocalists but how many artists we know can get up to a whole hour to two hour set with them just standing behind the micâ¦ ? That’s me, I like doing that and to me that’s the type of vocalist I wanna be not that I won’t use back up vocalists but I like good solid energetic vocalists.
Singersroom: What motivates you beside music?
Sonnyboy: Well my responsibility, to who I am as a black man, motivates me very much. My responsibility to my parents â¦and really leaving something behind that people can build from. All of us sitting around with accomplishments â¦based on people who paved the way for meâ¦
Singersroom: The lead single, “Time Clock of the Heart” was originally recorded by Culture Club, so why did you choose that song?
Sonnyboy: We were sitting in the studio and one of my good friends Bob Davis kept pounding me, man you gotta do a remake, you gotta do a remake. So I said what remake will I do that would make me, you know not seem like I am trying to be this artist, that artist â¦ you know some artists will do a Marvin Gaye song cuz they want you to see them in the Marvin Gaye [world] but I don’t like that because I don’t want to be put in these sphere. I want to be able, I like where Sly was, I like where Burt is, I like where Erykah is, they can do these thingsâ¦ I think they were a time when people were actually listening to each other; I think it was in the80’s that people kind of feeling like they needed to start listening to each otherâ¦you had artists that made all of us seems like we could get along and we could actually achieve things together. So I said if am I gonna do a remake, I am gonna do a remake with a song that actually convey that emotion. “Time” was a song that my mother Southern black woman sang and love. Black people like me I don’t care who you are, you love that song. So I said, ok you know what and my bass player Mark, he said man yeah that’s a great song. Then I listen to it a couple of times then I said you know what next studio sessions we will, give me about a week and we will record it and we gonna go ahead and put it on the album. But the first version of it I said I am not gonna make this, I don’t wanna it to be R&Bâ¦ and then I recorded the songâ¦.
Singersroom: What can we expect from “The Barefly Theory?”
Sonnyboy: They can expect a good wide diversity of music within the same artistâ¦they should expect hearing who I am, not who somebody else is. They should expect to get to know who Sonnyboy is through the kind of music that I do and that’s a big difference. You not gonna get on there and hear a non Jay-Z, you not gonna hear fragments of this artist or that, you gonna hear who I am.
—— By: Interview By Valerie Varasse