Music is a curious endeavor. There are quantifiable elements to it, but it is more mystic than it is scientific. You can stick a bunch of fantastic players in a room together, but they won’t necessarily make gripping music. On the other hand, a group of not so terrific individual players can develop an alchemy that leads to wonderful songs.
I had the pleasure of taking part in a handful of the SOTA singer/songwriter competitions that were held at Woodstock’s Pizza throughout the month of October. The contest format is a weird way to present music, but it provides a good opportunity for the audience to see a number of performers in the course of a single evening. There were a lot of good singers and players throughout and I was really impressed with the level of talent. I mean everyone was bringing it, but in a way I had never experienced in an open format competition. There was more to it than just talent and proficiency though. There is really something going on in this town right now.
That first night at the SOTA contests I had the pleasure of hearing a couple of songs performed by Justin Stie, who plays under the name “Sunshine Rain”. He was strumming an acoustic guitar, a Fender if memory serves, and singing. Stie is soft-spoken and understated, but the melodies he generated that night were mesmerizing. They caused the hair on my arms to stand on end. I felt compelled to introduce myself, and since then, over a few beers, I’ve gotten to know a little more about Stie and his music.
The name “Sunshine Rain” comes from Justin’s given name. Stie means “rain” in Lebanese; and as Stie explains it, “Some girl gave me the nickname ‘Sunshine’ at an electronic music event.”
The name fits the style and moods of music Stie delivers, both in his original creations and when he DJs his radio program on Chico State’s Internet-based KCSC radio station.
“It’s a show of remixes mixed with indie experimental music, some jazz, and some reggae,” explained Stie. “I try to keep things interesting, like a sun shower when it’s sprinkling and the sun peeks through the clouds. You don’t really know what to expect.”
Stie lists a number of artists he might feature on any given program: Billie Holiday, Sleepy Sun, Animal Collective, CocoRosie, among several others. There is an improvisational, open quality to it all.
“Some days it’s more electronic,” Justin points out, “depending on the weather.”
Stie took a circuitous route to arrive here in Chico. He grew up in Visalia and after high school moved on to study music at CSU Monterey. There he played in a rock band and recorded a couple of albums. It was during this time that Stie began composing “soundtrack style ideas” and uploading his creations to SoundCloud under the name “Sunshine Rain.”
A sustainability conference first brought Stie to Chico while he was still attending CSU Monterey. Eventually the inevitability of change reared its head and Stie found himself looking for something new. “My favorite teachers left the school, so I transferred to Chico State,” said Justin.
Stie plays a number of instruments on his recordings. Along with singing and playing the guitar, he also plays trumpet, melodica, bass, and drums. He told me a little about his songwriting process, “Lately I’ve been recording acoustic guitar ideas. I usually have some lyrics I’ve been working on and I’ll try and piece them together to the chords. Melody comes next.”
The pieces he comes up with are beautiful, flowing creations – longer compositions combining acoustic elements with electronic accents. The music draws from folk, jazz, and rock influences. Stie lists a few influences for his music: Bob Marley, Elvis, Charlie Mingus, and sites a personal approach to writing lyrics. “I write lyrics when I am inspired by an adventure, like a hike, or a bike ride, so I can capture my experiences, or at least try to paint a picture of memorable events with words.”
The end result of this process is a collection of songs that serve as ambrosia for the ears. As for playing these songs out live Stie states, “I think I’m going to continue writing music and a get a solid set together before I really start playing Chico.”
Let’s hope that set comes together sooner than later. In the meantime, check Stie’s songs out on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/sunshinerain