An Interview with Shawn Sonnenschein of Black ‘N Blue

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Recently, I sat down with veteran lead guitarist Shawn Sonnenschein to discuss, among other things, what he’s been up to during the lockdown, his time in Black ‘N Blue, his passions outside of music, and what he’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you would like to learn more about Shawn, head over to his Instagram here, and dig in. Once you’ve done that, check out this interview with Shawn Sonnenschein. Cheers

Andrew:
Shawn, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us. How have you been holding up over the course of the tumultuous events of this last year or so?

Shawn:
Good question! I live in Portland, Oregon, so out here, we get a front-row seat! Honestly, I have been doing a lot more donating time to help people write and record their song ideas and trying to keep up with my show I do on Facebook, going to the gym, and trying not to be lazy! I have an expensive wardrobe of stage clothes, so I have to keep in shape!

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, I wanted to go back a bit and touch on your early days. What got you hooked on music?

Shawn:
It runs in my family. My mom was one of the world’s top sopranos in her day, my grandma played ragtime piano for the silent movies, so there was always music in the house when I was growing up. Also, I’m the youngest of five, so the older kids were way into Rock ‘N’ Roll and tuned my ears to it at a very young age!

Andrew:
More on your origins, so to speak, where, when, and how did the guitar enter the picture for you? Who were some of your early favorites?

Shawn:
I got my first guitar at age 10, but I started on violin at age five, tap dance and hat and cane with my grandma and then over to clarinet, and then my mom showed up one day with a beautiful black telecaster; and I was hooked immediately!

As far as my early favorites go, I’d have to say, Randy Rhoads, Jimmy Page, and Michael Schenker were my number one guys, David Gilmour, Angus Young, Alex Lifeson, Glen Tipton, Ronnie Montrose, and of course the legendary Eddie Van Halen. Some more than others here, but you get the idea.

Image credit: Joe Schaeffer Photography

Andrew:
Let’s go all the way back now. When it comes to Metal and Hard Rock music, what was the early attraction for you? I know a lot of artists have mentioned that they wanted something that would shake up and challenge their senses. Was it that way for you too?

Shawn:
Metal Just said it all for me. It gave me butterflies when I heard it! I got excited to play and perform it! For me, it was the whole package! The look, the sound, the challenge, the metal girls were second to none and the people. I mean, if you were in a good hard rock band, everybody associated with that band was family through and through! Metal just
rules.

Andrew:
So, let’s talk Black ‘N Blue now. You joined the band somewhere around 2003, and then when the band ramped up full time again in 2008, you were the lead guitarist all the way until 2017, right? So, how did you get the gig? I’ve heard that early on, Black ‘N Blue had
some trouble getting off the ground again and getting a record deal. What were your early years in the band like?

Shawn:
Woop originally recommended me to replace the original guy who was under contract with another band. He came to me one day and said the band was reforming, and the original
guy was out, and they only wanted me to do it because Woop and Patrick and I were all very close friends, so he said I was family and they needed to keep it like that.

Actually, we got a record deal immediately and started writing Hell Yeah! right away from what I remember. Jaime, Woop, and I all started working on the music together, and we became even closer friends and brothers through the process. We’d all been through hell recently in our personal lives, and so we put it to the music, and it was awesome! We were literally living at Woops house most of the time and never put the guitars down. It was a blast writing that album with those guys, barbecuing every day, and living the Rock ‘N’ Roll; we were just excited to be transforming and resurrecting the mighty Black ‘N Blue!

Andrew:
Black ‘N Blue has had several rhythm guitar players, but when you joined, the band had only ever had one other lead player, and that’s Tommy Thayer. What was it like taking his place in the band? Was Tommy an influence on your career prior? Either way, those are some pretty big shoes to fill. Tell us more about that and the reception you received.

Shawn:
Well, right away, you have to know that in bands that have been around forever, people are always going to want the original lineup no matter what the change is. I knew that going in and it didn’t bother me really at all because it felt like family with those guys, and I loved them and performing with them, so honestly, I didn’t even think about it too much, and nobody ever said anything to me about it, they were all just very awesome to me and told me I was a perfect fit. I have to say, though, that Tommy and I had similar guitar styles when it comes to 80s Metal. If you listen to my 80s band Sweet Roxx you’d hear that while the music is completely different, the guitar techniques are actually quite similar so it was kind of old hat to me but picking up someone else’s style and executing their delivery while still being yourself can be a challenge but I was up for it! I had to make sure that the audience got what they came for whether Tommy was there or not; however, I did try to give it a bit of a me injection for a little thrill.

Image credit: Joe Schaeffer Photography

Andrew:
In 2011, Black ‘N Blue released what I felt was a really great album, and that’s Hell Yeah! For me, it was all the things that made Black ‘N Blue great. Just good old-fashioned Glam Rock, which I felt was a bold move considering we aren’t in the era of Glam. Ten years on, what your thought on that record looking back?

Shawn:
First of all, Glam never died or even went away at all. It, like many other timeless styles just transformed and swirled around, never really touching down but just staying right where it belonged, I’m not sure that Black ‘N Blue was ever actually considered “Glam,” though I would say they were 80s Rock but I never saw them as Glam Rock like I would Poison or something down those lines. I personally think Hell Yeah! is the hardest rock album that Black ‘N Blue has ever done and I’m proud to have been a part of it! If they wanted to do another one, I’d be there in a heartbeat! Fun fun fun!!

Andrew:
More on Hell Yeah! So, you guys made this great record, and it was really well reviewed too, but since then, there’s been no more music. Why did the bad go dormant in the studio?

Shawn:
I just don’t think the old-school record industry has been doing that well, and for a band like Black ‘N Blue, they can make a decent living on the history and the previous hit songs touring around. Also respectively I don’t think the current lineup is designed for recording Black ‘N Blue music.

Andrew:
In 2017, you were suddenly replaced in Black ‘N Blue by Brandon Cooke, which I think came as a surprise to all of us and we’ve all been kind of confused since. Can you tell us what happened there? Did you see it coming? Where do things currently stand between yourself and the band?

Shawn:
Well, I was not replaced by him, he was the rhythm guy, and now two guys are trying to cover what I did and did alone on one certain tour actually; I honestly don’t know what happened? Some say it was because of a girl, and then some say they told the band they could never play another cruise again if I was in the band. You never know what happens sometimes, but the political side of things is like snow in “April” confusing, but Woop and I are still very close.

Andrew:
Looking back, what are your lasting and final thoughts on your time with Black ‘N Blue? Any regrets? Anything you might change?

Shawn:
I wouldn’t change a thing except my hair! [Laughs].

Andrew:
Now that the hard ones are out of the way let’s talk about vinyl. Are you into it? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital?

Shawn:
I love it all! As long as it’s got Rock ‘N’ Roll on, it doesn’t matter to me how
it’s delivered!

Andrew:
It’s been a few years since your time in Black ‘N Blue ended, and you seem to have kept a low profile. Are there any new projects you’re ramping up for? What’s next on your docket these days?

Shawn:
I haven’t kept a low profile by choice! [Laughs]. There have been lots of offers and a couple of audition offers for some “A” list bands, but the pandemic just killed everything in the entertainment industry, so all of that just died right away. I’m just staying ready and prepped when it kicks back in! You’ll see me again, I promise, but I won’t look the same.

Andrew:
What else are you passionate about? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Shawn:
I’m a trained cook with a degree and started cooking at age five, my kitchen is paradise to me, and I’m subscribed to lots of cooking channels. I love boats and sailing and just being on the water in my boat “Leeloo!” She’s an amazing little boat, and there’s nothing like that feeling. Snowboarding, I’m an old-school longboarder; I was an all-star catcher in little league when I was a kid; I was actually going to play pro ball before I went to music. My kids are the greatest things ever to happen, so I’m extremely passionate about being their Dad.

Andrew:
What types of guitars and gear are you using these days? Do you collect guitars? Any of note you’d like to mention?

Shawn:
I have a rule about my guitars If I find a guitar I like, I have to find the closest identical twin for it because when you tour, there’s no time to make changes if you break a string or something, you gotta have the replacement without a glitch, so on that note, I‘ve got my two Dean V’s to keep me happy and my 1978 Ibanez Les Pauls and then the Ibanez 1550’s I do miss my Normandy Hollowbody’s that were both stolen at different times.

Andrew:
Last one. You’ve had a long and multilayered career in music. As a veteran of the scene, what advice would you have for young artists looking to dive headfirst into music?

Shawn:
Be ready for anything because everything is possible, and everything will happen! Practice, practice, practice, and for god’s sake, if you’re going on stage, get dressed! Make it a special moment for yourself and for the people who went out of their way to pay to see you, and if they didn’t pay to see you make them wish they did! Be professional as possible, and remember, with much labor comes the illusion of ease! Good luck, we will be watching! Make it entertaining!!

Interested in learning more about Shawn Sonnenschein? 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

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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