Sunny and The Black Pack: Q&A and Artist Signature Ukulele Release

Sunny and The Black Pack: Q&A and Artist Signature Ukulele Release

Despite the challenges of 2020, one highlight for Kala was the exciting relationship we began with the extremely talented band, Sunny and The Black Pack. Prior to pandemic, this Bay Area group was rising to the top of their live performance game - securing over 300 shows in both 2018 and 2019, as well as opening for Boz Scaggs and Matt Nathanson. As everything shut down, Sunny and The Black Pack pivoted to exclusively streaming their performances online, and their virtual presence absolutely exploded. 

Sunny and The Black Pack is fronted by multi-instrumentalist and soulful vocalist Sunny Promyotin. Sunny is brilliant on pretty much any instrument he gets ahold of, but what floored Kala the most is his incredible use of ukulele within his band’s sound. Sunny can croon and strum gently with the best of them, but he doesn’t hesitate to rev up his uke with effects and slay a solo with a fierceness and precision that could match any guitar virtuoso.

As we got to know Sunny and The Black Pack - they adopted a range of our instruments including several ukulele, our Solid Mahogany Thinline Steel Guitar, and more recently our Solid Body U•BASS®. Keeping Sunny’s dynamic playing style in mind, Kala and Sunny got to work on a Signature solid body ukulele design that would keep up with his technique, catch eyes, and be accessible to other ukulele players. We are proud to announce that the Solid Body Electric Sunny & The Black Pack Signature Tenor Ukulele will be released in April of 2024!

The perfect ukulele counterpart on-stage to the electric guitar and electric bass, this unique instrument can be played clean or paired seamlessly with external instrument effects such as Chorus, Delay, and Distortion — all without the concerns of audio feedback. The White Ebony wood is sure to be a showstopper with its contrasting white and black grain. Striking looks and a strong clear tone provide the perfect starting point for dialing in the ideal sound. Each model comes with a custom Black Padded Ukulele Gig Bag.

It’s our pleasure to share with you a recent interview we had with Sunny, in anticipation of the release of this Signature ukulele, and some big highlights for the band:

Tell us more about your musical beginnings. 

Music saved my life. I was 16 years old and really struggling. I was having a hard time understanding people, family, and myself. In my darkest times, music seemed to seek me out and just find me. I would take long walks and drives along the oceanside as I grew up in Pacific Grove, CA. At some point, the sound of crashing waves along the shore started to be accompanied by the sounds of music in my head. It was at this point, I started seeking out a way to materialize these sounds. I walked to my high school and broke into a piano practice room to sit down, tinker, and to see what I could take out of my head and possibly make into "music." In 15 minutes, to my surprise, I wrote my first song. I still remember the name, “Asil.” I can't believe I even still remember how to play it. The rest is kind of history. Six months would pass and I would go on to write over a hundred songs on the piano. By the end of year I stopped counting. 

How did ukulele become such a prominent part of your sound? What do you love most about the uke?

I didn't discover the ukulele until many years later. It wasn't until I was much older and made my move to live in Bangkok, Thailand. Along my journey and career, I had taken on many different instruments - from guitar, bass, saxophone, flute - honestly, anything I could get my hands on. It's kind of unbelievable that ukulele was actually my last and most recent discovery. When first moving to Thailand, ukulele seemed to just be exploding. Shops, players, music, literally everywhere I went. I couldn't help but take an interest and start exploring. I was captivated instantly when I picked up my first uke in hand. I don't think I've ever put it down since. 

As far as what I love most, it's just so versatile. As popular as ukulele is nowadays, I still think a lot of people sleep on it and don't see its full potential. The ukulele can literally do anything you want. So many like to pigeon hole it into rhythm and use it purely as a backing instrument. That's very viable and very real, but the way I personally use it, is the complete opposite. I do enjoy using it to chord my songs, sing with, etc., but my main use is truly as a lead instrument. More than any other stringed instrument, it is my favorite to wail on. Distorted or clean, it is my absolute go-to, without a doubt. 

The pandemic was a challenging time for many - including artists. It seemed that Sunny and The Black Pack found an incredible stride during this time. Can you elaborate on how you kept things going and the experiences/opportunities that arose from that?

Pre-pandemic, things for us as a band were going absolutely incredible. It was literally at this point that we were opening for Boz Scaggs, Matt Nathanson and many others. All of it was actually quite surreal. As a band we started playing in coffee shops and small venues, but right before the pandemic, we were opening for giant acts and being asked to travel the world to take on some incredible opportunities. Once the pandemic hit though, that pretty much shut the doors on all live concerts and performances. 

I've always been a big guy, but I was in a particular space of danger because I struggle with Lymphedema. Poor circulation due to my weight at the time, put me at extreme risk of infection. That, combined with COVID, really put a scare into the thought of performing where I might be more at risk. It was all quite eerie actually. While the first cases of COVID started popping up, I was actually in the hospital recovering from emergency surgery. I developed an infection that caused my body to go into sepsis. Happy to say, I have fully recovered and have lost more than 200 pounds since. 

Little did we know that COVID would be our biggest kickstarter to our musical careers. With the shutting down of venues everywhere, we were forced to adapt and find another way to keep going. It was at this point we turned to streaming online. Even before all this happened, we had been exploring the online streaming space. We started with streaming on Twitch a few years before the pandemic hit, so naturally once it did, we were ready to go. It was in our favor that the whole world started to turn to the internet for their live music fix. We were streaming on Twitch, but were not exclusive. We followed trends and moved wherever the train would take us. Eventually, we found ourselves streaming on the front page of Reddit where we garnered the attention of what felt like the entire universe. It's actually why we're talking right now - it’s literally how Kala found us. It was a wild ride, we were performing sometimes as long as four hour sets to millions of viewers in a single session. From Reddit we eventually moved on to Tiktok where we would make our largest home.

We accumulated about 600,000 followers in about eight months of streaming and performed live sets around the clock. At one point, we were streaming four to five nights a week. It was pure insanity. Incredible to think how even at our largest live in-person concerts, we were only performing to a fraction of the people we could perform to in a single livestream session from our own home studio. It was a whole new monster that would begin to take on a life of its own and we were ready for it. 

 What are some of your biggest musical influences? 

I've been asked this question A LOT over the course of my career. The answer early on seemed to be pretty quickly, something like, Miles, Coltrane, Mingus or Monk, splashed with my other favorite musical artists. If I'm going to answer this question honestly though, the answer takes on a different direction.  My biggest musical influence is 100 percent, hands down, my family. They are the ones that shape my music more than any other. They inspire me to create, play, and perform. They literally all make me want to be my best self. They are my everything. Every single note I play, there is reflection and reverberation of my family. I think to a lot of musicians, this may seem an odd answer, but it's just the truth for me. I feel what shapes my music most is the emotions I feel inside of me. The ones inspiring those emotions [are] my family. My beautiful Black Pack family. 

You've worked with Kala on a soon-to-be-released Signature Solid Body ukulele: Tell us more about that model and how you feel about it.

There is no question this is one of the biggest highlights of my entire life and career. It's truly a dream come true and I am beaming with excitement as we embark together on this upcoming journey.

I have searched far and wide for a ukulele that can do exactly what this Signature Solid can do. Literally my entire career has been a journey and exploration for ukes that can handle my specific needs. As a band, our style focuses heavily on improvisational performance, pouring solos into every song we can. Naturally, I need a uke that can handle both a clean tone and an effected one. Let me tell you, before this Signature introduction, the journey had been near hopeless. I was lucky enough to discover the Kala Archtop, which is what I used for most of my years. I loved it and still love it, I have it in every color actually. Yes, I'm a nut. Since I've had the new Signature ukulele in hand though, I simply cannot put it down. It is truly the best execution of an electric ukulele that I've ever personally played. It can handle any style I throw at it. Perfect distortion and perfect usability with my pedal set up. Most other ukes just end in an infinite feedback loop once you introduce pedals. This one does not. 

Another favorite part of this uke release is the price point. When Kala and I first started talking about a Signature line, we discussed a few different price points, high end, low end, etc. At the forefront of my mind, I wanted to make sure we created something affordable. We wanted something that everyone could have and play. We wanted a ukulele that even a beginner or intermediate player could consider. The finalized pricing makes it truly universal and affordable to anyone interested in going electric. I cannot express enough my excitement with Kala being able to help make the affordability a reality. There are A LOT of overpriced and overhyped ukes out there. This is a uke that no one has to break the bank to add to their arsenal. On top of all that, IT PLAYS!

What advice do you have for people just getting started on ukulele and with music? 

Whether it's ukulele, piano, voice, trumpet or whatever, my advice seems to be the same and easily applicable to musicians and artists of any kind. My advice would be: Don't stop listening. What I mean by that more specifically, is keep an open heart and open mind. At some point as we grow and begin to find ourselves, somewhere in that process, it can turn an artist somewhat self-righteous and cold. Maybe it’s part of the coping process, of taking or adapting to criticism, but this process hurts the musician more than anyone else. Being open and able to hear new music and ideas is critical to your growth as a musician. Closing or callusing to concepts and opinions means growing will be slower. Careful of the protective armor you put up as an artist and don't let it stop you from becoming better. Be fearless and unafraid, but remain truly open. 

What's next this year for Sunny and The Black Pack?

2024 is packed with surprises! Besides this upcoming Sunny And The Back Pack Signature release with Kala, I'd say our biggest news is Howie Mandel. We're currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but are literally mid-move to get down to Los Angeles to become the new house band for Howie Mandel's show, "Howie Mandel Does Stuff." 

Aside from performing, we are also deep into the recording and production part of music. Between myself and super producer Alex Rein (guitarist), we have been working on quite a few studio projects, and even producing for some others as well. Alex is infinitely talented and I'm so incredibly lucky to call him family. We literally just wrapped on a movie where a few of our tracks were used. The magic Alex and I were able to create on these tracks was just incredible and I'm so excited to release these new songs. We also have two collaborative songs with hip hop group NB Ridaz, one of which features the incredible Delfonics, and separately, another song with Jurassic 5's, Akil the MC. All of which are being worked on now. 

On top of all this is a full album drop, a collaborative luminous glow ring jewelry release with Rune Refinery and painting. Yes, painting. Yeah, as a family, we've all now suddenly taken on art in every creative medium we can think of and it's been wonderful. I cannot wait to literally share our canvases with you. Not just talking [about] our unique covers anymore, but literally, canvases of paint. Oh and did I mention my very own collaborative candy and snack line with Study Of Sweets? 2024 has already been an incredible year and we're only a few months into it.

According to Chinese Lunar New Year, it is the year of the dragon. It just so happens, I am indeed a Golden Dragon.

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