Student Spotlight: Student band ‘Sunnn’ shines in Waco

Sunnn band performing at Freight in Waco. Photo courtesy of Ben White.

By Emma Weidmann | Staff Writer

Just after sunset under strings of warm yellow light, each of the four students who make up the classic rock-revivalist band, Sunnn, is comfortable and laid back at Common Grounds on Eighth Street. They’re perched on the wooden benches, gathering around a picnic table, ready to talk music.

Sunnn is a band for old souls, those who enjoy the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Lumineers and Greta Van Fleet, and their mission is to bring back the folksy, blues and classic rock style of the 1970’s.

Sugarland sophomore Chloe Choudhury met Shreveport, La., sophomore Mark Raines and The Colony sophomore Matthew Fisanick as freshmen, playing guitar on the porch of Alexander Residence Hall. Choudhury said she knew she wanted to join a band the second she came to Baylor and immediately asked the two guitarists to “form an alliance” with her.

One year later, Sunnn has stunned audiences all over Waco. They’ve been recognized in class, and even met a fan who specifically attends their performances. According to Raines, and to the agreement of the band, their best song is a killer rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s iconic “Voodoo Child,” in which Choudhury and Raines’ vocals resonate in their gritty, deep-register fullness. Raines took a break from his usual guitar to shake it up on maracas, allowing Fisanick to shred on the guitar, as any Hendrix cover requires.

Fisanick began playing guitar in middle school, prompted by a love for the band Guns N’ Roses. Vocalist Choudhury’s parents wanted her to compete in the Junior Olympics for swimming when she was a child, but at eight years old, Choudhury had other plans. From then on, she took vocal and piano lessons and nurtured her talent for music.

Raines and Sunnn’s drummer, Cypress junior Phillip Whaley, both grew up playing instruments in the band at their churches. They’re both encouraged by their fathers, a pastor and a deacon respectively.

Raines said although both he and his parents are religious, the “rock and roll and debauchery” has never stopped his family from encouraging his musical talent. Some rock bands actually incorporate religious themes into their music, Raines’ favorite being U2’s album “The Joshua Tree.” Raines said the songwriting on “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is lyricism he aspires to achieve.

When it comes to writing originals, Fisanick said Sunnn’s style is free and unreserved, allowing the music to come from free-styling and “meddling around.”

“Whenever we have free time, we just start messing around and then bring it to another person in the band,” Fisanick said.

“With our first song, ‘Light Love,’ I was just playing some chords on the guitar and I showed Chloe … we just combined stuff together.”

The first gig the band played, after welcoming Whaley on the drums, was at Common Grounds on the stage the band now regards as home base, Whaley having just finished his first shift working at campus’ staple coffee shop.

At their most recent gig at Freight, Sunnn played with Austin band Annabelle Chairlegs, who has performed at Austin City Limits. Initially, Sunnn believed they would be an opener that night. They ended up headlining the show in front of their biggest crowd yet.

“I was at the front looking out thinking, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people here,’” Raines said. “It was nerve-wracking. Before we went on stage, I turned to Matthew and I was like, ‘This is real.’”

Whaley said one of his biggest influences is the songwriter Ben Folds. He also looks to movie soundtracks — specifically, the scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” in which Andy Dufresne stands in the rain, having just escaped prison. He said the freedom expressed in the moment moved him to want to create music that elicits the same feeling.

Choudhury looks to Greta Van Fleet, a band that formed in high school and began to tour and make albums immediately after graduation. Greta Van Fleet is a three-time Grammy winner, and is in the midst of an international tour.

“If they can do it,” Choudhury said, “why can’t we?”

As Raines and Whaley explained the inner workings of the songs they play — down to the rhythm and the “driving guitar” that Raines said makes classic rock so special — Choudhury said that the two are the heartbeat of the band.

That heartbeat helps her perform at her best. Choudhury doesn’t get nervous. Instead, she said she feels anxiety over the possibility of forgetting lyrics. But, her fears are no match for the music. When she gets on stage, Choudhury said getting into the music and watching her bandmates jam puts her at ease.

“My mind just starts racing,” Choudhury said. “It really helps to see the grooving, see Mark jumping around … even if I mess up, these guys have got me.”

The band has something big in store. They’re working with a producer in Nashville to record their first EP as they continue to play covers as well as songs of their own here in Waco. They’re branching out too, this weekend Sunnn is playing in Houston at the campaign party of a state representative.

Choudhury said they want to put their music out and share their passion. But, at the end of the day, it’s all about having fun.

“We’ve had the time of our lives doing this,” Choudhury said. “We’ve already been able to impact people. That’s our goal.”

Sunnn can next be found performing in Waco on September 17th at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, and then on October 1st at the Waco Culture Arts Fest.

Emma Weidmann
Emma Weidmann is a junior English major from San Antonio, with minors in News-Editorial and French. She loves writing about new albums and listening to live music. After graduating, she hopes to work as an arts and culture reporter.