It’s a cold, blistery day in the NYC but I don’t mind, cause I’ve got Sunshine on my mind. Avery Sunshine, that is. Still floating on the cloud she left me on Monday afternoon when she stopped by the VH1 offices to do an impromptu performance and spread the word about her upcoming performance at the Highline Ballroom, I brace my umbrella against the brutal wind as it blows my weave every which-a-way, humming the hook to “I Got Sunshine” – the fourth single off of Avery’s self-titled debut album, determined to make it in one piece to the Highline for a chat with
Avery and some more of her soulful brew of “feel good” music with a message anyone can relate to – it’s all going to be OK.
The Highline provided the perfect setting for the night, a dim room punctuated with candle-lit tables and booths ideal for sitting down for a spell and taking in some Avery Sunshine. She was front and center with her keyboard and a three-piece band, ushering the crowd into an hour-long experience that was equal parts storytelling, comedy, taking it to church and taking it over the top with her powerhouse vocals. The audience immediately perked up with her opening cover of The Temptations’ “My Girl” and her hold on the crowd effortlessly intensified throughout her set.
Sunshine’s niche is her ability to shock and awe – she jars you with an unexpected comment like, “Ya’ll having a good time with me? I would take my shoes off, but I only polished the first three toes… I don’t want to offend,” followed right on up with a soul-stirring moment that evokes shouts from the crowd like “You better sing!” with such her rendition of the Clark Sisters’ “You Brought The Sunshine.” Her performance of “Everything I Got Is Yours” off of her upcoming album and “All In My Head” off her current project gave folks two undeniable reasons to get her latest release if they hadn’t already, and to make a mental note to cop the new album once it comes out. Sunshine’s honesty (she told the crowd she only has one record out so she has to play other songs that she likes) is only unmatched by her warmth and an inner light that radiates to all in her presence. I call it “The Avery Effect” and I got a chance to experience it firsthand when I sat down with the Chester, Pennsylvania native before the show to discuss her upcoming sophomore release, her definition of success, and what she learned from Tyler Perry.
VH1: So you’ve made it to the Highline Ballroom!!! Congratulations! So what does tonight’s performance signify to you in terms of how far you’ve come in your career. Do you feel like you’ve made it?
Avery Sunshine: This is nuts. They told me Beyonce did a show here! I wish I could say it means I have arrived, but it makes me feel like the work that we’ve done has not been in vain, and it is being acknowledged and noticed, and it makes me feel great! I’m honored to be here tonight. My mother’s coming in — it’s a big deal for all of us.
What can we expect from you in the next six months to a year?
I’m on a perpetual tour — the tour that never ends! And we’re working on the next record, so while we’re touring we end up recording on the road so we can keep it moving. And we’ve found that it’s really hard to stop and get into the creative space when you’re traveling all of the time, but we have to do it.
It’s going to be called The Sun Room. And the idea behind that is in a sunroom, which is usually an addition to a home or something like that, it’s the common area, the place where everybody can go and talk about anything. I remember going to one of my auntie’s and she’d have a thing for magazines there, and somebody would be on one side talking to somebody else, and she would be there talking to my mom, and it’s a place to share and care. So I figured that’s what this record is going to be — a place where I can talk about absolutely anything. If I want to talk about God I can do that, if I want to talk about my baby daddy I can do that, if I want to talk about politics I can do that… anything. We are different, but we are all the same, and I feel like we’ve got to celebrate it, but first we’ve got to talk about it. A lot of us are not proud of some of the things we’ve gone through and had to deal with, so we don’t want to talk about it all the time. But I tell you, once we start talking about it you can getbeyond it and get to the good stuff. The stuff where it’s gonna be OK.
Is there a story behind the name Avery Sunshine?
Girl, my parents named me Denise White! I was named after Denise Nicholas, the famous black actress, she used to do all the movies with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby. But Dana [Avery’s manager and writing partner], my Spelman sister and I were working on a record, and she ended up auditioning for The Color Purple and she got it, so she had to go to Broadway. So we’re like, what’s going to happen with this record and Dana was like, she gone go, you gonna finish your record. And I was like, I’m not doing that, and Dana said yes you will. So I started writing this song, and I called Dana and played and sang the song over the phone, all I had was a hook, and he said hold that thought. When he called me back he had all the verses written, and the song was called “Stalk You.” So the song ended up being a house tune, and Dana was like hey I got this guy who could do this great mix, so we did that, and the guy hit him back and was like look, we want this song, we’re about to travel to Japan, let’s go. We need a name, what do you want it to be? So Dana was like listen, we have an opportunity here, what do you want your name to be? And I was like I don’t know—Avery Sunshine. I do not remember thinking about a name before that at all. It was so natural, and it was so easy, I just went with it. I must have been pulling from my two loves, two great characters — Shug Avery from The Color Purple, and Sunshine from Harlem Nights.
Can you tell us about the hair please… What does it say about you?
Well, my daughter’s almost 13, and she was born with carpet hair, just stiff! And I was like look, I can’t be doing her hair and mine, so somebody’s not getting hair done. The statement is, I am comfortable with or without hair. I am comfortable in my own skin.
How do you define success?
Success is being happy with where you are. Not content with stuff just being subpar or substandard—you’re always working and always changing and always evolving – but even in that place where you are, you’re happy with that. I’m happy being able to perform at the Highline. I’m happy to sit here and do an interview with you. I’m happy because I talked to my kids and they’re alright. I’m happy that my mom is coming up here tonight. I could complain, but there’s so many things to be grateful for. So success is being able to be happy right where you are.
What was your takeaway from working with comic genius Tyler Perry on one of his stage plays?
I went to play the keyboards on the tour for three months, and I got to meet Tyler one time, and I got to learn so much from him from the first interaction. We had a big cast meeting, and he was on the phone. Some folks had been acting crazy on the tour and he said listen, let me tell you all something, when you’re out there you are representing me. They’re not going to remember your name, but they’ll remember mine. And I remember feeling off, like how he gon’ say that, I don’t believe [that], and then I starting doing my own thing, and I got my own business, and I understood — oh, ok, people are going to remember your name, so everybody’s gotta be in line with that, everybody needs to be Sunshine, people who support the brand. From that one interaction with Tyler I learned so much, and I appreciate that.
What the biggest pro and con of being an indie artist?
The con is never having enough money. The pro is being able to give exactly what I feel God has given to me, without it having to go through any other filter but mine. You can’t beat that. Another muse of mine, Rahsaan Patterson, we did a show together, I opened for him Saturday night in Atlanta, and I asked him how is it that you continue to put out music that is good to you, and I told him I get so many that tell me yeah, your first album was good, but if you really want to get on, this is the kind of record you ought to make. And he said to me, ”Stop right there. The moment that you start tailoring your art for someone else, it’s no longer your art, it’s there’s.” And I was like, you better preach boy.
VH1 is big on MORE, so here’s three quickies for you to fill in the blanks. The world needs more:
I could always use more:
I aim to give my fans more:
Honesty. What I’m thinking, so that it can help somebody else. Because the music is not the end, it’s a vehicle to do something. And I think we’re supposed to help heal. We’re supposed to open stuff up — I know that sounds so deep, but it’s not. Music is a tool to make you feel better, be more, do more, and that’s the reason for doing it.