There is no one else in the world like Tommie Sunshine. Underneath that beard and mop of long hair is the mind of the madman who bangs hard electro beats in big rooms around the world while producing and remixing a true variety of music. The same guy who is collaborating with Chocolate Puma
, and Disco Fries
who was also personally selected by Katy Perry to do a megamix of her hits. Chatting with him is always an entertaining experience, something you will get to see firsthand on the TV show that he has in the works.
RS: I saw on Twitter that you were working with Chocolate Puma last night. What are y’all working on?
Tommie Sunshine: The follow-up to the record that we have coming out on Size.
RS: Size as in Steve Angello’s label?
Tommie Sunshine: Yup
RS: Is it going to be the same kind of sound?
Tommie Sunshine: I think so. We were working on it and it was a thing, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t a thing and then we were like 'this needs to be a fidget record because it sounds like a proper Switch record from 2006.'
RS: That needs to come back.
Tommie Sunshine: Oh yeah, it’s coming if I have anything to do with it.
RS: The first thing that anyone notices about you is your hair, how long have you been growing it out?
Tommie Sunshine: It’s funny, when I was in the electroclash movement in New York I had the sides of my hair shaved and a short crew cut and a rat tail; it was straight ‘80s. Coming out of that I started to grow it and haven’t really cut it since.
RS: I remember when Steve Aoki did his change from being indie underground to being more electro and they called him the “Asian Tommie Sunshine.”
Tommie Sunshine: Nice!
RS: Have you ever thought about doing Locks of Love with it?
Tommie Sunshine: Yes, actually, when and if it goes that is who it is going to for sure.
RS: That’s awesome. So after “Hey Now,” the Martin Solveig video, I thought for sure there would be a modeling career for you.
Tommie Sunshine: Yeah- those white socks!
RS: So, is Brooklyn Fire your artist name or is that your label?
Tommie Sunshine: That is my record label.
RS: Is that where your solo releases come out or do you sign other people's stuff?
Tommie Sunshine: We are heading towards 70 releases right now and it has been pretty intense. I have put a few things out on it but I am signed to Ultra in America and Size with Chocolate Puma and there are a couple of other things coming soon too. There will be some more things from me on Brooklyn Fire, but really Brooklyn Fire is more of a labor of love. I feel like there were so many people that played such an instrumental part in my career that helped me immensely on the come up, and I feel that Brooklyn Fire is my way to pay it forward and to kind of let all of these other young talents shine and to give them an avenue to release music .
RS: And you have also paid that forward working with Disco Fries.
Tommie Sunshine: For sure, they are great collaborators and we have made some really killer music together but at this point they are really dear friends too.
RS: How did you meet up with them?
Tommie Sunshine: Funny story, I had been trying to get ahold of them for a year because I had heard some of their commercial remixes when they were doing a lot of radio stuff and I thought that there was something there that we could do. We lost touch, and then about a year after we first spoke Nick was like “hey, why don’t you jump on the train and come out to Jersey and we will work.” I took the train, we got together and we spent a couple of hours listening to music and kind of getting on each other’s level and that first day that we met we wrote, recorded, and arranged “Don’t Look Back.” That record was a very special record to us because it literally just came together. We wrote the lyrics on the back of the pizza box and went into the recording studio and cut the vocals and just did it. I wish that everything was that easy, you hope and pray that is what you get every time but it is so rare that it happens so effortlessly. We knew from that point that we were going to work together. We are sharing a hotel room here and we have become like a team, it is really awesome.
RS: Who came up with the name “Fries and Shine”?
Tommie Sunshine: I wish any of us could take the credit, but someone left it as a comment on Facebook. I forgot who it was and I would love to properly give that person credit, so if it’s you hit me up and let me know. I said that I was playing a gig with them, and someone just wrote “fries and shine.” We were like whoa, that’s everything right there; I don’t know how we never came up with it.
RS: When you are in the studio with the two guys, who is on the computer, who is on the keyboards, who is doing what part?
Tommie Sunshine: It’s funny, we all kind of rotate, I am not an engineer by any stretch, so Nick and Danny are both in the chair and I’m in the ether. I am always the one that is saying let’s do this, let’s do that, and let’s try all these crazy things. Sometimes I am the one that is banging out the bassline on the keyboard, but they are a very unique duo in the fact that they both have degrees from Berklee College of Music in Boston. They are incredible musicians and they just have this amazing flow in the studio and when I show up, they are the first ones to tell you that the music that we make together is not music that I would ever make by myself and nothing like what they would make. Something just comes out of the three of us when we work together, which is very important with those kinds of collaborations. It is the same kind of thing with Chocolate Puma, never in a million years would it dawn on them to make a fidget record other than the fact that I am there and pushing these things in this direction. All of a sudden we noticed that track was actually turning into a proper fidget record, and it just happens sometimes. I really like to push boundaries and push buttons and really kind of direct people in a way that hearkens back to the original idea of producers in the sense of Rick Rubin or Arthur Baker, who were really like ringmasters. They say in the traditional sense that a good producer gets all of the right people in a room and then can make the magic happen, and that is what I feel like I can do. It is really just steering everything in a theoretical way and being able to get amazing results.
RS: Like a ringmaster you are also a great host, have you ever done stand-up comedy?
Tommie Sunshine: Gosh no, my wife is infinitely funnier than I am, but I have a good sense of humor I guess.
RS: I want to go back to last year; I want to get the story about the interview that you were supposed to do with Tiesto, What happened there?
Tommie Sunshine: Well, to remain diplomatic, I submitted a number of questions which I felt were jovial and fun and would have made for a very good off the cuff interview. Tijs and his management were more interested in having more of a controlled, factual interview, and they decided that they wanted Hardwell to do the interview instead. Hardwell did the interview off of flash cards and it turned into a bit of a press junket, which is fine. I have no idea why they asked me to do it and then did such a turnaround, because I am a provocative person and I am not out to embarrass anyone or to cause controversy, but I am going to be provocative and I am going to ask real questions. I love Tijs and he is a huge supporter of what I do and I think I was mad about it at the time, but obviously no love lost.
RS: What is one of the questions that you would have asked him- and then answer it yourself?
Tommie Sunshine: Oh gosh it was a year ago, so it is hard to remember.
RS: What musically is coming next from you?
Tommie Sunshine: I have four singles that are scheduled next for Ultra, so there is going to be a barrage of music on Ultra, and I have the Size record with Chocolate Puma. There are a couple of other records that I am shopping here at ADE so they will be on the way, but I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag with those. I am also doing a television series with Red Bull.
RS: Really, what is that about?
Tommie Sunshine: We are still refining the name, so I can’t really say what it is called yet, but it is going to be a sit down interview show where I am going to sit down with the biggest names of electronic music and have real conversations with them about not only the business, but about life and what it is like to live such a very hyper paced and surreal lifestyle in the midst of trying to be a creative person.
RS: How do you balance your married life and your wife with your touring and production?
Tommie Sunshine: I am very lucky; I was with my wife for 7 years before we got married. I wanted to make sure that she understood what this was going to be like. I had to bring her to ADE, to Miami, and bring her on tours of Asia and Australia so she could see what it was like to do 9 am lobby calls four mornings in a row and be exhausted to the point of being sick on the road so that she understood. I was also lucky because she was a professional ballet dancer till the beginning of her 20s, so she knew what it was like to be on the road too. It helps, that kind of understanding and the familiarity of getting off the plane and being like I am shot. No, we can’t go meet up with friends, no, we can’t have dinner with anybody and we just have to chill out and I have to get back on the clock and kick jet lag and all of those other things- but she is incredible. I don’t see how you could get married and have this lifestyle if it was just to anyone; you really have to have an unfathomably devoted soulmate that really loves you enough to deal with all of this chaos. It is really chaos, not to complain because it is a really fortunate life to be able to be creative and to have a platform to be able to share it with the world. It is kind of outrageous, actually, and especially at my age. I am 43 years old and this is not a business for people my age, It is a very young business and I am grateful that anyone would want to hear what I have to say and what I have to play or hear me play and listen to my records.
RS: Going along with that, what advice would you give to yourself on your 18th birthday?
Tommie Sunshine: Oh gosh, I was such a schmuck when I was a kid. I probably would have gotten more serious about the business earlier on; I didn’t start DJing until I was 22 or 23. I was just a party kid for years before I even started to spin. Honestly, I probably would have gotten myself sober a lot earlier; I am 9 years sober now, almost 10. That is the only reason why I am still doing this; I would have burnt out a long time ago if I hadn’t. I would have probably been a bit more conscious about that, but I have no regrets and I have learned so much through all the toils and troubles that I have been through and I can’t imagine living any other way.
RS: On that note, what would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Tommie Sunshine: I am extremely appreciative of all of the fans that I have and I try to keep in touch as much as I can on social media, and I probably am a bit more accessible than most people actually. To anyone that is coming into the business and is a young producer, the best thing that I could ever say to you is to never listen to anybody, including myself. Do what you want to do and find your muse and your style and be yourself. Don’t ever try to be like anyone else, because that doesn’t work, nobody wants a copy of anything; they want uniqueness. The best of these kids that are making music now and the ones that really excel are the ones that do something different and bring something completely unique to the table, so be fiercely independent and don’t listen to anybody.
Interview conducted during Amsterdam Dance Event 2014.