Black Sunshine was initially the brainchild of extreme sports icon, Matt Reardon, one of the top-rated free skiers in the world. After a traumatic accident nearly derailed his career in extreme sports, Reardon jumped head first into the shark-infested waters of the music business. Armed with an arsenal of heavy guitar riffs and infectious melodies, Reardon assembled Black Sunshine to bring his signature brand of hard rock to the masses. Ultimately, perseverance paid off. Reardon was able to recruit drummer Matt “Toast” Young (Billy Idol), guitarist and multi instrumentalist Jeff Flannery (Van Zant’s), and bassist Christopher Sera?ni (Pollen, The Stereo) giving Black Sunshine a heavy, thick sounding, low-end. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Matt Reardon to discuss the formation of Black Sunshine, the creation of their debut album and what the future holds for this band on the rise!
First off, I want to give our readers a little background on you. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana until I was 15, then moved up north to New England.
How did music first come into your life?
My mom is a piano teacher. She is a concert pianist, and music was always in our home when I was growing up. My sister is a great piano player and my brother is a great blues guitarist. I didn’t start to play the guitar until I was 17. I got an acoustic guitar for my birthday and my brother taught me how to play the 12-bar blues.
Were there any other influences that have helped shape you, the musician, that we know today?
I’m a huge fan of any and all things Jimi Hendrix. All rock seems to have blues in its roots, and coming from the south I think that shows in my style. Lyrically, I really dig as deep as possible, and lately I have been listening to a lot of Shinedown. I love that new album.
You spent many years as a professional freeskier. For those not familiar with your story, what was it that made you make the transition from that field to professional musician?
Many people think that I don’t ski anymore. Actually, I ski better now than when I was competing full-time! Age and a bit of wisdom come into play now. I started out just submitting songs for soundtracks of ski and snowboard films then started submitting to moto films, surf, etc., etc. I just reached out to filmmakers with a style I liked. This past year we took it to another level with the “Mount St. Elias” film which won almost every award possible including X Dance at Sundance. I have a lot of respect for Jack Johnson and how he has navigated his two passions of surfing film making and music. Mad respect.
No matter what field you have been involved in over the past years, you keep rising to the top. What has kept you inspired throughout the years?
It all depends on what you feel the top is. I set high expectations and I respect people that do what they say and finish strong. I am the youngest of four kids getting my ass beat by my two brothers….or maybe I just am suffering from a Napoleon complex! [laughs]
Is there any story behind how you came to call the band Black Sunshine?
Yin and yang, a bit of light and dark. During the writing and making of this album a lot of good things happened but numerous people in my close circle passed away. I wanted something that had some light at the end of the tunnel. Oh yeah, and we wanted to go into a store and be sitting next to Black Sabbath on the shelf. Also, I am a definite fan of White Zombie.
How did your lineup come together initially?
Here is the full story. The band had been performing various shows for Red Bull, the Military, X Games, Nissan Outdoor Games, The Honda Ski Tour, etc., events that made sense while shopping the deal. There have been a few different guitar players throughout, but it has always been Matty Young on drums A.K.A. “TOAST.” The guy is a monster talent on and off the stage. I have known Toast for many years, from back when we lived together in the same small town in Northern California called Truckee. We originally met at an open mic where Toast invited me to play with his band, Uncle Filthy. I had been playing guitar in a band, featuring legendary snowboarder Shaun Palmer, called Fungus at the time and said, “Hell I was just scared to say no to the guy. He’s a giant! And, of course, his band name was super cool.” Toast has done it all, played drums for Billy Idol, was a body guard for David Lee Roth, even tour managed for the Police reunion tour, and he can drive the tour bus!”
Chris Serafini comes from the Wind Up Records world and we met while I was playing in the Arizona scene with a band called Stamina, in between skiing and music jobs abroad. I had seen Chris play with one of my favorite bands out there called Let Go along with one of our future producers, Jamie Woolford. We both love mountain biking, so we hit it off immediately. I roped him into playing the Honda Ski Tour with me one year, which led to a killer bond between Toast, Chris and myself. He is a total pro on every level.
Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Flannery (Van Zandts) finishes the line up and brings it home on all fronts. An established veteran with over 2000 shows under his belt and a blinding knowledge of the fretboard he dances with nightly, Jeff was the perfect fit. Matt says “The way Matt and Jeff met is the type of story that will fuel any music magazine interviewer as it is as real as it gets.” Matt says “I had been in Florida doing a random heavy metal singing job I got featuring KK Downing of Judas Priest and Yngwie Malmsteen. the week before I was working in Tahoe and the next I was in the deep south working with legends. We rapped on the album and the production guys said there were some great players to check out down in the Keys. I’m a total gypsy and have been since I left home at 17. I believe in fate and needed a guitar player for an upcoming gig that paid well. So I drove south from Miami on a whim. Upon arrival, I got blindingly drunk with some locals on home made whiskey and we cruised into this bar and I seriously could not believe my eyes or ears. I thought for sure I was seeing double, which was partially true. Jeff was on stage just slaying the acoustic. Then the entire band got up and he was playing bass, Then of course, what next? He picks up a violin – the guy is insane. I gave him my number and a few days later he was on the west coast. To have him back on board has been effortless.”
What can you tell us about the songwriting process for the album?
Blood sweat and tears. We had numerous tracks to choose from. Here is a little insight into a few songs. Almost all came from an acoustic guitar but here is a bit of info to let you understand some of the insight.
“Tears” is without a doubt the most personal track on the album and deals with the tragic death of my sister’s son at the tender age of 19. If you go to www.chrisgroom.com, you can read how truly special this kid was and always will be. It sets the tone for the first verse line “Have you ever heard the sound of an angel cry” The tune was written with John Davis of F5 fame who I have often collaborated with. When the initial riff came out in a jam session all I could think about was Christopher and immediately left to write what had been spinning in my head for months . He was more like a little brother to me and every night I sing this song he is with me.. I missed him by minutes at his apartment the day he drove off and was killed and the “what if” question is forever etched in my mind. When I was writing the lyrics I heard in the background ”Old Man” by one of Chris and my favorite songwriters Neil Young. “Love lost such a cost” so the Young man said. It hit me hard the fact that Christopher just had gotten to meet his real father for the first time after a long kept childhood secret was revealed. “I know I might be treading a thin red line…at least you got to know the color of your fathers eyes” This track was and always will be therapy not only for myself but for my sister and family.
When we were recording the track In LA we had Bob Marlette play the intro on piano. The guy is incredible on keys, well actually on most instruments, he also laid the bass track. Then we got super indulgent and started putting massive orchestral arrangements etc… all over. During the final mix down knowing how much Christopher, a singer/songwriter himself, loved just acoustic and voice we decided to make it raw. The acoustic intro was played on my beat up first acoustic he loved so much and the tone came from not using a guitar pick but opting for a quarter. I had read somewhere Van Halen did that on “Ice Cream Man” and we have to thank Thomas Laufenberg for laying down the intro. John Davis played all the rhythm tracks on Marlette’s go to Les Paul through a Bogner head. Dave Smalls from F5 lais down the drums at Henson studios and I added some fairy dust guitars and some acoustics underneath. At the last minute Bruce Somers and I put some strings in at the end to keep the songs emotions lifting higher and higher. My sister raises thousands every year in his honor by running marathons where people sponsor each mile. Her husband also puts on a golf tournament each year that raises additional money. Throughout the year, but especially at Christmas, they spend all the money on toys and clothing and go into the under-privileged neighborhoods and schools and give out Christmas gifts at random — bikes, dolls, train sets, shoes and clothing. The looks on kid’s faces is priceless. Christopher would be proud!
“Once in my Life” is a song written loosely in third person but is also a letter from me to a long time friend of mine who passed away in a tragic skiing accident. At the time we were laying him to rest right around the day after one of our friends who was in town for the funeral had a near death experience and severely broke her neck. This is where the line “Heaven sent me away today, I guess I’m lucky for once in my life, I thought I’d see you once again my friend but I guess it’s not my time better start thinking twice” The chorus is all about living in the moment and not taking life for granted. At the end of the day we are lucky and blessed to be alive and should cherish each moment like it’s our last because you just never know. One of the first times I ever played the song live was for the Military on the air craft carrier USS Nimitz. It was just Matt Young and I, acoustic and percussion and you could feel how everyone there just back from Iraq could relate. The song has been recorded several times in different ways and actually was the song that finally got me a publishing deal as a songwriter with Chrysalis. The music was written with a long time friend and old band mate from Germany, Werner Ponikowski. Marlette changed a chord once we went in to lay it down and worked on the arrangement in pre-production. I had borrowed one of John 5’s vintage acoustics, layered it with a strat for the rhythm then added the Les Paul in the chorus to thicken things up. The clean tone in the chorus came from a mod amp and a cheap Danelectro baritone guitar with a lipstick style pick up, super simple. The reverse swell in the beginning came from Marlette’s assistant Sidd Riggs, he was dragging the mouse and backing the track up with the speakers on and it sounded great so we started the song that way.
“Burn to Shine” was written on my favorite beat up acoustic BB. I was playing around with tunings and dropped both the high and low e strings down a full step. Hit the d chord and it sounded really full and open. I could hear the whole chiming style line over the top in my head. I had visioned something sort of like the harmonics from Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry” song or something to that effect. To play the harmonics you have to down tune the e and b string a half step. There were some studio shenanigans that went into creating the chime effect but you can easily recreate it live. I’m a massive fan of Alice in Chains and I love the way they write lyrics with sort of a call and response style between Layne and Jerry. I always loved the line “Misery loves company” it’s very true in many ways. That was how the song started out with one line. “Some times you’ve got to burn to shine” has been something I’ve kind of lived by. Some of the best things people have accomplished in life have come from just saying fuck it and throwing caution to the wind, throw a big Hail Mary pass and see where it gets you! I had been in and out of hospitals for a few years off and on and was super determined to defy what all the doctors said was not possible. This song became my anthem. I was wound up pretty tight at the time and was maybe not making the best decisions in life. “Livin like a loaded gun”, “rusted was my halo”, it may sound cheesy but this tune sort of gave me some light at the end of the tunnel, that same light had been a train several times before. It’s by far one of our best live tunes. Jamie Woolford came up with some amazing backing harmony vocals which make the chorus really stand out. There are quite a few guitar tracks in the chorus with a stand out octave line which sits really well with the melody. I blended a few things for the verse clean tones, an acoustic doubled, a simulated twelve string and a sample sitar sound. Chris Serafini played the bass line and Mike Hill from the Phunk Junkeez absolutely crushed this track on drums.
Is there a particular song that resonates more with you more than the others on the album?
“Once in My Life”, but I dig them all as they all are like children.
Bob Marlette is the executive producer on Black Sunshine’s debut. What was it like working alongside him and what have you taken away from that experience?
Bob is one of the most prolific writers and producers of all time, his resume speaks for itself. So when you get a chance to work alongside someone of his caliber you can only grow as a musician and a songwriter. We got along great. I love his entire family and we did it family style which is what I was after, no stress just let it flow. He is super fun to record vocals with and at every turn of the bend he had brilliant insight as to make the track stronger both melodically and vocally.
What was the biggest challenge in creating this album?
You self-released ‘Free From Code’ back in 2003 with your previous band Reardon. As an artist, how do you feel you have grown musically during that time?
‘Free From Code’ was fun and sold well in Europe. We had a blast making the album and everything was a learning experience at every turn of the bend. I would say it’s a massive step up on both the songwriting front and the live shows now with Black Sunshine….the chemistry is mind bending.
You have been touring with Soil and Smile Empty Soul. What has that experience been like for you?
Love those cats! A bunch of down to earth bad asses and they all crush musically every night and we have all become like family. The back stage BBQ’s are legendary!
Has the process of exposing concertgoers to your music night after night been an eye opening experience? And has it brought the band closer together in the process?
To be in a band and watch the entire crowd sing the words to “Once In My Life” has been life altering for us all. We opened for Alice in Chains which, for us all collectively, are our musical heroes. We were just completely stoked to be able to do what we love. Every night it is our goal no matter that if it is for 50 people or 5000 we walk out on stage and peel people’s skulls back with passion and conviction — EVERY FUCKIN’ NIGHT!
Can we expect more summer tour dates in support of the album?
In June, we have some fly-in dates for festivals and then July through December we should be nonstop. We just had a monumental signing with The Agency Group so we are definitely in a position to step up our game.
What do you hope that people come away with after listening to your music or seeing your live performance?
That “impossible” is not a word that exists in our dictionary. Our credo has always been “Out of tragedy comes triumph.” I hope everyone wakes up the next morning and lives each day like it’s their last.
Can we expect to see some videos for songs on the album in the near future?
Yes! Both “Burn to Shine” and “Tears” will have videos made in due time.
Do you think that there are any misconceptions about yourself, coming from the world of “extreme sports” into the world of music?
Absolutely not. The proof is in the pudding. People can always sniff out the real deal. I am still sponsored as an athlete after this many years, have great relationships with all my sponsorship companies, and now have a full Yamaha guitar endorsement. Which for me brings legitimacy to the game. Respect.
What has been the biggest milestone for you so far in your musical career?
Driving down the road and hearing a song that started with an acoustic to pen and paper to the radio! Hearing the feedback from so many people that are so proud we stuck it out and are finally moving forward in a positive light.
Do you have an advice for anyone who is thinking of pursuing a career in the music industry?
When opportunity doesn’t knock, you build a door then kick it in.
In addition to Black Sunshine, you recently had the opportunity to score the feature film “Mount St. Elias”, which you mentioned earlier. What can you tell us about that project and what did it mean to you personally?
A guy who taught me some of my first chords on guitar was named Aaron Martin. He died on Mount St. Elias. I wrote a song about him called the “White Room.” When they told me they were making a film about Axel Naglich and Peter Ressman’s ascent and first descent on skis and wanted me to write for the film, I jumped at the chance! They were trying to license some tunes for the film with Metallica and Creed and asked if I could come up with something along those lines. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with Austrian composer Andreas Frei with full orchestra etc… Lyrically, it was easy because Axel and I have been pro skier friends and on the same team for years so I knew what was going through his head and I tapped into that. It is the best mountain film to date in history. What they did on that expedition is absolutely mind blowing.
Have you had a ‘Spinal Tap Moment’ on stage where something totally unexpected has happened to you?
My amp blew up on stage once, but actually the funniest was this girl who got on stage and just started attacking me, she was wasted but very hot. [laughs] Apparently, she was a playboy playmate. Oh yeah, we did get lost backstage and had no clue how to get to the main stage. [laughs]
Is there anything else you want to let your fans know before you go?
Please buy cd’s, don’t rip them from the internet and we have mad respect for you all for letting us live our dreams!
Thanks so much for your time, Matt! We have really been enjoying the album and are looking forward to spreading the word!
Want More Black Sunshine? Check out an exclusive track!
Matt Reardon and the rest of the guys in Black Sunshine have been kind enough to offer eager listeners the chance to hear “Burn To Shine” exclusively on Icon Vs. Icon! Check it out below and be sure to pick up Black Sunshine’s powerful debut album in stores or on iTunes today!
[gplayer href=”http://www.muthagoose.com/audiocontent/Burn_To_Shine.mp3″]Black Sunshine – “Burn To Shine”[/gplayer]
For all the latest news and tour dates for Black Sunshine, be sure to swing by their official website located at www.blacksunshineband.com.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.