By Ta-Tanisha Thomas- Root Correspondent and CEO of the Queens Castle
Root: You recently traveled to London and was the opening act for Anthony David. Was that your first time performing overseas?
Avery Sunshine: It is the first time since I released the album; previously I visited Africa and Japan. We played at the legendary Jazz Café, where ironically, John Legend and The Roots are scheduled to appear in the coming weeks. I’m like, ‘I just played that stage.’ Isn’t that crazy? Yeah, it’s amazing.
Root: What do you like best about performing overseas?
I love my country; however, there is a difference. Here we are inundated with people who are doing a lot, performers and all; but we get over there and they get it, they appreciate it. Before I got to the stage, people were clapping and by the time I sat down and started singing, they were singing with me.
Root: Do they know your music?
AS: Yes, they do.
Root: You are as expressive on the keys as you are vocally and with your facial expressions during live performances, how or when did you know that this is what you were supposed to do?
AS: I was in Japan with my sister, we had a group called “Daisy Rew,” Dana (Big Dane) Johnson, came in with us to help us get ourselves together and right when we were about to take off, she got a call for Broadway. Okay, great, but Dana and I were like, ‘What are we going to do?’ He said, ‘We’re going to make a record,’ but I’m saying, ‘We don’t have a song, what are we going to do?’
We got this tune called “Stalker.” I was sitting at the apartment and wrote the hook; I contacted him and said, ‘I need you to write the rest.’ The lyrics were coming to Dana so quickly, he was texting them to me over the phone. By the time we were done, he’d given it to one of his friend, Chris Brand, who created a dance remix and we got a deal in Japan. ’We want you to go to Japan to record this song. So, who do you want to be?’ I’m like I don’t know, ‘whatever, Avery Sunshine’ and they said, ‘okay, we’ll call you Avery Sunshine.’
We went to perform in Japan and I walked on the stage, it had to be 5a.m. outside, atop of Mt. Fuji, thousands of people for as far as the eye can see. I walk out on the stage, and the people go bananas. I’m thinking, I’ve never been to Asia and I’m on the stage and these people are going crazy. So I turned around to see who was behind me and there was no one there, it was me. At that moment, I knew I was supposed to do this, I liked it. I thank God for that experience. I don’t even know what year that was…
DJ: That was in 2004.
Root: How long have you and Dana been together writing?
AS / DJ: About eight years.
Root: What’s the formula? When are you in your best writing space? What precipitates the creative process?
DJ: It really varies.
AS: Clearly when stuff is going on… I know for me, when I am at my wits end and going through or stressed out, it’s easier for me to come up with stuff…
DJ: In terms of the formula for our writing, it just really varies. I agree, I write best in adversity because I find myself writing to myself. She might have some chords and a hook, or she may have a whole song and vice versa.
AS: One of the most recent songs we worked on, when he called I recorded what he was playing and told him I would call him back. I sang on top of the recording and sent it back. It’s called “I Ain’t Got Much.” I ain’t got much, but what I do have you can have; this last $50 in my pocket. I hope y’all get to hear that one soon.
Sometimes we’re in church service and stuff will come to us, that’s how we wrote “It’s So Good to Be Back.” The words are, “It’s so good to be back in the house of the Lord. Hallelujah!” I don’t know, however we did it, we wrote it together in service, taught it to our people, and that’s been years. Now, every church I go to we teach it. It varies, but clearly, it is God and He uses us in such a way that we cannot deny that He is using us, God makes it very clear. If we had enough time to tell you how God has showed His self to us, just in the last week…
Root: Give me one recent experience where God has showed his hand.
AS: Last week, I was working as a stand-in for Anita Baker at the Soul Train Awards and I’m on stage with El DeBarge. As Anita’s stand in, there are cameras all around me, they call me up, give me the statue and then El comes out. There is a huge tribute for Anita Baker, which includes Rachelle Farrell, Faith, Chrisette Michele, Dionne Farris, Goapele, Kem and Lalah Hathaway. They are all on stage with me, and I’m thinking what am I doing up here? As they stand around singing to me. At the end of El’s performance, I come up on stage and they announce the last song, “Sweet Love.”
DJ: Every year we do this Christmas party and last year while we’re there performing “All In My Head” a woman comes up to us, kind of nasty with it and said, ‘that sounds like Anita Baker’s Sweet Love!” On the way home I tell Avery, you should add that to the end of the song.
Now, when she’s hired as a stand in for the awards and it just so happens they are honoring Anita Baker. At the end of the song, at the part where Anita would adlib, El hands her the microphone to sing “Sweet Love.”
Root: And you killed it.
AS: No, not the first time. We have to run through again for whatever reason. El and I are dancing on the stage. He hands me the microphone at the end of the song to adlib and then…Yeah, I had to do it.
That was amazing to me, the way God works. No one can orchestrate stuff like God. I’m convinced if I’ve never seen God before, I have seen God recently. The older I get, the more I feel like I know God, but then the more I live, the more I realize how much I don’t know about God and what God can do. How much I have not trusted God. We talk about stuff happening and Dana will say, ‘I’m not surprised.’ I’m like, ‘why am I so surprised?’
Root: Whose music are you listening to?
AS: B. Reith, I’m stuck on him right now. I think he’s from Nashville. His music is like water, refreshing.
Root: Is it gospel?
AS: It’s Christian.
DJ: He’s like a Christian Justin Timberlake.
AS: A friend of my brother’s said, ‘you know she needs to decide, is she going to be gospel or R&B. I’m like, God didn’t call me to that because the music that we write, we can sing it at church as well as the club, been doing it for years. God is weaved through everything we do, everything. Even when I’m in pain and I’m singing about that, at the end it’s still alright because it’s real.
Root: You don’t have to pick a genre because great music doesn’t have a genre. Be thankful for that; it is what it is. Who would you like to collaborate with?
AS: Marvin Winans, Michael McDonald, Prince, Patrice Rushen, Stevie Wonder and all the greats. I need to find out what this dude, B. Reith has going on. Some of the folk that we have collaborated with are just great, Daniel Moore; I don’t know if you’ve heard of him yet, but he’s all over the album and the world needs to know who he is. We’re glad to have collaborated with him.
Cabanya Shamese is another independent artist we’ve collaborated with and we’re looking forward to doing more work with her. Roy Ayers and my homey, Jill Scott; she and I are friends first, so we are going to work on it. She’s in the middle of working on her project now, but that would be great. They are some of our musical dream collaborations that are actually happening. Sometimes we don’t realize until after it happened, God that was a blessing to be able to work with that person or that was an honor.
Root: Are you in the studio already working on album two?
DJ: It never stops, it never really stops. We are blessed to have a space that’s ours that we work out of.
AS: God gave us another partner and that partner said, “What do you need?”
DJ: Yes, that’s another blessing. I wish I could say that I’ve orchestrated this whole thing and it all came together, but no; we made plans, none of which worked out. Everything has been much better and that we can only contribute to God’s presence. Yielding to God’s presence and getting out of our own way.
Root: What’s next for Avery Sunshine? Your voice has been featured of movie soundtracks like “The Fighting Temptations,” you’ve done some work on “Dreamgirls,” is there a chance or desire to be an actress?
AS: Absolutely, I really want to do sitcoms or Saturday Night Live. If I can get one stage on SNL or host the show, my head would pop off. I would love to do that simultaneously while putting out records.
DJ: I’m going to do the sitcom jingle. (laughs)
Root: Is there anything else you want to share with your following and Root Magazine’s readers?
AS: I appreciate Root Magazine for helping to give me a voice and helping us to shine. We can’t thank you enough for that. We appreciate people buying the CD, telling people about the CD, sending Tweets, showing love on FaceBook, going to the website and coming to shows, we don’t take you for granted; thank you.