Featurette with Sundown Superhero

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Sundown Superhero is a Barbadian pop/punk band consisting of Emile Sabga (25), Craig Haniff (31) and Philip Norville (28).

After releasing their first single “California Dime”, the song peaked at number two on Selecta Charts within the first day of its release, made its radio debut three weeks later on Y 103.3 FM and the band recently wrapped principal photography on their first music video. They will be releasing their first EP, “Wake Up The Neighbourhood”, later this year.

We sat down with the band this past Saturday at Castaways Bar and Grill in St. Lawrence Gap and got to know them a little better.


 

Photo provided by Craig Haniff. Photography by Nathan Mack.

Zeitgeist: Could you explain what pop/punk is exactly?
Emile Sabga: I think pop/punk was originally the genre that brought punk music into the mainstream back in the late 80’s/early 90’s.
Craig Haniff: The 2000’s as well. Punk rock really started with like…a movement. Like a whole rebellion movement. Sex Pistols –
Philip Norville: The Clash.
CH: – like [really] raunchy. That was real punk rock and then the genre kind of “watered down”, for lack of a better term, into more radio friendly [music]. Blink 182 then took what The Clash and The Cure and them were doing and as opposed to being raunchy, they [refined it]. So then there was a movement that was like: “Oh that’s not real punk rock. Real punk rock is like nasty, grungy, rough ass music. That’s pop/punk.”
ES: Totally. Punk music has traditionally been anti-establishment, right. It’s been anti-government, anti-establishment, “stick it to the man” kind of music. Pop/punk took that sound, changed the message and refined it.

 

Z: Why did you decide to do pop/punk? A lot of Barbadian and Caribbean artists don’t do rock music.
PN: That’s the music we grew up listening to.
CH: Legit. Legit. It’s just the music we’re into and when we first got guitars and drums and stuff, it just really naturally gravitated towards what we’d be playing.
PN: To be quite honest…it’s the easiest to play.
CH: It’s fun. It’s honestly [really] fun.
PN: It’s what we learned to play our instruments on.
ES: There’s also an entire culture that surrounds pop/punk music. Skateboarding, surfing, in the sun, flip-flops, baggies, T-shirts, like that island vibe, Southern California vibe. It goes hand in hand with the things that we like.
CH: And still kind of rebellious too because instead of doing homework…I was just playing guitar.
PN: Instead of going to class, heading straight to the music room…
ES: Yea,yea. Exactly. So…bit of the culture, bit of the sound, bit of everything.

Z: So do you think that there is a place for pop/punk in Barbados?
ES: One hundred percent.
PN: I think there’s a following.
CH: And we only learnt that after we released our song, to be completely honest with you. We [make music] mostly to – and JJ from Kite is who kind of used this term: “I know you’re doing it for the sake of your sanity; you just want to get your ideas out there.” And that’s exactly what it [is]. But then the reception to it – like everybody received it so, so well that now we realise Barbadians will listen to anything once it’s new, exciting and once it’s of a good quality.

Z: What inspired “California Dime”?
CH: A girl inspired the lyrics. The music side of it: Blink 182 inspired that. For sure. It was actually a [really] fun process how we went about recording it. And stressful at the same time. Because Emile will tell you he still has a voice note of me, like low key singing – la la-ing the melody to him.
ES: In Canada.
CH: He was in Toronto and I was in Barbados and the song went from literally there to now. It’s actually our poppiest song.
ES: By far our poppiest song. We released that first on purpose. Because like Craig and Phil will tell you, that was one of the last songs we ever wrote as a band.
PN: And recorded.
ES: We have a whole bank of stuff waiting to come out. We have another single coming out in the middle of the summer and a music video to accompany it and an EP coming out in the fall; September/October-ish. “Cali[fornia] Dime” came first because we wanted to [ease people into it]. We wanted to lead with something strong [that] could appeal to a larger group of people.

Z: How is the music video the shoot going so far? And what has it been like?

PN: Shoot’s finished. As in yesterday.
CH: So much fun.
ES: It was amazing; such a good experience.
PN: Loads of fun..
CH: We did it with Nathan Mack. He’s our resident videographer, manager, nuisance –
ES: Nuisance! But we love him.
CH: Shout out to Fighting Traffic as well. They actually helped us out with some of the props.
ES: And some of the equipment
CH: Some other artistes – local musicians – make an appearance in our video. Local comedians as well.

Z: How did you all meet and why did you decide to start a band together?
ES: All three of us have been in and out of the Barbados music scene for a very, very, very long time. I used to play in a band years ago and so did they. We were inspired to get back to our roots and start playing the music that we wanted to play instead of the music that we thought other people wanted us to play.

Technically we started the band near the end of 2010. I had left to move to Canada in 2011 so it’s been a long distance relationship since then. I don’t come [back to Barbados] for a very long period of time, so we spend most of our time liming instead of being productive, but in recent times – maybe the last year, call it two – we’ve really put our heads down and we decided to push forward and do our thing.

Z: So with you being in Canada, what kind of  challenges does that present?
ES: It’s definitely a very unique dynamic that we have. It actually ends up being a blessing in disguise because it forces us to be productive. Everyone here has day jobs; Craig’s a pilot, Phil works at the Credit Union, I’m in my last year of my studies in medicine up north. Phil’s also an aviation student.
CH: It works for us, in a way, because the way we have to record forces us to be thorough. Because sometimes we write and send off a demo to each other and be like: “What do you think of this idea?” and it’s like: “Okay, cool.” But because Emile’s not here a lot of the stuff we do has to be done kind of backward.

So we have to put down bed tracks, then [when] [Emile’s] available –
PN: [H]e could come record vocals on the bed tracks and then we go back in studio and we record guitar, bass and drums.
CH: So by the time we’re done we’ve heard the song a trillion times and between the demo and the final product, plenty [of] things have changed and been added and then we get an amazing product. And if we all lived in the same place it might not honestly work.
ES: ‘Cause we might just act in haste, you know what I mean? But the fact that we have to go back, forth, back, forth. “Phil, what do you think?” “Craig, what do you think?” They send it back to me, we send it back…It gives us the time we need to be thorough and thoughtful and make sure that what we’re putting down is really what we want to put down.

Z: Where did the name “Sundown Superhero” come from?
ES: It’s not our original name. We had a name for a long, long time. Since 2011 [when] we started the band and when we finally decided to get serious and go through the legal process of registering, we realised the name was actually taken.

So we all looked at each other and said: “Well boys, let’s have a funeral and move on.” We texted back and forth, shot out a million ideas. [The name] was actually Craig’s idea and we both loved it. Because it reminded us of a mutual friend that we have; he was kind of the inspiration behind it.

You know, when the sun goes down and it’s time to lime, you always need that superhero to pull you out of bed and get you going. I think we all kind of fit the bill in one way or another. I mean just last night, Craig was texting me: “Man get out. Come from a drink.” And I ended up going.
So whoever is your boy or your buddy that’s going to rally you to get out and have a good time, that’s the sundown superhero.
PN: And also coming from the fact we have day jobs – the three of us – and school –
CH: It plays on the superhero.
PN: Yea. At night we take on the rockstar persona.

Photo provided by Craig Haniff. Photography by Nathan Mack.

Z: The other bands you were in, did they also operate in the rock music genre?
CH: Yes. Philip and I were in a band, it was called Vacant Headspace and that was some serious rock and roll music. That was a blend between Slipknot, Foo Fighters, Megadeth, Iron Maiden.
PN: Very heavy.
ES: Originally I kind of broke out in a band – it was called Hint of Vanilla. I ended up moving away and they changed the name to Cover Drive. They did really, really great things as I focused on my studies.

Z: What did you learn from your experiences in those other bands that you brought to Sundown Superhero?
CH: For me personally, I learnt that  – and this is one thing that Vacant Headspace had really taught me – as a songwriter, you may have your ideas and think your ideas are the world, but it’s still a band and you have to put your ego aside and listen to everybody’s point-of-view.

If you listen to everybody else’s point-of-view it will give you a better product than if you just ran with your own ideas and figured it was God’s gift to mankind.
PN: Respect. A band is a lot like a relationship and you have to respect and you have to communicate. Communication is key.
ES: Yea and honesty. That’s a big one for me. That’s something that I learned.
PN: Again, like a relationship.
ES: Just like a relationship, yea. Listen: ups and downs in our previous relationships…they brought us here. So we’re happy to be where we are and doing the thing that we love.

Z: For all three of you, was music something you always wanted to pursue professionally or were there other areas you considered doing as your career?
CH: For me, from as long as I was a little boy I wanted to be a drummer. Anybody who’s heard me drum would tell you that will never work out. Jesus would come and leave and I would still not be a good drummer. And I always wanted to be a pilot. The good Lord in heaven is allowing me to manage to do music professionally and flying professionally. I always wanted to be a musician and a pilot and I’m living both.
PN: I always had two passions in life: music and aviation. I could see myself making a living off of both. He [Craig] does it. I don’t see why I can’t.
ES: It’s possible, man. You can do anything. sFor me, it’s been more about the mission than what I do. I love helping people and I love making people happy. I help people with medicine and I make people happy with music.
CH: He does love helping people. He’s annoyingly nice. Trying to be a rock star at night and he’s like: “Can I help you with something?”

Z: What kind of doctor are you studying to be?
ES: I actually mostly focus on natural medicine. We’ll see where that goes.

Z: Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up on being musicians?
PN: I think now that we have day jobs, we could actually fund this and not have to worry about it. For now it’s a hobby.
CH: It’s a hobby that if we make millions off of, sweet. If we make a dollar off of, still sweet. There’ve been times when I felt like giving up music. Yesterday in the middle of the video shoot. We all had an intense moment where everybody was at each other’s jugular and I was there like: “Fuck this! I’m done with this shoot. If ya’ll ready to done I done too.” But that’s only a fleeting moment, man.

That’s only emotions talking, but deep down on the inside, nah. For me I always think of it as I have to retire from flying at sixty-five, but I could play music until I die.

Photo provided by Craig Haniff. Photography by Nathan Mack.

Z: You said on your website that Blink 182, Green Day and Foo Fighters are your influences so what is it about those bands that you want to bring to your band?
ES: Apart from the sound, Blink 182 and Green Day were both three piece punk bands and we’re a three piece punk band. I love the back to basics feel. But I love how those boys…none of them cared.They were unadulterated versions of themselves, raw, unfiltered.
CH: And still are. Especially the Foo Fighters. I like the fact that the Foo Fighters are, like, one of the hugest rock bands today and you can still see Dave Grohl walk into a bar and take up an acoustic guitar and just jam like if he’s just a normal musician. Which in his mind he probably thinks: “I’m still just a normal musician.”
ES: So basically just be yourself, be unapologetic and be humble.
PN: Be humble.That’s also what we learnt from being in bands before.
ES: Oh, that’s a big lesson.
CH: And not living too fast.

Z: You also said that you bring a tropical flair to your music so who are some Barbadian and Caribbean musicians that have influenced you?
ES: If you were to stick in some headphones and listen to [our music] you might not necessarily think: “Oh this is a Caribbean band.” But at the end of the day we’re Bajans, man. Look, we’re with you beachside, drinking a rum…You know what I mean?
CH: Although we’re rock and rollers and as much as Blink 182, Green Day, Foo Fighters and all of them influenced us, there are local musicians that still influence me.

Barbados has a very small group of musicians and that forces everybody to up their game a little bit. So like Lennox, David Neblett, Martin Bourne, Glen Johansen, Jae Johansen, Kevan Sahai, Jono, Paige, all of them…subconsciously influenced me. Helped me to up my game.

So as much as international musicians influenced me consciously, lots of local Bajan musicians were a huge impact in the sound of my band.

When we write music, sometimes in the back of me mind [I’m] always like: “Hmm, so if Neblett and Elton hear this song, what would they think?” You know? Or Kev and Jae or Jono, Paige. Simon. Anybody.
ES: There is so much talent on this island and it doesn’t all manifest into soca. Everyone has their own version of what it means to be a Bajan and what it means to be a Bajan musician and this is just our version of that.
PN: Also, don’t think that we only listen to international music. Believe it or not we listen to a lot of Krosfyah. Actually, hint, hint, There may be a Krosfyah song a cover, but anywho. Variety is the greatest textbook.
CH: You getting very deep.
PN: It’s a quote I heard from…somewhere, I can’t remember. We listen to all types of music. As musicians, we should.
CH: I agree.
PN: But. We may play punk rock, but a lot of our licks might not necessarily come from only punk rock musicians that we’ve heard before. Sometimes he [Craig] might pull a lick that he’s heard from a Krosfyah song or a Bob Marley song or he might do rhythm guitar or [a] vocal lick from somebody else in R&B. You never know.

Z: What are your short term and long term goals for the band?
PN: “Build our fanbase” is the short term goal.
ES: Get the word out, get people to listen to the music and get people to…just know who we are and know that we’re here and we’re serious and we’re ready to rock. Long term goals? Is to settle our affairs and travel the world.
CH: Legit. It’s true.
PN: Get Emile to move back to Barbados. That’s the long term goal.
ES: Yea. That’s a medium goal. The long term goal is world domination.
CH: I agree with them; Have our music grow legs beyond our wildest imagination and reach people. We don’t need to rich, we just want the world to hear our music. And maybe influence somebody else, like how Foo Fighters, Blink, Green Day, influenced us.

You can keep up with Sundown Superhero here:
Website : sundownsuperhero.com
Facebook: facebook.com/sundownsuperhero
Instagram: @sundownsuperhero
YouTube: Sundown Superhero
Email: info@sundownsuperhero.com

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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About The Author

An avid reader who accidentally discovered her love and talent for writing and has loved movies for as long as she has been watching them. Stumbled into film-making and found her second love because she decided to read for a degree in it on a whim - kind of.