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About the SAS
Some people are born with music in their blood. For the Secret Armadillo Society’s Sunny Sneckner, his musical lineage makes this passionate love of creation seem like an understatement.
“My earliest memories were of my father playing guitar, playing me to sleep, and of going to church and singing in the choirs,” says Sunny. Growing up in the hill country of Central Texas, he was influenced by Western Swing, Americana, and his great uncle who was the country star Roger Miller. "Roger would come over and play guitar with my dad and they’d just kind of hang out and make up songs. That had a big impact on my father, and in turn, it kind of filtered down.”
From a young age, Sunny performed music for audiences, singing in choirs, learning the guitar as a teenager, starting bands, writing songs and performing. At 19 he moved to Hollywood to study audio engineering at the Musician’s Institute, which boasts alumni like Flea and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. For several years he worked in recording studios and did live sound for the likes of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. In his heart, though, Sunny knew he wanted to create his own art and perform.
“Engineering was getting old, so I went back to school at the University of North Texas, one the world's preeminent Colleges of Music. There I met a bunch of amazing musicians and artists, studied Jazz Vocal Performance, West African dance and drumming, and ethnomusicology.” Afterward, he traveled the country a while longer before setting down roots in Austin, Texas, where he started the Secret Armadillo Society.
“What I like to promote with the Armadillo Society is a fusion of folk music, indie, pop, and electronic elements, and of course I have a real big spot in my heart for the West African drumming. I love the polyrhythm that happens,” Sunny says. “It’s not present in every song, but I think it’s certainly an undercurrent."
Sunny engineered and produced the Secret Armadillo Society's debut release Bienvenidos. Other key contributors were bassist Jack Swoboda, percussionist Graeme Francis, trumpeter John Zarsky, and percussionist Isaac Streckenbach. Sunny's leadership is apparent in the advice he gives to aspiring musicians. “I would say — don't be afraid to make mistakes; embrace them,” he says. “Go out and put yourself on the edge. Get comfortable with mistakes because they often lead you to some of the best things you will ever create. Put it out there, release your art, go out and play!”
When the Armadillo Society is not performing, Sunny puts himself out there, playing in venues from Austin to San Francisco and as far away as Isla Mujeres, Mexico. In Austin, he sits in regularly at a jam hosted by the Grammy winning players of Calle Seis. He also participates in a songwriting group called Crooked Crow, where he and a group of songwriters meet regularly to share songs and give each other feedback. Apart from performance like this, Sunny helps other artists with production. You can still feel his recording roots in his approach to his craft.
“Music is one of the art forms that’s fundamentally temporary,” he says. “You have to be present and you have to listen to it. It takes time to take the whole thing in. We’re fortunate that we have recording now, because in the past you had to write down your music like Mozart or Bach and it’d get interpreted by someone else, and now the audience can never truly hear it as the original artist performed it. It’s kind of like eating food from a really great chef — you’re never gonna be able to taste the food they made unless you were there. Recording bridges that gap, and now we can enjoy music as if the artist was in the room with us. Food, on the other hand, they still haven't figured out how to capture that yet.”
Still, the live experience is something Sunny champions, and he likes the challenge of trying to match the styles you hear live to the ones you get on record.
“It can be really tough trying to figure out, how do we convey this fusion of sounds of the electronic and the folk into something we can do live, and make it dynamic and fun?” Sunny says. “By not building on a foundation of pre-recoded backing tracks, every song changes — we never play the same thing twice. We try to incorporate different styles of art in our shows, from dancers, to visual artists, and guest musicians. We want to engage all our audience's senses. I’m totally happy with the music we've released and I'm even more excited about the music we're working on now. The process is changing as we're growing — we're creating a different way now, with the end in mind.”