SUNSET BLACK – interview by james wright
Let’s face the harsh truth here, 2002 was a horrible year for heavy music. With the exception of a few rare gems, the marketplace was flooded with carbon copies of bands we have all seen and heard before. Labels quickly signed whatever sounded popular and just threw it out onto the market. The reality of the music business is that the marketplace no longer supports artists in an attempt to have them develop and evolve over time. This is a business and if a band doesn’t produce a hit record that generates revenue, they will quickly be dropped.
One of the rare gems, for me, was a band called Sunset Black. Their sound is Melodic, aggressive and beautiful in their delivery and execution. This is what music should be; captivating and driven by passion. A desire to create is what brought these four individuals together back in 1998 in Kansas, MO. From there the band played locally, opening for the likes of Staind, System of a Down, Nickelback and even radio friendly rockers Fuel.
This is a band that has given up everything to get to where they are today, everything except music. “We all graduated from high school and we all kind of wanted to get away from home like any kids at the age of 18 years old right? Some of the guys wanted to attended a music school in Minnesota so the four of us packed up and moved to Minneapolis. The guys went to school while I just worked and tried to make this band work. I had a lot of temp jobs and I did a lot of couch surfing. At one point I was actually paying $100 a month to live in somebody’s walk-in closet. It was the most growing I’d ever done as a person. We were playing three or four shows a week. We became each other’s best friends,” recounts vocalist Brandon Sammons.
The Minnesota scene proved to be just what the band needed and Sunset Black were embraced with open arms. Sammons is quick to credit the scene that has been so good to them, “We just started playing out in this scene when we got up here and at that time there was a lot of Rap/Metal but now it’s like the opposite of that and there are so many great melodic bands up here it’s insane! Minnesota is a goldmine and I’m just waiting to see which labels take notice of that. Here in Minnesota the local bands draw bigger crowds than the national acts! This scene was totally great for us to get noticed as we played with other bands and gained their fans. Minnesota is just a big open community of music, which is great. Moving there was probably the best move we ever made.”
The band’s big break came when they played a radio festival alongside Nonpoint. “We played this big festival show in front of 35,000 people and Nonpoint was on after us. Nonpoint saw our set and afterwards asked us for some demos. Every time they would come to town they would hang out with us and we’d always give them more demos,” Sammons recalls. The demos are what Nonpoint passed along to the demo hands their manager/producer, former Saigon Kick guitarist Jason Bieler. Sammons recounts “Elias from Nonpoint called us up and said, ‘I’m flying some people out to see you guys play. Jason is our manager and he has a label through MCA Records and I’m not promising anything but this is what’s going on.”
The Bieler Bros. flew out to catch the band perform and weeks later signed Sunset Black as the second act to Bieler Bros. Records. Sammons is quick to add the reason behind signing with the Bieler Bros., “We had other things in the pipes with other labels but this just felt right. They were all super cool and they came out just to hang out with us. They didn’t try and force-feed us things about us being stars or having lots of money but rather they came out to get a feel for the band and see what we wanted from a label. This is our dream and we don’t want anyone stepping in and telling us what to do. We have that with the Bieler Bros. And they give us the attention we need.”
The Bieler Bros. should be able to provide Sunset Black with more than just a home. Jason Bieler himself has seen both the good and bad aspects of the music industry when he recorded and toured as a member of Saigon Kick. After releasing the album “The Lizard”, Saigon Kick was marketed as an 80’s hair band with the release of the single ‘Love Is On the Way’. The song provided the band with a hit but soon afterwards Saigon Kick went their separate ways. Sammon’s laughs at the mention of his label/managers former band, “You know what’s funny about that? I still have not heard a Saigon Kick song to this day. I keep meaning to check them out and people always say to me, ‘How could you have not heard of Saigon Kick?’ Everyone gives me shit all the time. I’m gonna check it out I swear!”
After signing the deal with Bieler Bros. Records, choosing who would produce the record was obvious as Nonpoint guitarist Andy Goldman was eager to work with the band. “Andy came to produce the album because he would hear the songs and seemed to have an interest in things. He mentioned he wanted to produce the record, which we thought was great, so he flew down and did some pre-production in April and then we recorded the record. In the studio he was just awesome to work with. The vibe was laid back – no hurries and he didn’t try and change us like other producers might have.”
The product of those recording sessions was the phenomenal debut, “Common Ground”. For Sammons the record proved to be very therapeutic. “For me this whole record was like therapy and it’s very personal,” he continues, “Every time I get up there on stage and perform these songs, that is my therapy for the night. Performing is definitely a place to let go of my insecurities and say what I want to say.
Even with the huge number of bands popping up that claim to be more emotional than the last, Sunset Black still prefer their bare-all approach to rock and roll, “I get up there and take it very seriously and would never try and bullshit anybody because this is the four of us doing what we love and pouring our hearts into it,” Sammons continues, “Music, for me, is about saying the things that people walk around with in their heads everyday but can’t communicate them.”
Despite their close association with the band Nonpoint, Sammons is quick to point out that just because the bands are friends it doesn’t mean they will travel the same path. “Nonpoint did their thing and that worked for them but we got to do what’s best for us and I think that constant touring is what is going to work best. We want to make fans but at the same time we want to make friends in every city. We want to be touring and keep busy – we don’t want to be sitting back at home. For me, I hate it when we’re not playing because touring and playing every night is an addiction.”