At age eleven, armed with Jewel’s Pieces of Me and the book Guitar for the Small Fry, Sonni “Shine” Schwartzbach taught herself how to play the guitar. Moving to Philadelphia to further pursue her musical education, she helped form the band The Underwater Sounds, and both within the band and her own solo career, Sonni’s voice has filled the city with over a decade of soul. Sonni’s dedication to the Philadelphia music scene, yoga practices, and her coordinating programs at the Mt. Ary Learning Tree have built a system rooted deep into the Philadelphia art community.
She has poured all of these static connections into her first solo album, Reconcile: an “ongoing collection of songs from the last five years that didn’t fit in Underwater Sounds’ avenue.”
For the last year, Sonni has thoughtfully curated groups of musicians for each track—adding a special dynamic to the debut of her “honey jar of tunes”—as opposed to one consistent band playing the entire album. Although the task of choosing and scheduling the sessions was daunting, the chaos gave way to radical stages of the album’s development.
“…We took the album to so many different locations and environments, so we got to experience so many different kinds of sessions: One session was at the horn player’s house, another in Cambridge Sound in South Philly, and then we took it over to Fishtown…so it was a bunch of awesome, eclectic sessions with all these different musicians,” Sonni said.
While her melodic collection is projecting into a collective bigger than the creator, Sonni’s finger picking and soulful voice remain a constant. With it, Sonni reenters to her roots, where she “can tell the newer songs have more of a soul influence. That was always something [she] listened to, but just recently returned back to in a really heavy way.”
Not only is Sonni returning to her roots as a solo musician, but by reconnecting with her longtime band members of the Underwater Sounds. After taking a three-year break, the group geared up for a mini Spring & Summer tour. When I spoke with Sonni at 2018’s Beardfest, she revealed it was that same festival a year prior where she realized “it felt a little bit selfish to never play the songs again when they meant so much a lot to people.”
The crowd gathered at the Woodland Stage of Beardfest 2018 certainly backed Sonni’s theory. People danced and sang along, disrupting the beachy dust from its rest on the shore. A woman boogied with a happy, headphoned baby slung on her back, confidently knowing every word.
Returning to these tunes “feels really good because we have had time to do other projects and evolve other parts of our musical selves,” Sonni explained.
“Also, the first iteration we really worked really hard… [where] this time we have this catalogue of songs we can whip out, play, and bring joy to people. It’s just way more relaxed.”
This summer’s revival of the Underwater Sounds can be seen as a reconcile in itself, although—as the theme as persists—the roots go deeper than that.
“I think mainly the idea that I’ve been trying to reconcile as I enter my late 20s is transitioning into adulthood as a musician and artist,” Sonni said.
“As I am getting older, I feel as though I’ve had to explain myself more to people about the path that I have chosen. Then you’re starting to have these two sides of yourself: the side that has to have the day job and the other side that’s still a kid and wants to just write music, tour, and dream big about that stuff. So that reconcile is the idea of living with all those sides of yourself as they are.”
Most importantly, show your beautiful faces at Sonni Shine’s album release party September 15, 2018 at the MilkBoy on Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA.