An Interview with Ryan Benton of The Sunshine Dreamers

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Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the talented Ryan Benton of The Sunshine Dreamers. Among other things, we touch on what he’s been up to during the lockdown, the group’s newest music, his opinion of the music scene today, and what he’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you’re interested in learning more about the work of The Sunshine Dreamers, you can head over to the group’s Facebook page and dig in. You can also sample the group’s music via their Bandcamp as well. Enjoy this interview with Ryan. Cheers.

Andrew:
Ryan, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

Ryan:
It’s been pretty quiet for the most part. With the exception of my two roommates, a few immediate family members, and a couple of friends I was pretty much isolated for an entire year. I spent a lot of the time journaling in bed late into the night and writing music during the day.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

Ryan:
I was always curious about it and remember being really into listening to the radio a lot growing up. My parents didn’t really have a record collection and neither I nor any of my friends had older siblings to rummage through their collections, so I was kind of at the mercy of whatever music it was that was playing around me. It wasn’t until early high school when Napster came out and I got a computer that I started discovering music on my own.

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences?

Ryan:
Super early on throughout all of elementary school, I was pretty much solely hooked and obsessed with Weird Al Yankovic. For a few years even after discovering him, I didn’t really understand what a parody was and thought his music and lyrics were all original. I thought it was insane how diverse his style was and that he was able to genre hop the way he did. I remember thinking how cool it was that he wasn’t tied down by any specific genre and to this day I think the idea of not being bound by genre is a major influence and reason our band sounds the way it does.

After Al and throughout middle school then into high school I got into top-40 Emo/Alternative Hits of the 90s until finally later in high school I discovered The Beatles, then the floodgates of music that I religiously listen to still to this day opened up.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about recent events first. Tell us about your new EP, The City.

Ryan:
The first thing The Sunshine Dreamers ever officially put out was an EP in 2010 we called The Farm, simply because we wrote and recorded it all in this tiny farmhouse that all of us were pretty much living in. Over the years I always hoped to write/record a sort of companion EP to it that would be called The City. So, about three years ago after years of not having a good space to comfortably record I moved into a house with my brother that offered plenty of room for a decent home studio setup. I began recording with my friends Colin Ryan and Anthony Piazza and immediately got the feeling as if something new was on the horizon. A feeling similarly felt while writing and recording The Farm EP.

Andrew:
What lyrical themes are you exploring with your new music?

Ryan:
Much of The City EP like many Sunshine Dreamers songs are rooted in nostalgia. Lately, however, I’ve been trying to focus on the future and picture how we will look back at the now.

Andrew:
An incredible part of The Sunshine Dreamers story is your battle with muscular dystrophy and how you’ve managed to overcome it to make such beautiful music. Tell us more about that, and the effect that it has had on the band’s creative output.

Ryan:
Over the last couple of years prior to writing and recording this EP my lungs had started to weaken to a point where I was barely able to push out and sing more than a single note or two at a time. My fingers had pretty much become completely useless and too weak to press down on the piano keys like I used to effortlessly be able to do. It was at this point I really began to see my friends step in and selflessly offer their musical abilities. The City EP was kind of the beginning of me having to step aside and fill into more of a director-like role in the band rather than a performer.

I’ve always loved the collaborative nature of music but this began to take on a whole other life when I had to ask others to trust more and more in what I was hearing in my head because I wasn’t able to show it as easily as I once could. Being given that trust is something I’m still very grateful for and hold in high regard and respect.

Ultimately, I think my disease has actually been much more of a positive than I’d ever guessed in regards to being creative and making music. I have a clearer vantage point by not having my performance anymore in the mix clouding my objectivity of what is working or not working within the song. I’ve come to realize the longer I’ve been making music the kind of creativity that can sprout from boundaries and restrictions.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Cassettes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? What are a few of your favorite albums and why?

Ryan:
For convenience and accessibility, because I can’t physically pick up a physical copy of an album and put it on the player, I pretty much stick to listening to music solely from my phone or computer. I’ve never really been much of a fidelity snob or have a great ear for the difference in quality. I know a lot of people like our drummer Clint McClellan that do have that unique gift and I’ve definitely learned to respect it but it’s just not me.

It’s so hard to pick just a few favorites but I will say that I’ve noticed a common thread that many of my favorite albums share is this sort of grandiose/over-the-top triumphant sound. Albums like Dark Side of the Moon, Pet Sounds, or Soft Bulletin I tend to really gravitate towards.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Ryan:
I am a big advocate for stem cell therapy and its potential in treating so many untreatable medical conditions. After beginning ongoing stem cell treatments out of the country around 2007 I started this annual benefit concert that our band performed at. I got to see the impact community can have when banding together to achieve something larger than just themselves. I see and feel the same thing about creating music. It is always so satisfying playing and creating with other musicians for no other reason than trying to achieve a sound bigger and better than anything you could on your own.

Andrew:
In your opinion, what is the state of the music business these days? Should artists be hopeful? Scared? Both?

Ryan:
I grew up making music in an era where the internet was pretty much readily available to most people and most music was and is still pretty much readily available free everywhere on it. So, most of my friends and I have never really known the business side of it. Being from Kansas too I think the majority of musicians I come across first and foremost just want their music heard. With all that being said I will say that the internet really leveled the playing field. I think if your music is truly good enough and available on the internet it will find a way to get out to whatever audience it is meant for.

Andrew:
Last one. We seem to be nearing a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of COVID-19 restrictions. That said, what’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the pos-COVID world?

Ryan:
Now that I’ve been vaccinated I’ve begun seeing more and more of my friends that I haven’t seen since the start of the pandemic which has been a breath of fresh air. I’m looking forward to sharing a physical space with more and more people again rather than over FaceTime or Zoom.

Interested in learning more about The Sunshine Dreamers? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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