Suny Lyons is a music producer who owns Popheart Productions, a recording studio in Athens, Georgia. He’s played in the bands pacificUV, Hope For Agoldensummer, Dream Boat, and Lovers.
After The Show: Of all your roles – music producer, recording engineer, website & graphic designer, performer, musician – which comes easiest/most naturally to you, and which is most challenging?
Suny: Producing and recording music is the obsession that occupies most of my natural energies, and performance is almost always a part of my process. I play plenty of instruments, create arrangements, and contribute compositionally on just about every project. Making records has been my job for the last 16 years, but even before that I did it every day as a hobby. Recording was my bedroom obsession as a teenager with a four track cassette deck. In my opinion nothing could be more challenging than producing an amazing record, which on some level is probably part of what fuels my life-long obsession.
Designing websites and graphics is a related occupation that came out of necessity over time. I have some background in visual arts and computer programming, so over the years people starting asking me to help with these kinds of projects, usually relating to records. 10 years later it’s just become part of my everyday job. I mostly think of the work I do for people in web development and graphic design to be about brand development, and the projects I take on still usually relate to the arts in some way.
Between all your projects, what’s the time breakdown like?
I’m pretty much in the studio 8-12 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. [Web] Development projects usually happen early in the morning, late at night, or on my days off. Managing the record label stays pretty far down my list, for better or worse. It’s really hard to make time for running a non-profit label [Mazarine].
What made you want to start Popheart Productions? Do you think much about being an entrepreneur?
Having my own studio is just practical. Long ago the very first studio I regularly worked in was Chase Park Transduction, which was then and still is a pretty big shop with plenty of producers sharing the calendar every month. Over the course of 7 years there I gradually had to acknowledge the obvious benefits of having my own space. I’ve worked in lots of studios over the years since and they’re all (mostly) wonderful places, but basically the best way that I can control quality and keep the costs down for the artists is in my own studio rather than someone else’s.
Every person I’ve ever known with a career in production is an entrepreneur. Clearly the production business has changed a lot in the last 20 years, and getting hired to work in a studio as an employee is something that basically doesn’t ever happen anymore. I get a lot of emails from recent graduates of recording schools like Full Sail asking about whether I’m hiring and my heart gets a little heavy every time when I have to be the person to explain to them that it totally doesn’t work that way.
Basically, the only way to make records for a living is to be an entrepreneur on some level, so that’s what I am.
I like that “Me and the Kansas Queens” on Bedroom Tapes is about your experience touring with Hope For Agoldensummer. I also love “The Want Back” – anything you’d like to share about that song’s meaning?
Well, Page and Claire Campbell are like sisters to me and I love them. They’re each the most expressive and talented women in the world in their own ways and that’s part of what the song is about. We also spent a lot of time on the road together with Hope For Agoldensummer and tour tends to be a pretty exhausting, emotionally intense enterprise. So many songs come out of touring, and maybe “Me and the Kansas Queens” is just a little more obviously written from that perspective.
You know, being on the road over and over with any band can also feel like having your identity stripped away in many senses. Eventually it feels like all that’s left is this little kernel of your original self, and you try to use that as best you can to express yourself and share your art with an audience every day. So the song is also an attempt to describe how that feels.
“The Want Back” is a love song about the feeling of trying to escape a person but always coming back around to a desire to fall back into the flawed, damaged place you left behind.
You played a big role in creating (my favorite album of all time!) I Am The West. What do you remember about the recording process?
Wow 2006-2007 feels so long ago now. Carolyn came to Athens for a few weeks at the beginning of that production process and we made a bunch of demos in my old home studio. Then I moved to Portand, Oregon for a year and we made the record in another studio I setup out there. I worked on those songs every day for a very long time so I’m glad to hear that you like them!
I played just about every instrument, wrote every arrangement, we even adapted some of the songs melodically and lyrically from some old bedroom tape ideas I had at the time. It was a long and intense process even before Carolyn started actually singing the songs.
Why’d you formerly use a pseudonym?
I suppose I’ve always had name issues. My birth name was actually Daniel Rickard (I now cheekily refer to it as a previous pseudonym). I legally changed my name to Suny Lyons after years of never using my birth name for anything and finally deciding to officially let it go.
As for the meaning of my actual name, Suny Lyons — I’ve spent a lot of time in Indonesia in my life and Suny comes from the Javanese word “sun” which means kiss. It started out as a nickname given to me by some Kacapi and Suling players I was recording in Bandung and the name just kind of stuck over time. Lyons also has a deeper personal meaning but makes sense in the most obvious way too…you know, a sense of lion-heartedness, which is also an adaptation of the meaning of Rickard.
So, basically Suny Lyons means kissable and brave.
Thanks for sharing Suny! Check out SunyLyons.com for more info on his musical projects.