In Conversation with Sunny Gang, Part I

Sunny Gang is a lively thrash-punk-rap outifit based in New York, known for inspired (and inspiring) rap. Fronted by rapper Nasty Nate, other members include Chris Bacchus on guitar, Joe Sap on bass, and Marshal on drums. Sunny Gang just released “Godzilla“, a single from their album, Party/Animal. Recently the band took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about their childhoods, musical influences, and how they developed their unique mix of genres.

Which elements in your childhood and early years pointed you toward music?
CHRIS BACCHUS: I can remember being three or four years old, sitting in a car seat, singing The Beatles and Frank Sinatra with my mom. She always wanted me to play an instrument because she never had the opportunity to learn an instrument as a kid. When I was around six my parents bought me a drum set and a guitar, which collected dust until I was around 12 years old and decided to immerse myself in learning music. I used to jump on the couch with my guitar, pretending that I was playing in front of thousands of people. It was around this age that I knew pursuing music would make me truly happy.

JOE SAP: My dad’s a musician?he plays piano and guitar’so from a very early age I was put in front of a keyboard. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn were my lullabies. I started taking piano when I was probably seven, stuck with that through grade school and then picked up guitar and bass when I was in high school.

MARSHAL: I remember that when I was about three years old, my mom would go to work at night and my father would put on MTV and let me and my brother run around and freak out in our boxers like psychopaths when bands like Nirvana and The Offspring came on. Funny thing is that 20 years later, nothing’s really changed, except that maybe now when I’m freaking out in my underwear alcohol is presumably involved.

When I was sevenish my father told me I had to learn an instrument, and since my older brother was already learning guitar I opted to learn the drums since they were different, and loud as shit. I wasn’t very good for the first four years or so, so I really didn’t concentrate on it too much. But one day my dad’s friend came over and taught me how to play the basic “2-4 rock groove” and that was it? drumming effectively became my entire identity.

NASTY NATE: I originally joined the school band because my brother was in it. He played percussion, but I wanted to play something a little more melodic so I went with trumpet. Did that for a couple years, then switched to saxophone. To be honest, I didn’t like either, because I just couldn’t relate; so I switched to percussion in, like, sixth grade and played that until I graduated high school. My parents always supported that and always played me a variety of music from soul to metal to classic rock so I always had an appreciation for musicianship. As far as rapping, I mean, I always had a love for writing, and as a kid I listened to a lot of rap music, so it wasn’t long before I said, “I can do that.” So I’ve been writing rap lyrics since I was 12 and the part I enjoy the most is coming up with perfect multiple syllable rhymes that sound flawless, not forced.

Which elements pointed you toward thrash, rap, and punk? How did you develop your own unique mix of genres?
JOE SAP: It happened very naturally. The four of us started playing together originally as a band backing Nate, who was mostly performing material from his solo hip-hop project. At some point, we realized we were much better suited to be a rock band, and began writing music together that fit that mold instead. Then, as we really started to delve into how we were going to make it work, we started to realize that, at their core, punk and hip-hop really aren’t all that different; music that started with a bunch of broke kids in New York just trying to dance and party, that over time developed into an art form that could be just as political and aggressive as it was laid back and fun.

People ask us this question a lot?how we manage to put these genres together?but it very rarely feels like a stretch to us.

CHRIS BACCHUS: We all listen to different music. I’m more into the punk, thrash and hardcore side of things. Sap’s into the more classic stuff like Cream and 60’s surf rock. Marshal’s into indie and experimental music, while Nate’s a well-versed hip-hop head. We don’t really try to aim for a certain sound. It’s literally all of us combining our influences into one big concoction.

MARSHAL: Genres never meant anything to me. As Chris mentioned, I’m really into obscure and progressive music like Animal Collective and Battles, but I’d also really hate to pigeonhole myself. I grew up playing albums by Blink-182, The Offspring and Green Day on repeat, but I mean, I also enjoyed Blondieas much as Queens of The Stone Age, or The Beatles as much as Kanye West; shit, just a few months ago I went on a serious Chopin binge.

The point is that labeling genres only helps create barriers between people and new music, That’s why what has always mattered to me, more than anything, was whether or not the music has a certain “edge” to it. Now that I finally have the opportunity to reciprocate my passion for music, I aim to only do so by contributing something with its own personal “edge.” Somehow, between the four of us, that seems to have been accomplished through our merge of both rock and rap, or punk-rap, or thrash-hop, or whatever other stupid label someone wants to throw at us.

JOE SAP: Word up, genres are shit. they’re really only useful as a way for people to try and classify music without actually hearing it. Which causes a lot of problems for us, because when you say “rap-rock” people think: “I DID IT ALL FOR THA NOOKIE!”

NASTY NATE: For me I was always into rock-rap like Rage Against the Machine, Limp Bizkit, P.O.D., and Linkin Park. I always liked the fact that the tempos matched up with straight hip-hop tracks so It’s easy to write rap lyrics over it. (It’s hard as hell to write rap style lyrics over fast punk blast beats but That’s a challenge I’ve accepted.) So I always hated how rap beats all sound so similar because everyone is using the same formats and samples. That’s why I welcome what we do so much because it gives me as a rap lyricist an opportunity to stand out.

(To be continued.)

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.

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