Mondo.NYC 2021 Showcase Artist
Sometimes the clarity of a metaphor is undeniable. They play out in our dreams, dancing in front of us like a technicolor chorus line, but occasionally they are presented to us in real life…
One late night, in what amounts to just about a year ago, Joe Sumner was driving home, north of Los Angeles after a productive evening in the studio. He was almost there. The songs had come together brilliantly and he spent his time that night engaging the fun stuff -- you know, the things you do right before the mix.
At the end of his ride home, he noticed an odd glow in the distance and thought, “Crazy stuff.” And to bed, he went. He was suddenly awakened a few hours later as a massive column of smoke and a blazing inferno bore down upon his neighborhood. “I put my Telecaster, my wife and my kids in the car,” remembers Joe. He read a tweet that said, "If you live near here, your house is gone."
“Three days until we were allowed back. We drove past over a hundred burned out houses to get to our gate. A tree was on fire, the fence was on fire. The house was completely untouched. White as driven snow. Lucky motherfucker.”
Luck is a very thin wire between survival and disaster, and not many people can keep their balance on it. --Hunter S. Thompson
For most of his life, Joe Sumner walked a tightrope that many folks would have a hard time understanding. Born of, shall we say, fairly successful artist parents in the north of England, Joe migrated before his double digits to posher London. There, he attended an all boys Catholic school, a
fate that has disenchanted many from the desired intention of getting closer to God. Instead, he found music. He knew music, for sure. After all, his father was the lead singer and bassist in one of the most successful bands of all time. But it was there at secondary school that he started messing around with stuff himself. The discipline of guitar lessons and music classes didn’t interest him. What did were tones, sounds, timbres and textures. Then music really found him...
“At 14, I was addicted to Nintendo when I heard Nirvana on the radio,” says Joe, “Then I was addicted to grunge and everything in its orbit. I went to the country to study for my big exams. Instead, I listened to Bleach on repeat for three months straight. I started a band when I got back to school. We were called Australian Nightmare. We played a show at lunch break in the theatre. I wore a leopard print dress. The show was not well received.”
He went to work as a roadie on his dad’s tour for spring break where he discovered that living on a tour bus was the best thing ever. Says Joe, “Somehow I managed to remain confused as to why everyone had bad headaches and bad attitudes every morning.”
When the tour arrived in Boston, Joe was dropped off at Berklee for the summer, where, at the behest of a guidance counselor, he migrated to a highly liberal, innovatively structured boarding high school out in the woods. “No uniform to wear, no saying ‘yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir.' A heavy focus on creativity and arts. I handed in a sculpture in lieu of an essay on numerous occasions. I loved it instantly.”
After graduation he found himself back in the UK to resume playing in his London band, an outfit called Santa’s Boyfriend that did well on the circuit and would eventually become Fiction Plane, a trio that enjoyed a moment, well, several years worth of moments, a few record labels and a small handful of releases and an 18-month tour with The Police, before flatlining.
By this time, there was a wife and family and the advent of entrepreneurship having launched a successful, of-the-moment tech start up Vyclone (like Instagram for fans videotaping at concerts). But while mountains of cash loomed like Emerald City in the not too distant future, Joe began to realize that he would not be happy doing anything else but playing music.
He joined some friends at a regular jam/hang at Molly Malone’s in LA. The Fairfax crew planned a night of David Bowie covers, then David Bowie died, and the evening was packed out. The Bowie covers ensemble caught fire and, within a short time, played a sold out show at the Wiltern, with guests like Joe Eliot, Gavin Rossdale, Perry Farrell, Tony Hadley. Says Joe, “Everyone was there. Adrian Belew was on guitar. It was a music fan’s wet dream.”
The show hit the road, and Joe went along with them. The musicians played for hours each night, “Bowie songs I’d never heard from albums I’d never heard of,” admitted Joe, “Guest singers came out night after night across the states and Europe and reinterpreted the songs giving them more depth than I could have imagined possible. We had full orchestras, choirs and drum lines. It was the greatest musical circus ever.”
A dozen or so new original songs were simultaneously being tended to during a series of studio sessions. The album features 12 songs. Among them, a gem called “Hope,” that has recently been excerpted for a "get out the vote" video initiative for which Joe recruited his dad, first and foremost, and also pulled in the likes of Gaby Moreno, The Fantastic Negrito, Patti Scialfa, Juliana Hatlfield and others, including Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, who debuted the song on the popular political morning show the week before the elections with Rolling Stone reporting on it and dropping a lyric video of the full song.
The album is almost there. Sunshine In The Night, as it appropriately will be called, will be released early next year.
Says Joe, “It's a tribute to the beauty of life, the joy I take in my family. The incredibly slim odds that we get to live on this green planet spinning through space.”