An Interview with the members of Sunspot
by Teri Barr
June 2014

Madison's Sunspot

Madison's Sunspot

It’s a large arena sound, from a small band with supersonic energy. A Sunspot show is tight, fast, and really fun; and while you can hear the difference in their many years of playing together as a group; you can also see it on stage.
Mike Huberty (lead singer, bass, keyboard) and Ben Jaeger (lead guitar, keyboard, singer) have gelled since junior high. Wendy Lynn Staats (drums, singer, violin) joined them in college, and the three have never looked back.

The past 14 years, in a brief discography list with much-deserved awards, look like this: Radio Free Earth (2000), Loser of the Year (2002, Madison Area Music Association Award-MAMAs Rock Album of the Year), Cynical (2005, WAMI Artist of the Year), Neanderthal (2007), Singularity (2009, MAMAs Rock Album of the Year, Video of the Year, Rock Song of the Year), Major Arcana (live rock opera national tour and DVD), The Slingshot Effect (2011, MAMAs Rock Album of the Year and Song of the Year), Arthuriana-EP (2013), Archaeopteryx-EP (2014), and now the Dangerous Times-EP, being released at a special show at The Dragonfly in July. Huberty is describing it this way by saying, “We go all out in our live show and we want people who’ve seen us dozens of times to get something new out of each experience. The Dragonfly show is going to be one of the most complex set pieces we’ve attempted. The songs link together, so it’s more of a musical than just a collection of songs performed live. We do our best to make sure that every aspect of every show has meaning. We won’t be pulling any punches for this party. We’re saying that “the fireworks are starting early for the 4th this year” and we mean it.”

And I know they do. I’ve interviewed the band before, I’ve seen their shows in all types of venues, and I’ve followed them through their many treks with technology, and to SXSW. The enthusiasm for what they do as a band, is contagious.
Read on for more from all the notes I’ve compiled and edited via past and present interviews and chats. You’ll understand how Sunspot could soon launch into the Stratosphere.

Maximum Ink: Share your background with me. Did you start playing music as a young child? Who was your influence?
Mike: We had an upright piano in my room when I was a little kid, but I didn’t know how to play it. I’d just make up songs on it. (Some people may say that hasn’t changed much!) I played cello in orchestra in grade school and that was fun, but then Ben moved into my neighborhood when we were 10, and after school I’d go over to his house and he’d play piano and I’d sing. We’d do whatever sheet music they had laying around, whether it was pop from the 80’s or classic songs from the 60’s. Then, when I was about 13 years old, I bought a guitar magazine because I loved the sound of “Hotel California” so much, and I decided I wanted to learn how to play it. Some kids in my gym class said they wanted to start a band but they needed a bass player. So the day after school let out for the summer, I went to the music store and got a bass. The summer band didn’t happen, but I never stopped playing guitar.
Ben: I started playing piano when I was four, and tuba when I was 11. We formed a band for the eighth grade talent show, so I got a guitar. The musicians and their bands at the time (Whitesnake, AC/DC, Van Halen) were stars and it seemed like fun.
Wendy: I started on piano at age 4, drums at 11, and violin at 12. I studied percussion while in the middle school band, but didn’t do much in the way of a drum kit, beyond goofing around with the one my dad had in our basement. It was his kit from when he was in high school. Then, I joined up with Mike and Ben in 1996.

MI: And did you know music would become a focus?
Mike and Ben: Oh yeah, we kept the band going all through high school! We played parties, dances, and church festivals. (We were also the first band ever banned from Mukwonago High School for inciting a mosh-pit!) And when we got to college, we met Wendy and found someone whose musical tastes matches ours. She has a love of hard-hitting music with melodies that stick with you. Wendy also shares our drive and desire to succeed.
Wendy: I loved playing violin in a variety of small ensembles in high school. I think it gave me a taste for performing in more of a self-guided (as opposed to conductor-led) sort of group. And as for drumming, after just a few times jamming with Mike and Ben in college, I was hooked on the rock band experience.

MI: Can you tell me about some of your music-related experiences? I’m sure there’s good and bad, but not sure you can share all the details?
Mike: We’ve played for thousands of people, and we’ve played for single digits. I know this sounds corny, but every experience can be a good one as long as your performance makes a connection with the people who are listening to it. We’ve played all the places I used to read about in magazines, whether it’s the Sunset Strip (LA) or Greenwich Village (NYC). Sometimes it lives up to expectations and sometimes it doesn’t. The good experiences are the ones where you know the audience feels what you’re singing about, and sometimes that’s in a tiny venue in the middle of Indiana, or a skate park in Rockford, or a clothing shop in Austin, or even someone’s basement at a college party in Madison. When the music hits, it’s the electricity of humans actually being involved in something bigger than themselves. It’s communication unique to a song and a moment. As far as bad experiences—there are nights when you can’t make the audience care or the sound is atrocious or there’s some attitude from the other bands that doesn’t rub you the right way. In those situations, you just go and do your best to make some kind of connection with the people that are there. A lot of it is still just having fun onstage no matter what. You’re there to give it everything you’ve got every time, otherwise, why drive hundreds of miles, why bang your gear, why get up there at all?
Ben: Every gig is a good one because you share it with two other people and the new friends you’re making there. I can’t imagine touring solo.
Wendy: We’ve been lucky to have tons and tons of experiences. Mostly good ones, thankfully, but we’ve had our share of challenges, too. A lot of them are chronicled in our “Road Mania” podcasts, so we have a pretty good record of us talking about things freshly after it happens. Yes, that includes the good AND the bad! (Laughter)

MI: Are you happy with what Sunspot has accomplished? Do you have future goals for the band?
Mike: I’m excited about all the cool things we’ve been able to do in the past. And I’m happy we’ve been able to touch a lot of people’s lives with our music. We’ve been part of many weddings of people who’ve connected through our songs. But I’m the type of person who’s never satisfied with what’s already been done. I always want more. I always want to take on bigger challenges, create new experiences, and get more people involved in our community. The wonderful thing about music is there’s no end point, there’s always more to do, there’s always more to create. The range and depth of human emotion is endless and can be endlessly explored. Yes, “it’s all been done”, but it’s never been filtered through these eyes.
Ben: We have people who enjoy our music. It is such a rush seeing people sing along to the music you’ve created. Goal accomplished.
Wendy: I’m very happy with where we are today, but there’s always room for growth and development as a band. Each thing we complete spawns new ideas for more exciting, fun, and innovative projects. Moving forward, we want to continue creating great music we love, while incorporating different aspects of entertainment into our live show so we can always have new ways to share and present our music. Our fans should know, no matter how long they stick with us, they will never know exactly what to expect, and will always have fresh new things to look forward to at our shows.

MI: You’ve received some nice accolades as musicians. How does it feel to be honored, especially on the local scene?
Mike: Winning Rock Album of the Year at the Madison Area Music Association Awards three times is a great validation we’re doing things that connect with people. And we’re excited to support the charity of the MAMA’s. Plus, I was a film major in college, so winning the first “Video of the Year” was kind of like—great, guess that was money well spent..!
Ben: We are excited about having our colleagues in the music industry, and the fans that like our music, vote for us at those types of events.
Wendy: The MAMA’s Awards are special because it signifies the type of audience and supporters you have in the area. It shows you have people who care enough about you, both as an artist and the community as a whole, to donate some of their time and money toward the cause which works on getting instruments into the hands of children who may otherwise not be able to afford it. We are very honored to have received a few of these special awards.

MI: The awards are wonderful. But what are you most proud of as a musician and a band?
Mike: We’ve done everything our own way. And sometimes that’s the hard way. Sometimes you stay up all night, literally banging your head against the wall trying to figure out the next “thing,” your next move, your next plan, the thing that will make you break out.
But we’ve always stuck to doing the things we absolutely believe in. We’ve put our faith in each other and what we create. And we’ve expressed feelings and thoughts other people can’t—we’ve helped them find their voice through our songs. And we’ve had fun. Damn, it’s been fun!
Ben: I am proud we’ve stayed together! We still enjoy making music together and when you find that, you don’t give it up.
Wendy: I am very proud of all our recorded works because each one was a major effort we saw through to completion. Also, I’m proud of the hundreds of live shows we’ve done, each one with full integrity, even the ones with non-ideal circumstances. As a band, I’m most pleased we continue to have fun and are excited about music and performing together every single day.

SUNSPOT “DANGEROUS TIMES” RELEASE PARTY: July 3rd, 2014 at Dragonfly Lounge, Doors open at 7pm
Sunspot; DJ and other entertainment to follow
$20 ticket (includes CD and special Sunspot gifts)
A limited number of tickets: only 75 will be sold!

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