Sun Shakers – Interview with Dublin’s practitioners of Psychedelic Soul Music

Sun Shakers is a dynamic band from Dublin Ireland specializing in self-described “Psychedelic Soul music” whose membership consists of Davina Brady on vocals, Aidan Mulloy on guitar, Conall Heffernan on bass and TJ Screene on drums.

Formed in 2018, and fronted by Davina’s impressive vocals – which can range stylistically from a gentle soothing lilt to a melodic sonic scream that can peel the paint off walls – the band has already garnered an formidable online presence through their music videos, social media strategy and their unique sound (which you can listen to on Spotify),

The band took time out of their busy schedule to participate in the interview which follows.

About Sun Shakers

From this brief bio on your Spotify Artist page and listening to your music, the Sun Shakers appear to be stylistically driven by both Davina’s vocals and Aidan’s guitar playing….

Four piece band based in Dublin, Ireland. We create Psychedelic Soul music fusing elements of soul, funk, rock, folk and hip-hop. Guitar styles of Frusciante, Mayer, Buckley and vocal styles of Aretha and Janis

Davina (vocals), you have a remarkable singing voice with impressive power and range – just like Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin. Are you a self-taught singer or do you have formal training?

Davina: Thank you so much; I get compared to these two ladies often and to be put into the same sentence as them always makes me shiver (in a good way!).

As a singer, I’ve had some brief training as a young teen for three years. Over time, I developed my sound and roughly about four years ago, I began to train again. I train using a school called Speech Level Singing. It is by far the best school I’ve trained in thus far. 

Aidan (guitar), traces of John Frusciante, John Mayer and Jeff Buckley are evident in your guitar playing. Are you self-taught or did you take guitar lessons to develop your playing?

Aidan: They are for sure some of my biggest influences! I suppose I did both in a way; when I was a teenager, I took guitar lessons and at first learned rock, pop, blues and a little bit of jazz, before focusing on classical guitar for a few years.

While learning classical, I’d teach myself how to improvise from listening to the guitarists mentioned above, as well as other guitar players coming from a blues/soul/folk background. 

Conall (drums) and TJ (bass) what are your respective musical backgrounds?

TJ: As a bass player, I’m influenced by a lot of different genres and bass players but there are a few great bass players that come to mind. I’m really influenced by Motown session player James Jefferson. I’m a massive fan of John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin, and of course Jack Bruce from Cream is a big inspiration.

Other bass players I love include Jerry Scheff and Larry Graham. I also play a lot of double bass and I’m really active in the Bluegrass scene here in Dublin.

Conall: Over the years playing drums with various bands around the Dublin music scene, you get exposed to all sorts of genres. Playing with the guys over the last number of years, we have really touched on many genres which all adds to our overall sound.

Some of the drummers I admire would be Stewart Copeland, John Dolmayan, Mick Fleetwood to name a few, as well as the great drum teachers I’ve had along the way.

My Spotify top list of songs played over the years would contain a mix of metal bands, house, funk to rock which I play along with. I guess you could say a mix of everything comes through depending on the melody or vocals that I hear when creating a new track.

On Songwriting

How do you go about composing your songs? Is it a group effort where every member contributes or does Davina write the melody and lyrics and TJ, Conall & Aidan come up with the music?

Band response: The process is a little different every time but usually Davina and Aidan would write the song together (melody, lyrics, structure, chords) before bringing it to TJ and Conall where we come up with the groove and finesse the structure. It’s a very collaborative process and there’s always an air of excitement whenever we finish a song together.

Do you consciously sit down and treat writing a song like a full-time job or do your songs come from sudden inspiration (or maybe a mix of both)?

Band response: As artists, consistency when writing is very important, whether it’s for Sun Shakers or for other projects. Everyone’s creative process is of course going to be different – I think everyone has periods where they feel they’re bursting with creativity and others where it doesn’t come as easily.

Inspiration will always hit us, but I think the trick to consistency is to keep coming back to the drawing board to sharpen our skills, whether or not we feel that sudden surge of inspiration.

Davina (vocals) assuming that you’re the primary lyricist, are the lyrics to your songs based on actual life experiences or are you simply playing a character telling stories in a musical format? If they are in fact based on real-life experiences, are there any stories behind the lyrics that you’d care to share?

Davina: As a lyricist, my words come from a mixture of places but they always have a message that humans can learn from or that I have learned from. As a writer and lyricist, I write from three main perspectives.

The first is me, my life, my human experience.

The second is the stories of those around me and their experiences through my observation or in some instances from what they have told me.

The third way I write is using the stories of our world, both good and bad. “One Atom“, our second single for example, is about the immigration crisis. Not so much the actual migration of people across countries but the political and populist backlash (in Europe) against migration.

It’s written from the viewpoint of a mother who’s asking the question ‘What’s the difference between your child and mine”. The song reaches out to people and makes them think about the awful scenario that forces a mother get into a unsecure boat with her children and travel across miles of rough seas to reach a better life.

It asks people to tap into their empathy: to try and understand that all this mother wants, all any person would want, is a stable life where they can live peacefully – “I want to wake everyday securing stable, to feed my mouth to hears words I’m able”

Are there any specific tips that you can give to aspiring songwriters who may be reading this interview?

Band response: A song is a story and as songwriters our job is to tell that story. Finding what stories you want to tell is always up to you and this will vary throughout your life. Confining our creative output to a style or sound is not what the world needs right now, so be brave with your writing and never be afraid to change as you go through life. 

Recording and gear

Do the Sun Shakers produce and audio engineer their own music? If so, is there any advice you can give to any bands who may be reading this who wish to produce their own music but might not have yet acquired the technical skill?

Band response: Up to now when releasing singles, we’ve recorded with a superb producer/sound engineer, Damian Brady (who’s also Davina’s brother). However, during lockdown we’ve been doing home recordings of songs we’ve written and released videos of them on social media, and although it’s been challenging, it’s been an amazing learning tool for us when recording/mixing.

In terms of advice, there’s a lot of great info out there on YouTube so be sure to utilise it. For anyone starting out, there’s obviously a very steep learning curve (we’re still learning loads ourselves!), so with every recording you make, just aim to make it a little better than the last one to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed at the start.

For example, on one recording you might focus on getting the volume levels right, on another recording you may focus on getting your reverb levels a little tighter, etc. It can seem overwhelming at the start, but we guarantee that pursuing it will make you a better musician overall and it will get you thinking more holistically about your own music. More importantly, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, so get creative with it and don’t be afraid to experiment and come up with your own sound!

Can you give me a rundown of the gear of the individual band members?

Davina (vocals): I usually use Shure mics when performing live, the renowned SM58 mostly. My keyboard is a Yamaha. In my home studio I use all PreSonus software and hardware. I find them to be of amazing quality at a price most people can afford.

Aidan (guitars): I use an American Telecaster with humbucker pickups. Amp-wise, I use an Orange at home, but truthfully, though I’m not too fussed when it comes to amps, I have a slight preference for Orange and Vox amps, but I’ll plug in wherever they let me, haha! Some of my favourite pedals I use include the Line 6 M5 Stompbox for reverb, and the Boss Blues Driver BD-12 for boost/distortion. 

TJ (bass): My go-to bass would be a Mexican Fender Jazz, but recently I’ve been experimenting more with a Yamaha 5-string bass, with the 5th string tuned to a high C. The amp I have is an Ashdown MAG 300 EVO II.

Conall (drums): Gretsch Renown Maple kit, Tama Maple Snare, Vic Firth sticks, Zildjian cymbals (Vintage Quick Beat Hats, K Custom Session Ride) and Tama hardware. 

Career

You’re based in Dublin, Ireland. What’s the music scene currently like in light of Covid? And what’s your expectation for the Dublin music scene and the Sun Shakers’ place in it once everybody gets vaccinated and things “get back to normal”?

Band response: Prior to Covid, Dublin had an exceptionally active and diverse live music scene – especially given how small Dublin is relative to other European capitals.

Unfortunately, like everywhere else, the live music scene is at a temporary halt, which is of course devastating for artists and other working musicians. On the bright side though, a lot of musicians have turned to putting out more music/videos online, leading to not only more collaborations within the Dublin music scene, but also to collaborations with people outside of Ireland, so in a sense the scene is expanding in a really exciting way that we might not have seen before.

It’s difficult to say when we will “go back to normal,” or what that world is going to look like. Personally, we’re optimists, so we’re hoping for another “Roaring 20’s” with regard to live music, haha! We do think there is a massive demand for live music, and that people are sorely missing it, so I think when it comes back, the live scene will be stronger than ever.

The band has been in its current formation only since 2018 yet you already have over 2,000 followers on Facebook and 2,000 followers on Instagram. How did you develop your social media following? And is there any advice you can give to bands out there who want to follow in your footsteps and gain a following?

Band response: Since lockdown, we’ve been channeling our efforts into building our social media not only for the band’s page, but also for our own personal pages, where we help to garner traction for our videos/music.

There are all sorts of things you can learn about building an online presence from YouTube, such as learning to optimise hashtags, commenting on posts, etc. Those are all useful, but I think the two things that are most important to us are consistency in releasing posts, and forming connections with fans and other musicians.

Other factors in building our social media presence include personally responding and showing gratitude to anyone who enjoys what we do, and also encouraging other bands and musicians to keep creating through liking and commenting on the posts that they create. If you keep up that consistency, keep forming those connections, and you’re good at what you do, you’ll be more likely to be able to build your online presence – that’s what’s been working for us anyway so far.

What are your short-term (within a year), medium-term (within 5 years) and long-term (within 10 years) professional goals?

Band response: Our short term goals, with the lockdown in mind, is to build up our catalogue of recorded work. We have our first album written and we’re pretty much ready to go into the studio and begin to record it.

We’ll release new singles in March and early Summer (of 2021), with the hope of having a full album of material by the years end. We also aim to build upon our social media presence with a goal of creating pockets of fans all over the world who like our music. In early 2022, we will begin to explore these territories and perform for those fans. The next 12 months will also see us build a team around us from band management to audio engineers.  

Our aim with our music and message is to travel the world and share it. Independently or under a label, Sun Shakers aim to reach a substantial world audience within the next three years. Our five year plan will depend upon the route this takes us.


You can check out Sun Shakers on their website as well as their various social media accounts on InstagramTwitter and YouTube

And of course, you can listen to their music over at Spotify and other major streaming platforms.

Psychedelic Soul Music in action!