Avery*Sunshine recently took some time to catch some rays — literally. The singer, songwriter and pianist wrapped up her Tampa spring break vacation with her children this week to return to Atlanta in preparation for her Saturday night concert at Apache Cafe. If her recent accolades are any indication, Ms. Sunshine is definitely a bright spot on Atlanta’s soul scene. She was named one of Jet magazine’s "Top 5 Indie Artists” in its Dec. 2010 issue, and listed as one of iTunes’ best new soul artists last year. No small feat, considering her independent status: Although she's signed to Dome Records in the U.K., the Chester, Penn. native created her own label, Big Shine, to release her self-titled debut in the U.S. last year. The resulting critical embrace propelled Avery*Sunshine to No. 93 on Billboard's R&B/soul chart. While chatting by phone, the Spelmanite and longtime ATLien talked about her true-to-life lyrics, keeping indie soul alive, and that little bad girl element behind her name.
Where did the asterisk symbol come from in your name? It looks like a little sunburst.
Avery Sunshine: You’re so right, it is a sunburst. I wanted people to see my name and see the symbol and identify it with me. It just makes it look happy. My kids liked it and said, “Mommy that’s cool.”
Wait. How did you come up with your name?
I needed to come up with a name at the last minute. My real name is Denise White.
I was in Atlanta, outside of my studio, before a trip to Japan. My [music] partner, Dana said, ‘What do you want to be billed as?” I just said, “Avery Sunshine.” Avery comes from [The Color Purple’s] Shug Avery, and Sunshine comes from [Lela Rochon’s sexy prostitute character in] Harlem Nights.
That’s kind of bad girl.
[Laughs] Yes that’s part of who I am.
Soul music is on the rise again. What do you think will help keep it at the forefront?
Interviews like what you’re doing now. We need people who love it talking about it sharing it — not getting complacent. It’s like looking for schools for my children. I’m not settling; I’m not going to say, “This is close.” It has to be where they can get the best education. I’m going to keep looking even when I’m tired. We have to be the same about the music.
I don’t have the privilege of being part of a big label. We [independent artists] depend on the Creative Loafing's of the world and the DJs who play our music.
Do you ever feel pressure to conform to mainstream standards? There are not a lot of soul singer/songwriters getting shine.
Absolutely. You need to look a certain way. We had somebody tell us, “You’ll be lucky if you sell 2,000 copies.” He said this in 2009. We didn’t listen to that foolishness. The first month that the album was out, we sold 10,000 units on iTunes alone. It was the most units sold in a short time period. [The top selling artists were] Usher, Alicia Keys and me — an independent artist. There are some things you do need to listen to. You need to tailor it for your situation. Ask God, “What do you need to take in and what do you need to expel?” Apply it to your business model.
Are there any artists in Atlanta that have been particularly influential?
If there is someone in Atlanta that I look at, it would be Anthony David. He’s out there by himself. Dana and I saw that he’s a one man show. He’s someone that I have to give a big shout out to. He’s making it happen. Very much like Eric Roberson.
They’re making it happen without a label and with a label. Either way, you’ve got to make it happen. Stay on Facebook and Twitter. I dropped off a CD at 95.7 the Beat in Tampa. I’ll give a shout out to [D.J.] Joe Mama. I don’t know if he’ll play my music, but he’ll remember me!
What’s the best advice you’ve received from a local person?
I have to say the best advice I’ve gotten is from my partner, Dana Johnson. He writes all the music with me, [as] my engineer, my partner. If Avery*Sunshine was a duo, he would be the other half. He is the other half.
You touch on a lot of issues like financial challenges and relationships, and songs like “I Need You Now” and “Blessin’ Me,” are clearly spiritual.
I had a responsibility of being who I am and showing that God is good to my life. I have to be who I am. You can go to the club and have a drink and still love God. I’m a regular person. I’m not beating them over the head with the Bible.
Your lyrics are almost too real. At first, I felt they were relatable, but by the end of the album I thought, ‘Is she bugging my place?’
[Laughs] I’m speaking from experience. [Someone once said to me], “Girl, you in my house.”
With DJ Tabone, Noah Pine, Marian Mereba. $12-$15. 9:45 p.m. Sat., April 9. Apache Cafe, 64 Third St. 404-876-5436. www.apachecafe.info. To get her self-titled debut album, go to www.averysunshine.com.
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