This "5 and Dime" interview was conducted August 20, 2009, when I chatted on the telephone talking music with The Sunstreak's vocalist Tony Rebis.
To the geographically challenged reader of this interview, the working-class, blue- collar town of Rochester, New York, is light years and 360 miles from New York City. Talk about The Sunstreak's formula for success and its origin starting up in Rochester.
It's been a very long journey Dave. As far as a success formula, there is no one reason or one person you could look at and say that's why the band is where it is. The reason we are where we are is the five of us came together and literally did whatever we had to do to get to the next level. The Sunstreak sold close to 40,000 records on our own without any label or any support. We played on the Warped Tour multiple times. We were the second band ever to hit the Billboard's chart without a distribution deal. I can't sit here and say that we had a specific formula or a specific method that we chose from. The Sunstreak are thinkers, and we always had to think outside the box all of the time to take it to the next level. Each guy is hungrier than the next. We're a partnership, a unity, and a marriage on every level. We have a lot of respect for each other. We do what we do. We put everything into it that we can as musicians and as individuals, and we try to make the band the best that it can be. We're all songwriters, and with David Schuler in the band, we have a world-class record producer. He does all of the recording, engineering, and mixing. He has a natural gift. The road and the journey to get here have been very hard. We did everything on our own so far, and anything that comes up that needs to get done gets done by one of us.
As far as our origins, my bassist Jason Sarkis and I started playing together in high school. We've had other guys come and go. We got our guitarist, Jack Flynn, five or six years ago. Our drummer, Gary Foster, joined four years ago. The last piece of the puzzle was when David Schuler came in at either the end of 2005 or the beginning of 2006. It's been the same guys ever since. When I started out ten years ago, there wasn't much of a music scene in my hometown of Rochester, New York. We were so young, and we stunk so bad. We were part of all of the bad music in this city. But a handful of bands starting building the music scene that's present today, and we're proud to be a part of that.
There are some awesome venues in this city, but people just don't show up because a local band is playing. Unless you have a handful of awesome bands on the bill, you won't have anyone there for you. There's a couple of bad-ass venues that can pack in about 1,000 people, and the next step up is about 6,000. There's nothing in-between. But if you're a band that's doing pretty well, Rochester has a place for you. We could play Water Street in front of 1,000 people on our own. The national tours rolling through Rochester are hitting The Armory with a 6,000 person draw, or the Blue Cross Arena and its 13,000 person draw. Those tours are so set in stone to begin with. There's no chance for the local bands to jump on the bill to help out. There are many pros and cons being from Rochester, New York. We're a smaller city and we're the total opposite from New York City, which is so effing big. New York City is a monster with so many bands that it's easy to get lost. In Rochester, we are the big band. The Sunstreak is the talk of the town. In New York City, we would just be another awesome band. In Rochester, it was a lot easier to create a buzz about our band and to solidify our home base. I'm not sure but maybe getting a band to the next level would be easier if it were in New York City. I have no idea. But as far as The Sunstreak, the next level is upon us and we did it from the small city of Rochester, New York.
I never sat down and thought about Rochester the way you described it, but I think you're absolutely right. We all came from working-class families. None of us was born into extreme wealth or extreme success. Everything we have we had to work for just like our parents. That's been bred into us, and Rochester is that kind of city. One of the cons being from this area is that the winters are pretty tough. Lake Ontario just punishes us!
In this interview, I'll be adding links to your website and MySpace where music fans can hear the music of The Sunstreak. Verbally describe your band's sound to people reading this interview.
The Sunstreak is pop music. That's what we are. If I had to relate us to someone, I'd say All-American Rejects, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, or anything in that vain. We have two guitars, a bassist, a drummer, and a lead singer. We also have some programming in our music, but at the end of the day it's good, great pop songs. Individually, we take influence from everywhere. With five songwriters, there are quite a number of influences. I'm an 80s guy. Dave, as one of the guitarists, is a big R&B guy. Jack, on the other hand, has a big metal background. Everybody has his own thing they try to put in, but it all comes second to the song. We don't put in an awesome drum fill just for the sake of putting in an awesome drum fill. If the song at the given moment calls for a great drum groove, it's going to have a great drum groove. Our record is one way and our live show is just like the record, except it's a little heavier and we play with much more energy. A milder song from the record comes off live as much more intense. Tempo-wise, everything is to a metronome or to a click track. It varies from song to song, but if the tempo gets sped up, it's unintentional. The things that do get sped up aren't too crazy.
Talk about your new CD: "Once Upon a Lie."
"Once Upon a Lie" was originally planned for release on September 22, but it was pushed back to October 6. We're all very excited. As far as getting a physical copy, anywhere you can buy music you'll be able to find our music. People can download it from all of the regular spots like iTunes and Amazon. "Until I Met You," the first single, was released on August 11. Our music has really stepped up a lot and progressed. For the fans who have stuck with us, we've done them very well. As I said before, we're all about pop music and all about the songs. The way we've grown or evolved as a band is that the songs have gotten better. We've become better musicians and gotten better individually. Yet, as a whole, the songs we wrote in 2006 for our debut release don't stand up to the songs on our new record. They are in the same vain, they're the same shit, but the songs are so effing awesome and that's all that matters to us.
The 21st century gives bands different ways of marketing and trying to build their band. The old school approach of pounding the road and playing live sometimes gets replaced by the new school approach of social networking. How does The Sunstreak balance those different approaches?
We're on MySpace and Facebook every single day. If you get a response from our pages, it's coming from one of the band members. That's the way it is. That's the way it always will be. Interacting with our fans got The Sunstreak to where we are today. That will never change. Social networking doesn't interfere with our creative processes of writing and recording music. Yet there are times when we're as much into social networking as we should be because we're in the studio 14 hours that day. We songwrite individually but we find the time. Now that we just released our record, we're not currently writing new music and we're not in the studio. We're on the computer social networking like crazy! Everything equals out. Our fans are dubbed The Streakers and they are the best in the world. They've been with us for years and they're growing in numbers all of the time. They add the word "streaker" to their MySpace page names, and they post like crazy!
I mentioned before that The Sunstreak tries to think outside the box. In 2001, I was 19 years old and we drove out to California from Rochester. We showed up at Kevin Lyman's office. He's the owner of the Warped Tour. We asked him if we could play, and he said sure. Every day we set up a 10 by 20 tent, set up our instruments on the floor, and we played. That's how we developed our relationship with Kevin. We did that entire tour under a different band name. Every year since we've played a little bit here and there. In 2005, we walked up to Kevin and asked to be the BBQ band for 2006. Kevin Lyman is all about helping people who help themselves. If you bust your ass and show him that you want it bad enough, he'll help you. He's one of the few people in this industry who will go out on a limb for you. So in 2006, we were that BBQ band. Every night, Kevin throws a barbeque for all of the bands, crews, and production people on the tour. The BBQ band is responsible for cooking every night. We sold 25,000 couples of our debut CD that summer by busting our ass.
The Sunstreak's gotten some opportunities to open for bigger national acts. We opened for Daughtry; he had just sold 3 million records and he was cranking. It was a cool experience, quite different from the d.i.y. Warped Tour thing where you do everything yourself. The Daughtry tour was so laid out, signs leading to your dressing room, and food waiting for you in the room. You just show up and play. It was nice and the reception we got from his fans was awesome. It was just us and him; we played to a packed house every night.
We're touring late summer, and we're doing a high school tour in the fall. That'll be fun. When our single is out on the radio and demand grows across the country, then we'll really get hit the road. Radio's going to be the primary driver going forward for The Sunstreak. We'll have to see how hard our songs hit. We could be the next Britney Spears or the next failure. Anything can happen. However it hits, we'll adapt and go with it from there.
Other than waiting for the radio impact you've already mentioned, what's the next logical step to push The Sunstreak forward?
For us, it's just to keep doing what we're doing. We worked really hard the last year and a half. We're excited about the upcoming high school shows. That was a great idea laid out by our label and management teams. Like the band, they're also thinking outside the box. The Sunstreak will be trying to do the things that people aren't expecting. We're looking for the radio impact, but it doesn't mean the wheels won't stop spinning for The Sunstreak based upon what may or may not happen. I can't look ahead two months and tell you exactly what will be going on with The Sunstreak. But I promise you that something will be going on. Our fans are the best in the world and they've stuck by us. We've met the majority of them ourselves playing on the Warped Tour or through social networking. We take the time out of our day to get to know them. No matter how big this band gets, this band will never change. It's the way it has been. The way it is, and the way it always will be.
For my final question, please share your thoughts on the senseless murder of Pantera's Dimebag Darrell.
Music was not a big part of my childhood. I didn't even have a radio in my house until 9th grade. Pantera was around when I was a kid, so I missed that era. My drummer and my guitarist are huge Pantera fans. We played with Hellyeah, which was part Pantera and part Mudvayne. My bandmates were freaking out being around Vinnie Paul when he played.