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Sunshine Anderson: Brand New Day

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Though her 2001 introductory single “Heard It All Before” may have left you with the impression that Sunshine Anderson is a perpetually angry person, chat with her over coffee and you’ll find that she truly is the unassuming round-the-way girl that so many other singers try to convince us they are. She could easily be your sister’s friend from back in high school who always loved to sing. Sunshine just happens to have a Gold debut album to her credit.

Even with the respectable recognition she received from her first album, Your Woman, Sunshine experienced her share of industry drama, and eventually found herself dropped from her original label. Now a part of Mathew Knowles’ Music World label, Sunshine’s strong vocals are backed by one of the strongest names in music today.

Her new album Sunshine At Midnight includes production from Dr. Dre, Raphael Saadiq and Nottz, but Sunshine is clearly not content to sit back and wait for success to come to her. We recently caught up with her near her North Carolina home to discuss the ways she is applying lessons from the past and staying focused on the future.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: So let’s get the obvious question out of the way, because we know you get this all the time… Is “Sunshine” on your birth certificate?

Sunshine Anderson: [pulls driver’s license out of her purse] Everyone gives me such a hard time about that! I’m always having to show people…

AHHA: You didn’t get to pick the name, so do you still feel like it describes you accurately?

Sunshine: Definitely; I really feel like my name has some bearing on how I feel day to day. My daddy really knew what he was doing.

AHHA: Were your parents an influence on your singing as well?

Sunshine: Oh, definitely! Both of them. My momma was the Chaka Khan and my daddy was the Whisper. Even now, they can just blow.

AHHA: Have you been a singer all your life, or was that just something that popped up? The story is you were discovered [by producer Mike City] just singing to yourself walking around campus at North Carolina Central University.

Sunshine: Yeah, I’ve been singing since very early on. I’d play outside making up little songs with made up words. I was gonna be [pop and country singer] Crystal Gayle; she had this long hair all the way down her back, so I’d walk around with a towel wrapped around my head singing all day. I didn’t know how [a music career] was going to come about, but I always wanted it.

AHHA: That’s not a name you hear R&B singers talk about often. Who else was a big inspiration for you, and who are you listening to now?

Sunshine: Mary J. Blige is always an inspiration, of course. Beyoncé is always an inspiration. I grew up with Chaka Khan, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, The Whispers… that’s where it all comes from. I love Keyshia Cole and Monica. I’m searching for Carl Thomas, Case and Glenn Lewis too.

AHHA: And you were a criminal justice major in school? That’s an entirely different direction…

Sunshine: I always wanted to go into forensics. I’m a Law & Order chick, know what I mean? Court TV, Cold Case Files, that’s my thing. Not necessarily actual law enforcement, more like [the behind the scenes] part of the process.

AHHA: Have you seen the previews for Armed & Famous yet? It’s a new reality show where they take celebrities and teach them how to be cops.

Sunshine: You’re lying.

AHHA: Dead serious. In a real town and everything.

Sunshine: Hey, I ain’t mad at that. Just like Dancing With the Stars?

AHHA: Yeah, just like that. Except, with a gun. Maybe you could do Season Two.

Sunshine: Wow. I’m gonna look for that when I get home, you never know.

AHHA: Back to your real-world career. You’re working with Mathew Knowles and his label Music World now. How did that come about?

Sunshine: Jheryl Busby was co-managing me at the time, and they had a good relationship. Mathew got him on the phone to suggest a joint venture, and we got it set up from there.

AHHA: Mathew Knowles is notorious for driving a hard bargain and being a tough negotiator. Have you gotten a flavor of that yet?

Sunshine: Mathew wants to win. Period. His track record is proven, and he’s really showed that he believes in me and has made a commitment. Music World really is a family. The Music World office in Houston is in a house, and I come from a very family-oriented background myself, so being with Music World is like… Mathew is my dad. We respect each other and I’m just happy to know that he’s behind me.

AHHA: Speaking of that family, we’ve seen Beyoncé having some success as an actress lately with Dreamgirls. Are you moving into any acting yourself?

Sunshine: Nah. I’m not trying to stop singing and be an actress or anything like that, but I wouldn’t mind a nice little recurring role on some sitcom. I wouldn’t even have to be there every week; I’ll just be the cousin that comes into town every three months. That’d be a nice check, but other than that? I like to sing.

AHHA: We’ve seen you work with some pretty big European dance and electronica artists like Groove Armada, and Ben Watt [of Everything But the Girl] did a remix for “Heard It All Before.” Did you seek them out or did they come to you?

Sunshine: They actually came to me. When you’re an artist, you don’t view yourself how others view you, so it’s so flattering for them to reach all way into a different country and say, “We want you to come do this record.” I had no idea what I was getting into, so I was so scared since I had only worked with Mike City up to that point. I remember I cried for hours right before I went in thinking, “What if they don’t like me?” You just never know.

Even now with [Sunshine At Midnight] when I worked with Raphael Saadiq, I sat outside the studio and cried again for like, twenty minutes. You have to understand, this is Tony! Toni! Toné! – but then I get in there and find out that Raphael was a Sunshine fan? That never even entered my mind.

AHHA: Artists in every genre talk about seeing a bigger level of success overseas than they might in the U.S. Was that your experience when you went?

Sunshine: Yeah, I love it. Music is so different there. That’s where you realize that music is really universal. You go there and you see that it’s not just a black/white thing or about listening to a certain kind of music. They listen to everything, so to just go there and see those audiences… it’s just so big to me. The reception is so warm

AHHA: You got to work with Dr. Dre as well this time around, and he’s also notorious for his work ethic and perfectionism. Did you have to do the whole record with him actually sitting there in front of you?

Sunshine: No, he sent the beat and I recorded the song with Mike [City], then we took it to Dre to get his input and have him put on the finishing touches. We went to the studio and again, to find out that Dre loves Sunshine? That’s crazy to me. I’d love to work with him again for the third album, but one-on-one this time.

AHHA: Overall, what’s the same about Sunshine at Midnight as compared to Your Woman, and what’s different?

Sunshine: It’s the same pure, honest vocals, but I’m a business woman this time. I know that I have to eat, sleep and walk business. You have to wake up in the morning with an agenda and a plan. I learned a lot while recording this album: I really stepped the game up and wrote about six songs on this record, so I’m looking forward to putting that to work with the next project.

AHHA: It sounds like you’re already pretty excited about what you want to do with the third album. What do you have in store for us in the future?

Sunshine: I think I want to do a little more inspirational music. Not full on gospel, but… everyone seems to think that I’m “the angry bitch,” but there’s another side too. After six years in this business, I’ve witnessed so much that I want to share to help empower the ladies. I just want to let them know that in your darkest hour, light is still at the end of the tunnel… you can still see the sunshine.

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