Sunny State keeps summer’s bright, carefree spirit alive well into the dark days of winter.
The San Jose, Calif., reggae fusion sextet instantly transports listeners to a three-minute mind trip filled with calm breezes, warm rays and stolen moments on their latest single, “When You Know.” It’s the kind of uplifting sonic magic that keeps people young at heart, full of love and ready for adventure.
“Life can be so heavy that we really need to enjoy the ability to let loose ourselves and embrace the positive vibes that music can bring to us. I think that’s just a byproduct of what we get to share with other people,” said Chris Reed, Sunny State’s lead vocalist, ukulelist and guitarist. “They get to forget their worries for that amount of time they’re listening to us in their car or on the dance floor while we’re playing live.”
“When You Know” also celebrates Reed’s longtime relationship with his wife and reminisces about their first date as teenagers while driving south along U.S. 101 toward Los Angeles.
Bright acoustic guitars and vibrant synths fill the ears as swaying reggae island bass floods the soul – “First it was a drive in my blue ’69/Didn’t have no map/We just headed south/We pulled off the road/Got out and climbed that hill/It was our first kiss/I was under your spell.”
“I’ve loved that woman for so long now through all the ups and downs that every relationship goes through. The birth of our first daughter, Violet, catapulted my love to the next level, and then a second time with Indigo,” Reed said. “I mean there’s so much love there. We joke around with our kids like how can we feel this much love for them, and our relationship together prefaced from that.”
Reed and his Sunny State bandmates Tyler (guitar), James (percussion), Julian (guitar), Freddie (bass) and Roman (keys) recently filmed a video for “When You Know,” which will drop in early 2020.
Produced by Ryan Keenan of One World Light Pictures and directed by Joshua Porter, the video will include a bonfire beach scene with real-life couples, actors and fans interspersed throughout it.
Outside of “When You Know,” Sunny State also shares another positive vibe in “Solutions,” a slow, groovy track that sways to and fro as a mother teaches her children about love, freedom and stewardship.
Reed’s raspy vocals intertwine beautifully with island ukulele riffs, high-tone guitars and deep basslines – “Human resolutions/Gotta gotta appreciate/Live gratitude and love/Dancing with a drum/All this makes my heart beat.”
While writing “Solutions,” Reed crowdsourced ideas from Instagram followers and combined them into a relatable story for families. “In the end, it was about my wife and kiddos, but a lot of the lyrics were inspired by other people’s ideas. It was done in a very unique way and very different than my songwriting process,” he said.
For the “Solutions” video, Sunny State grooved with family members in scenic northern California. It served as a fun event for the families to reconnect and share a memorable milestone in their lives.
“It’s a good reminder because life is fleeting, time goes by so quickly,” Reed said. “Having these little markers I think are really important so that we can all celebrate and enjoy.”
Shiny Musical Beginnings
Reed’s strong familial bonds have played an integral role in his personal and creative life. Raised with a Croatian heritage, Reed grew up in a close-knit musical family. His mother was born on a small island in the Adriatic Sea and later relocated to the Bay area with her family.
While growing up in San Jose, Reed’s musician father encouraged him to play an instrument in elementary school. Reed started playing the alto sax and wrote melodies while his father jammed on the piano. Those jam sessions included improvisational jazzy elements and additional stints in the school band.
“I played in junior high and didn’t get along with my teacher. I was a very rebellious kind of a kiddo, so I don’t think I got completely kicked out of my junior high band, but close to it. I went into high school, and I tried to do music there. I played in the marching band, and the uniforms, the amount of practices and the amount of weekend time, it wasn’t for me,” Reed said.
“It just wasn’t the right lifestyle, and I ended up switching high schools, tried the band again, and same kind of thing, it wasn’t my style of music. Musically, I think I really enjoyed the freedom of expression and just letting loose, unleashing the dragon.”
After high school, Reed played alto sax in several hip-hop groups and performed at open blues jams at JJ’s Blues in San Jose. Those jam sessions served as Reed’s unofficial music school and blossomed into a passion for writing songs, lyrics and melodies.
To hone his songwriting, Reed also picked up the guitar, but struggled to play it as a left-handed musician. While growing up, he learned how to play instruments from a right-handed perspective in school and looked for a way to adapt his technique.
“When it came to playing guitar, it was a very interesting realization because I don’t think at that point I had really embraced or even thought about that I was left-handed,” said Reed, who’s inspired by BB King, Muddy Waters, TLC and Green Day. “I naturally picked up the guitar and played it upside down.”
Reed eventually got a left-handed guitar and shifted his upside down playing technique to the ukulele instead. He soon joined his first reggae band and did a solo project to reflect a multi-genre growing body of work he had developed as a singer-songwriter.
The Rise of Sunny State
After eight years as a solo artist, Reed formed Sunny State earlier this year after his previous band manager mentioned he was looking for a reggae band on Instagram. That post rekindled Reed’s interest in reggae after gathering with Julian and some other friends for a one-off live performance.
Together, Reed and Julian brought James and Freddie into the fold to record new reggae tracks in the studio. Tyler and Roman quickly joined the band to round out the Sunny State lineup.
“I had been toying with names for the record and the band, and people were jiving to the music, and that day, I just committed to Sunny State in my head,” Reed said. “I founded Sunny State Music on Instagram, and I was going to talk to the guys after a gig.”
Luckily, the guys liked the name and committed to recording and releasing a new series of reggae fusion singles under Sunny State. Those singles will become part of the band’s first full-length album, which will drop next spring or summer.
“We’re recording at Redwall Studio in Fremont with Ryan Palma, and that’s been going really great. In December, we’re taking a break from recording, and then in January, we’ll be finishing up the record,” Reed said. “We also will release the music video for ‘When You Know,’ and we will release at least one more single after that.”
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