Revolutionary, loving and rebellious are a few words that could be used to describe this fusion band. Barefoot and brash, lead singer Sonni sings about military involvement, controversial religious topics and relationships. Sonni Shine and the Underwater Sounds are something new and with a name like that, it’s clear that this band is something special. Senior, Sonni Shine, aka Sonni Schwartzbach, radiated the realness of her band’s politically driven content before she said one word. Her aura, and undoubtedly that of the other band members, Sean Youngman, Kenny Shumski and Billy Campion, takes listeners to one thought¾finally, real music.
Her Campus Temple University: What made you start playing music?
Sonni Shine: My aunt was a musician growing up. She was a percussionist. She used to play like Broadway shows and she toured all over so she bought me my first guitar and like taught me all that stuff. And then when I was like 12 or 13 I got really into reggae music and Bob Marley and that kinda fueled me to do music you know, try to pursue it as a career.
HCTU: What’s your band’s style?
Sonni: It’s like fundamentals of mostly reggae and then we try to do some funk, rock, [progressive rock] and like kinda a tougher reggae sound.
HCTU: How’d you and your band meet?
Sonni: Well, we met, we were, uh, I was recording a session with their friend and the drummer now, Sean, was recording with me and that’s how we met. We just kinda got put together in the studio to collaborate on the spot and we just hit it off. Later on I met Kenny our bassist. Sean and Kenny grew up together and I lived with Bill randomly and we found out he played guitar and we all kinda just hit it off together. I was doing this by myself for a while and I put out a record by myself called Underwater Sounds and then when we started playing together we decided to call ourselves Underwater Sounds.
HCTU: How is working as an artist alone different from being with a band?
Sonni: It’s a lot different and, I don’t know, at first its harder by yourself ‘cause everything is up to you and like booking, promoting like all that stuff is your job, especially if you don’t have a manager or record label. And I also felt a little bit lonely like going into situations like gigs, you know, just showing up with my guitar, you know, but when you’re in a band like you have a team and your posse and you guys are in it together and it’s like a really cool sense of teamwork so I do like that.
HCTU: Do the Underwater Sounds have a manager and a label or anything?
Sonni: We do it ourselves pretty much. We have a couple people that work with us, you know a couple booking agencies, and we have a manager that’s with us some. You know, in-and-out, time-to-time you know what I mean. But as of now we’re pretty much DIY.
HCTU: Does the whole band’s musical tastes influence the band’s sound?
Sonni: Yeah definitely. At first I was very into reggae music, folk music soul music and they came from, well Billy came from like a jam band. He’s really into the fish and the grateful dead. And then Sean and Bill are really into, like they grew up on, like punk rock and progressive rock and so all those elements kinda like combined which is cool ‘cause we all give each other equal space with like song writing and stuff. I’ll write the lyrics always but we’ll write the songs together which is cool.
HCTU: Is collaborating ever a problem with all the band member’s different tastes in music?
Sonni: Yeah but it’s usually together we all say no. We’ll be jamming or trying to come up with something and if its not working we’ll all just be like no we gotta like we gotta switch directions.
HCTU: What has proven your most difficult challenge in music alone and collectively as a band?
Sonni: That’s a good question. ‘Cause it is so challenging. It’s been challenging to um well now that I’m getting older I want to make this my career so making that transition from like when you’re little and you’re like ‘Yay lets be in a band’! You know to when you’re older and you’re like wow I have to do a job, I have to make money. I have to support myself. How can we transition this into something that really makes us money? That’s hard. It’s hard to like make money and find different ways you know. Everyone wants us to perform for free, you know what I mean, and like its hard to be like ‘We need money’ you know. Like so that’s been a challenge¾to make your art your business.
HCTU: Have you ever been called to a record label and have it not work out?
Sonni: Not yet. We haven’t had that. I hope in the near future we get called but we haven’t had that. We’ve had, you know, a lot of times people will just want us to play shows and expect us to show up and, you know, do it for nothing and yeah [we can’t do that].
HCTU: What keeps you motivated?
Sonni: I think we all kinda feel¾I know Sean and Kenny and Billy feel this way too¾like its just the only thing we’ve ever done¾and it’s the only thing that feels right to us to do and like I love what I’m studying now but if I couldn’t incorporate music some how into my like career I wouldn’t feel right. I feel like its something I’m good at and its something I’ve always done so like I cant really just let it go.
HCTU: What are you like to do with your Latin American studies major?
Sonni: Well I originally went to Drexel for music industry. And for two years I did that and that was great except I felt like I needed like a really strong liberal arts education and I knew that Temple could provide that. So like, to give me stuff to write about too, you know, give me like fuel for like artwork, you know, I really like studying Latin American studies because of that. Like there’s so much going on in Latin America and like, you know, originally it was because of that but now I see all the ways that major could help me, you know, work with women, with Latina women, helping people get adjusted to the United States, helping people keep their arts and their culture and their music, like, once they get here coming from other places. So I’m still like deciding I guess, like what I wanna do with it you know?
HCTU: Do you practice any other arts besides the guitar and singing?
Sonni: Nah, used to paint a lot when I was little but mostly guitar and singing and writing. Like I always wanna write like poetry, lyrics, everything.
HCTU: How is your family? Are they supportive?
Sonni: They’ve been really supportive, yeah, which is a blessing. I grew up in a single mother home. My dad was there, you know, but they were never married so I never like grew up with him. But she always like, you know, do what makes you happy. She used to always say do what you love and the money’s gonna come but do what makes you happy, so that was really cool. She’s happy like with whatever. I call her up and she’s like ‘I’m so happy for you’, you know, everything! Its funny.
HCTU: Have you ever had a disengaged crowd? How do you deal with that?
Sonni: *Laughs* These are good questions, I love these questions. But yeah when we played, um, we’ve toured a couple times and we went to places where it was like a noisy bar and we’d come in and, you know, no one knows us, you know. Everyone’s drinking, it’s a Friday night, you know, whatever, and we’re trying to really just captivate people, you know, but its really hard ‘cause, you know, sometimes I think¾I feel like we eventually, by the end of the night get to that point where people are listening and stuff but it’s hard, like, just to play you’re heart out in front of a crowd that’s at first, like, is just not really…¾They’re not there to see you so you just keep your confidence up and hopefully by the end of the night, like, you’ll have them jamming out, dancing or something.
HCTU: How do you tour?
Sonni: We’ve been doing it ourselves like pretty much. We’ll just research where we wanna go. We’ll research venues, we’ll research radio stations and kinda just send our stuff out, you know. ‘We’re comin’ to town on this date like do you have anything?’ You know, and it starts that way and usually, you know, we’ve gone on the road three times now and we’ve been able to do it that way.
HCTU: Do you get paid on the tours?
Sonni: Yeah sometimes, you know. That’s been hard too and that’s why we really wanna get, like, a booking agent because we wanna be able to like have him negotiate, you know, have him be like well these guys need $300, $400 bucks ‘cause that’s hard when you’ve never played at a place before and you’re asking for like a couple hundred dollars you know they’re like ‘who are you’ you know? Its like selling yourself you know?
HCTU: Who are you all’s musical inspirations?
Sonni Shine: As a band we’ve been really into a couple bands like Groundation. They’re so like, they’re based in California; a bunch of college professors but they’re so good and they mix…they do roots reggae really good and they’re lyrics are really great. And we’re into, you know, The Movement, some new reggae bands coming around. The Movement’s really cool and Fear Nuttin’ band. We’ve played with them a couple times. And RX Bandits we all kinda liked growing up too so.
HCTU: Was there anything your mom used to play around the house that influenced your style?
Sonni: Definitely. My mom, like, always played, like, you know she was always into soul music like Motown, all kinds of oldies. Like, I think a lot of kids in my generation, their parents were listening to like classic rock. You know Led Zepplin, Bon Jovi all that stuff, but my mom was always like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, so Lauryn Hill, you know, that stuff.
HCTU: What has been your highest point in music?
Sonni: There’ve been a couple points that are just amazing. I feel like some of the band that we’ve gotten the opportunity to open for have been pretty cool. We got to play with The English Beat a couple years ago. They’re like an older band in England. And you know, Bad Fish. We got to play for the Flappers at the TLA so that was pretty fun. Just, you know, moments like that where there’s a huge crowd you know for this band you know and like we get to open up and we get to play in front of them and kinda warm them up for the headliner.
HCTU: What is your ideal, ultimate musical accomplishment?
Sonni: I would love to just be able to tour and sustain myself, you know, seeing the country or even parts of the world through music. Just having people in, you know, California, people in Texas, people in Ohio, that, like, listen to us and we can go there and, of course, make money but also, like, make friends with fans and, you know, like, not famous but just be sustaining musicians. Like that would be really cool.
HCTU: How did you feel when you first realized that you all had a fan base?
Sonni: It’s cool. It’s definitely cool. Its cool when people come up to me like and just be like ‘are you in that band?’ and like that’s really fun ‘cause, like, I don‘t know. It’ll be like always on a day when I’m feeling, like, really crappy and, like, you know this sucks. I’m here, no one’s gonna come to our show and then someone will be like ‘I heard you guys on the radio and it was awesome’, you know, and that’s cool.
HCTU: What is the most important, beneficial thing you want to get out of doing music?
Sonni: I want to, I wanna write, like, meaningful songs that motivate people and inspire people. Especially our young generation and young women. Like, I just wanna kinda get people rallied and, you know, and movin’. I feel like there’s not a lot of people writing, like, political songs and, you know, I just feel like music is such a vehicle to get people together and, you know, protest and rally. And it’d be cool to make a difference that way, through music.
HCTU: So people want more Sonni Shine and the Underwater Sounds. They wanna buy and hear your music. Where can they get it?
Sonni: Well you’ve got a lot of stuff. You’ve got, its gonna be on iTunes, our new record probably within a week. And we have an online merchandise store [on] bigcartel.com. You can go there and search our name and buy our record, buy our older record, our poster, t-shirt. And, you know, facebook, you can always keep in touch with us that way.
HCTU: What‘s one thing you want people to know about Sonni Shine and the Underwater Sounds?
Sonni: We love each other a lot as a band. We’re like family and we pretty much, everyone we meet is family to us, so I just feel blessed to have met these guys and everyone we meet, I just love. And our music is just like, I’m so thankful to have met the people I’ve met through it. I don’t know if that answers [your question]. *Laughs*