experience american artist sunni colon’s mood-enhancing musical therapy
The singer-songwriter’s funky new EP ‘Satin Psicodelic’ is silky smooth. Watch the accompanying visual exclusively here.
Photography Luke S
Sunni Colón is an enigma. The polymath self-taught multi-instrumentalist has released music and film, created and hosted sound art installations, has a creative agency called Tetsu and is now dabbling in furniture design. “I grew up all over. I was born in LA and raised in New York, London, France and Africa,” Sunni says describing his childhood — something of a template for his current nomadic lifestyle. While he plans to settle in his hometown of Los Angeles soon, Sunni’s far-reaching worldview remains: “I’ve been in LA a lot because I’ve been getting gigs. But it’s so cliche for me to be here, as an artist. There’s so much more. It’s a whole market of people listening outside of this small world.”
Today, the Los Angeles native born to Nigerian parents shares Satin Psicodelic, the follow up to his 2016 debut EP thierry disko, and its accompanying video, 7th Sky. The EP, a collection of psychedelic rock, funk and soul-inflected earworms, finds Sunni grappling with relationships and the traumas and transformations we experience as we get older. Sonically, the EP is a successful attempt at finding calm within a storm. Sunni has a flair for melody, layering disparate sequences and sounds on top of one another, resulting in a seamless and compelling whole, much like the way his multiple faculties as a creative play out in his own life. In Sunni’s own words, “It’s like balanced chaos.”
Over a glass of wine at an upscale west Hollywood hotel bar, Sunni tells us the story of Satin Psicodelic — from recording in Paris to working with the late Leon Ware.
Sunni, where did you record this EP?
It was a weird journey. I started with like 100 tracks. The bulk of it was recorded back in my apartment in Paris. Then, I came here and I was working on an installation in New York, and that’s when I finished the project.
For Satin Psicodelic there’s a synth part that I used and I stole... well, not stole. I was drunk at a party in Paris. It was 3am and we all went to a small apartment after. Everyone was smoking cigarettes. I had my laptop with me because I had been coming from the studio. I get to this house and the guy’s a musician. I went into this room and I got lost in there, because he had all these synths. I asked him like, “Yo man, let me use this real quick. Like, ten minutes.” Ten minutes ended up being an hour in his room, cranking music out. I used his synth on stuff on this project. The synth he had was a synth that I only had the digital version of, and not the real analog version of. So, I “borrowed” it. A lot of the guitar on the project was done with this broken guitar that used to be Beck’s. He left it in Paris at this studio. They had just figured it was a random guitar in the corner. A lady came in one day and was like, “Oh, that’s Beck’s guitar. He used it on a tour and then just never came back for it, so we just had it here.” I was like, “Can I borrow it?” She was like, “Yeah.” Borrowing it ended up being me just keeping it. So, most of the songs on there, all the guitar parts, were written and recorded with that guitar.
What does Satin Psicodelic mean?
What does satin remind you of?
Bed. Or like, wrapping my hair in a silk satin scarf to sleep.
I first found out about satin when my grandmother wore it, when I was super young. I remember one time she was holding me when I was sitting on her lap, and she was wearing satin. I remember touching her satin and being amazed at the feeling. Now I love satin. For me, satin is like finding that balance between something that could be considered psychedelic — not necessarily drugs, but that weird space when things are kind of fuzzy. When you’re 27 and all the different obstacles we’re going through in our lives, all the different traumas and crazy stuff that we experience. We’re at such an interesting point, and in the midst of all this, it feels like this wild chaos. Spiritually, too. Even our bodies are changing. So, for me I’m like, where do I find beauty in the chaos? Where do I fall in? How can I place myself in this balance? In ancient Egypt they said ‘maat’, and it’s a principle that means balance. That’s the principle of this project. S atin Psicodelic is trying to be as smooth as satin in this weird, crazy place we’re in. It’s like smooth chaos, or balanced chaos. It’s a theme in my life.
Something you told The New York Times was that this EP was meant to be “mystical and psychedelic”. What do you mean by that?
I want people to find something that they can connect to, musically, that can enhance their mood. How can music be therapy? I spent time with Leon Ware before he passed (rest in peace), working on music, and one of our first conversations was about how certain chords can trigger certain emotions. That stuck with me forever. I know I’m a chords guy, and I know I gravitate towards certain songs during certain time periods. Musical therapy. The “psych” in “psychedelic” has to do with the psyche, obviously.
Are there any challenges you ran into while you were working on this project?
Being a black artist in music, you have to deal with that issue of like, Are you black enough? I’m like, “Yo I’m black as hell.” But, I had to deal with people telling me, “Maybe you should put a little bit of umph in it.” Also, dealing with it not being ‘popular’. Especially when I’m in sessions and people would be like, “Let’s make this a pop song.” I don’t think any pop song stems from saying, “I want to make a hit.” It’s the opposite. I dealt with going a year without taking meetings in music, and being like, “I’m sorry y’all. I have to distract myself from the industry of music and just keep it music.”
You’ve been called a polymath creative, with your design agency and installation work, but are you a musician first?
I try to get as connected with myself as possible, and the only way I’m able to do that is to express myself. I would say I’m a human first. I do whatever I feel. I might go home and feel like painting for a month, and then be like: alright, this is cool. Let me master something else. Music is always going to be with me. I wake up every day and I think of music, I breathe music. While I was with you, I was making music in my head. I was tapping this glass. I love making music. But, as far as the creativity, it’s about being able to have some type of vessel. I’m fascinated by being able to create something out of nothing. The ability to do that, whether it’s creating music or designing a building.