Born and bred in the Flour City Sunny Union (aka Sunny Zaman) now resides in Brooklyn, but his music is still focused on Rochester. He creates a revivalist folk sound that hearkens back to a simpler time when we lived off the land and didn’t live in large cities. The projects first EP “Wollstonecraft” was released last month and features five beautiful songs. We met up with Sunny Union to talk about city living, folk’s popularity, and creating music.
How long have you been working on the Sunny Union Project?
In the projects transcendental manifestation two or three years, but there was no plan to record or release anything until three or four months ago. Living in Brooklyn I think it was a natural response to have when you are in the urban environment to want to write about nature. I think the music is a response to that.
Its interesting because New York is synonymous with the opportunist, but when I am there I feel like I don’t have the same outlets as I do here. When you are here you can be a big fish in a small pond, out there you have to be a little more ambitious. So I really just wanted to produce this when I was there because I needed a good outlet for myself. My brother helped engineer it; if he didn’t help it would have been put out.
You started playing ska and punk music, what made you gravitate towards folk?
I think in high school, with the angst of being a teenager, punk and ska became coming of age music, plus who doesn’t like ska music.
We started Sandwich Crackers and played with Mrs. Skannotto and those kinds of bands around the area. Reggae and Dub music is very much a big part of what I enjoy and what I am attracted to.
I think I am attracted to folk because it doesn’t remind me of anything, its unique. It doesn’t remind you of anything else and it’s almost unrelatable because it is so far away from what we experience now. Its like speaking about feathers and jasmine growing on the hills and peppercorn, its almost becomes romantic because we can’t tell first hand about what it is like living in the hills. It is inspiring to play.
Even though you are living in Brooklyn a lot of your songs seem to be Rochester based. Is it easier for you to write about Rochester than NYC?
I think Genesee river lyrics are relatable because I love Rochester and I have pride in it. So anyway I can share it is good. NYC is bastardized and outdone. I love NYC too but I am not going to be singing about it any time soon.
How is playing in New York compared to here?
The first thing is familiar faces. Even walking to Java’s, I saw two or three people that I don’t know personally but I know them as regulars.
Venues in NYC will book three bands, such as a touring band from Europe, one from Wisconsin, then one from Suny Purchase. They don’t know each other and when you go in you have to tell the doorman who you are going to see and the money goes to them. Its very depersonalized and efficient.
I think everything in NYC is depersonalized. Unless you are playing a folk club or something very fringe and independent, you aren’t going to get that feel like you would at Bug Jar.
What’s the process when you are writing as song?
It is about finding a harmonic motif and working with that. What is important in folk music is the melodic feel and finding something to attach onto, at least in revivalist folk. I just know what I like and it shows itself in the music and lyrics. I wrote poetry as well so sometimes it starts as a melody or sometimes it starts as a poem that I put music to.
I think the whole notion is very authentic and genuine. It is easy to get angsty when you are living in the city. When I go into my tiny apartment and pick up my guitar it is different then when I do here. Everything is available to you there but it is stripped down from all of the love.
Do you think folk is getting more popular?
A few nights ago on Facebook I saw One Direction play SNL, one of their new tunes sounded like Mumford and Sons. I think its trendy and they are trying to capitalize on the new folk resurgence. Musicians like the Tallest Man On Earth or Bon Iver were doing something authentic and now people are trying to turn it into a fashion statement. It’s not a fashion statement though, its beautiful music.