BRISTOL HERALD COURIER (Bristol, TN)
Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2015 9:45 am | Updated: 8:21 pm, Thu May 21, 2015.
Imagine Pink Floyd as hillbillies.
So it goes with psychebilly band Sunshine Station. The far-out and dead-on Townsend, Tennessee-based band will embark upon Abingdon’s Wolf Hills Brewing Co. on May 23.
Formed in 2011 amid a bout of whiskey and cigarettes, Sunshine Station has since flourished into a serious band of musicians. Foot-stomping reverie entwines with psychedelic doses of unplugged folk. One eye embraces Appalachia and the other casts a gaze upon mind-expanding flower power approaches of years gone by.
THE MODERN FOLK MUSIC OF AMERICA BLOG // SUNSHINE STATION
April 30, 2015
sunshine station is a tennesee folk band that centers its sound around two guitars, hand drums, mandolin and bass. their songs are uptempo and carry strong hippy vibrations. this is definitely barefoot, skirt-hitchin’ dirt floor jig dancin’ music. i could see moonshine being involved in this hootenanny, but also that other illicit product that tennesee moonshiners turned to when illegal booze became less profitable: weed.
vocal duties alternate between a male and a female vocalist which adds a lot of variety to the feel of the songs across their self titled debut. many of the tunes edge into eastern inflected raga-esque territory, recalling the way certain acoustic folk bands of the 60’s fused this sound into their trippy folk tunes.
DAILY TIMES (MARYVILLE, TN)
LET THE SUNSHINE (STATION) IN:
Blount band’s Townsend roots give birth to new album and opportunities
Posted: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 7:15 pm | Updated: 8:07 pm, Wed Apr 1, 2015.
By Steve Wildsmith | firstname.lastname@example.org | 0 comments
Born of impromptu gatherings on the banks of the Little River, Sunshine Station began as a tribal celebration of friendship and music.
As the water rushed clear and cold over sculpted river stones and the mountains nearby shimmered green in the lasts pale light of the west, Jen Parker, Zack Younger and Ross Shapton, along with other official and unofficial members of the band, would bring out the drums, light the torches and lift up their voices in song. The beats were often primal, the music wild and carefree, drawing as much from the natural beauty surrounding them as from the creative places within them all.
As time passed, the group coalesced into a proper musical entity, shedding some of its impromptu trappings but maintaining the wild-and-free vibe of its origins. The musicians faced their biggest challenge, however, in putting together their self-titled debut album, which will be celebrated with a release show on Saturday night at Bluetick Brewery in Maryville.
How, they wondered, could they bottle up the free-spirited and improvisational nature of those early jams and reproduce it in a studio environment?
“It’s very hard to do, to take an open jam and all that energy flowing from all the people in the audience and then go back and try to replicate what you did before,” Shapton told The Daily Times recently. “You can never do it the same way, because it’s happening at that exact moment in time. That’s one reason why we’ve always recorded what we do, from the beginning, because when you’re jamming and you get to that level of energy where you don’t have to look at another person because you know what they’re going to do next, you can’t recreate that very easily. You have to go back and learn that moment.”
During the making of “Sunshine Station,” however, the band discovered a curious thing: Their lack of experience as “professional” musicians — meaning those who have the album-making process down to a science, know the ins and outs of a studio and release new records every couple of years like clockwork — opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Some of that credit goes to Eric Nowinski, the owner of Rock Snob Recording Complex where the album was made and the unofficial producer of the album.
“He was a huge help to us; he would sit there and tell us, ‘As an objective listener, I want to hear this,’” Shapton said. “That changed the way we played a little bit sometimes, and it made the energy come out on the record even more.”
Most of the credit, however, goes to the band members themselves — Parker, Younger, Shapton, vocalist/guitarist Tim Massey and percussionist Steve Cowie. They were determined to preserve the heart of those formative jams by the water, and in so doing, they brought Sunshine Station — the music, the community, the countryside, the beautiful wildness of youth — down from the mountain and into the studio with them.
“That’s a huge part of it, the collaboration with the audience and the band,” Parker said. “Some people, they still bring hand drums to our show, and when we play certain songs, they’ll play along. There isn’t a separation between us and the audience. We’re creating a movement together, and I don’t feel like a performer on stage as much as I am part of this communal activity.”
In that sense, Sunshine Station bears more of a resemblance to similar ensembles like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros than it does the traditional rock bands. It’s been that way since the beginning, when those impromptu jams began to spread via word of mouth, and anyone with an artistic bent started showing up on Thursday nights to take part. Back then, Sunshine Station started out as a folk orchestra with interchanging members before settling into the six-piece configuration it is today. As those early jams evolved into a more serious musical project, the members began seeking outlets outside of that house by the river at which to play.
The band got its start playing places like Vienna Coffeehouse, and for Valentine’s Day 2012, Sunshine Station made its debut at the late, lamented Brackins Blues Club. As members left, other members replaced them. Cowie discovered the group through Knoxville percussion circles that grew to claim Sunshine Station as music made by like-minded souls, and when they asked him to join, he didn’t hesitate.
“Back then, there was a little bit of overlap with the drum circle scene,” Cowie said. “It’s pretty much died out now, but back then, there would be 40-something drummers booming down in Krutch Park (in downtown Knoxville) with fire artists and everything, and some people were going from that to the Townsend jam. Then there was a drum circle at The Birdhouse, and some of the Townsend musicians started coming to that. That’s where I met Tim, and I was actually a fan of the band before they asked me to join. I really liked the variety of the setlists and the unpredictability. They were playing all of these different genres and not locking themselves into one thing.”
The genesis of the new album dates back a couple of years, when the band decided to record an EP of four to five songs as a promotional tool. The creative sluice gates wouldn’t close, however, and by the time they assembled in Shapton’s home studio to record the rough tracks, they had enough for a full-length. The challenge, they said, was in arranging it in such a way that the disparate songs flowed together with the same sense of ease that they did at the jams up on the mountain.
“It’s definitely a bit of an eclectic mess, but a beautiful eclectic mess,” Parker said. “We were spazzing for a while about the order of the songs. I don’t think we went in with the idea to make them coalesce; the music we create together is sort of in this seamless, stream-of-consciousness style, so in the end we worried about how they would fit later on.”
“A lot of the songs are very weird and strange,” Shapton added. “It got to the point where we would write a song and then ask, ‘How’re we going to out-do ourselves? How are we going to make the next song just as weird?’”
For help, they turned to the field recordings of the early days. The album’s opener, “Keep Away,” was inspired by the use of a melodica that Parker insisted be resurrected for the recording process; “Dirty Laundry” is, at its core, a 12-bar blues number that’s also one of the band’s earliest songs. It’s a greasy, ramshackle juke joint foot-stomper that’s tailor-made for hippie-ish swaying, and it transitions into the Eastern European Gypsy-folk flair of “Hypocrite,” which itself becomes “Siddhartha,” a Middle Eastern-tinged number that conjures up images of desert sands and swaying cobras rising up from reed baskets. There’s also “Celtic Parting,” a crowd favorite that often includes an impromptu fan-driven drum circle when it’s played live, and “Skunk Puppet,” one of the hardest songs to nail down, Shapton said.
“That song has almost five different beats-per-minute throughout the song, and to be able to lock everybody into those beats in all those sessions, I spent weeks doing that,” he said. “It was the first song we recorded with Eric because he knew it was the best, and then he started adding all this weirdness to it. It’s one of our favorites, but it’s definitely weird.”
The weirdness, however, is intentional. Shapton was fond of telling his bandmates when it came time to roll tape that the end result was “only forever,” meaning that once it was committed, it would be a collection of songs they’d play for their grandchildren one day. That encouraged everyone to give it their all, but it also served to highlight the importance of putting Sunshine Station on the map of the East Tennessee music scene. Not that Sunshine Station is an unknown outside of Blount County, but with a professional-sounding album and a commitment to bringing the musical wildness down from the mountain and to the masses, there are opportunities to be capitalized on, the band members said.
“That whole Townsend thing, some of our musical influences came from the people who came to our jam, and we’d feed off that energy,” Massey said. “In some ways, it’s like two worlds colliding.”
“As we’re starting to transition into playing Knoxville — which is a different culture and beast — it’ll make me sad if we lose that element of what made the jams so special,” Parker said. “Some of our future shows won’t be in Maryville with our core fans because we want to branch out, but maybe we can change it a little and stir it up and get those hipsters dancing.”
NEWS SENTINEL (KNOXVILLE, TN)
Sunshine Station is laying down fresh tracks for new fans
Sunshine Station is finally ready to pull out of the gate. While the band has a strong following in Maryville, it’s only recently laid down tracks to gather fans in Knoxville.
The band started four years ago from a friendly and open jam session at a private home in Townsend.
“This woman owned it and was a horseback rider and had about 20 dogs and I don’t even know how many cats,” says Sunshine vocalist Jen Parker. “We would meet on Thursdays and there would be a lot of hand drumming, a lot of dancing, and the usual nefarious hippie dippy stuff …”
At first, says Parker, it was nothing more than a jam session. Among the regular instrumentalists were guitarists Tim Massey and Zack Younger, bassist Ross Shapton, mandolinist Sean O’Connell and hand drummer Chris Lovoy. Parker sang.
“Then we started forming into more a band and changing some of the (cover) songs with originals and after a while we actually started meeting for practice.”
Sunshine Station took the name of the road where the musicians met and began playing wild, free-wheeling shows in Maryville, often at the now defunct downtown Maryville club Brackins.
“Originally, there were nine if not 10 of us,” says Parker. “There was another singer, another guitarist, a banjo player and occasionally an accordion player … I think a lot of it was we wanted to keep that autonomous spirit, that collective feel of ‘We’re all in this together.’ It’s a wonderful idea, but it interfered with structure and making something cohesive. It was enthusiastic, but it wasn’t polished. We had the ‘anybody-could-come’ attitude, so the quality varied quite a bit.”
Lovoy and some friends split off and formed the band, Shady Banks, and Steve Cowie replaced Lovoy on percussion.
“We’re still very amiable, but I think he wanted to be a little more mountainy, bluegrassy,” says Parker. “He had a very specific vision.”
She says it was the 2012 Tennessee Winter Beer Fest performance when the band really felt like a legitimate group.
The group has now whittled down to five members. O’Connell quit due to family obligations and the second vocalist, Kristina Mynatt, dropped out around the same time.
“The ones that are left over have been very committed and focused,” says Parker. “We’ve kept that element of the jam, but we’re more on the professional end.”
She says most of the band’s best songs still come from jamming together.
“We’ll have Sunday dinners, pig out on barbecue and then play music. It’s usually from that environment that we’ll come up with some really cool riff or song. Then we’ll go back and work on it in the practice room.”
Parker then tries to figure out what the musicians are trying to say and adds lyrics.
She says Sunshine Station remained proudly unclassifiable.
“We branch into so many different genres,” says Parker. “There’s definitely a cohesion to our sound, but it can range into blues and Eastern, bluegrass and Tool and all sorts of strange elements.”
Parker calls one song on the group’s new album a sort of “freak circus.”
Although the group has performed in Knoxville a few times, Parker says the group is looking forward to making deeper inroads into the Knoxville music scene.
“Knoxville is more critical,” says Parker. “They stand and watch more. We’ll see if we pass the Knoxville litmus test!”
But don’t expect the hippie dancing and exuberance to disappear from the act.
“We still have the spirit going. We still scream out ‘Happy Thursday’ at every major show we do. So an element of the jam is definitely still around.”