Interview with Boris Hrepić Hrepa & Antonija Vrgoč Rola of Sunnysiders: celebrating their 10th anniversary with a new album titled ‘The Bridges’
How has the Blues and Rock influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Rola: Love for blues and rock is definitely a foundation of mine views of the world. The world around us is filled with numerous of different way of living, but the world of music, and blues and rock especially is one of the best and purest. That love defines me. Singing has been a great love of mine since early childhood. I was a member of several children’s choirs, and at home I sang along with the radio turned on all day long. The radio also played all night long so I probably sang in my sleep too. I learned a lot about rock from my elder brother who was a big fan of ZZ Top and other hard blues rock bands, but I started to listen more classic blues when I met Boris. I can’t imagine even a day without music, the music that connects people all over the world.
How do you describe Sunnysiders sound, music philosophy and songbook? What do you love most working with Boris?
Rola: The first thing about our music is not even music, it’s lyrics. Our first time in Memphis in 2011, when we passed to semifinals, everybody told us that our lyrics were fresh and funny. We knew well that in Memphis we can’t compete with our virtuosity and perfect blues, so we wrote original and different songs and we played it with our style. When Boris picks up the guitar, he always plays something new, composing a chord progression or a riff, and it is not always good and original, but when it is good I say ‘stop, this sound good for a song’. I’m sort of a filter for his everyday composing.
How do you describe “The Bridges” sound and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?
Hrepa: I recorded 18 albums in my rock and blues career, but this one was the fastest and easiest one I ever did. We, along with our friend and producer Leo, made a decision to mark our Sunnysiders 10th anniversary with recording an album The Bridges with lot of our friends as guests. We made a list of guest and then selected or wrote a songs for them. Almost every song was tailor written with our guests in mind, and with that kind of thoughts it is easy to write a song. We began recording the album in the beginning of November 2019 and finished it mid January 2020. The basic structure of songs was recorded at Sound Station Studio in Zagreb, while our guests did their parts in various homes or professional studios, located from Manchester to Shanghai. The music was, is, and it will always be one of the strongest, easiest, deepest and fastest connections between people no matter where they come from, how different they are, how old they are, what languages they speak and what skin colour they are. These connections are The Bridges.
Are there any memories from The Bridges studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
Hrepa: The whole idea of album came after the last Thrill Blues Festival. The day after we took a trip to Split (capital of Dalmatia) with Manu Lanvin, a French bluesman and a headliner of the festival. We also visited our best man Miki who has a studio in Split where we showed Manu a song that was written with him in mind. He was thrilled, and he grabbed one of the guitars from the studio and recorded a crunchy riff and a solo. He said ‘Yeah’ and asked for more, but we had just this song in our new basket.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
Rola: Last January, the Blues Hall of Fame member, British guitarist, singer and songwriter Norman Beaker and his trio recorded 18 songs for their new album at the Sound Station Studio in Zagreb. I had the honor of being invited to sing backing vocals and play tambourine on several songs. Especially focused on playing the tambourine, I didn’t want to fall out of the rhythm and and spoil the heavy groove that Norman, John and Leo recorded. I was sure it would take me a few tries until I got it right, but after the first take everyone was thrilled with my dedication and precision that they nicknamed me a Deadly Tambourine. The next day at a joint lunch as a joke they worried about my arm muscles because of the great enthusiasm while shooting tambourines. Couple of days ago in one review of our new album they wrote that I play mean tambourine. I like that.
How started the thought of Thrill Blues Festival (Croatia)? What is the hardest part of make a blues festival in Europe?
Hrepa: At November of 2017 I got a call from Darko, a guy from Trilj who is popular Croatian musician and also in music business. He had just read my book “I found a very good band”, a book about my passion for music, and there was so much about the blues in it. He came up to idea of organizing a music festival in his hometown and he asked me about a blues festival. My grandmother was from Trilj, so I know the place, the park, the river and the bridge, and I said this was a great idea, and I was sure it would work. It is not easy to make a blues festival anywhere in Europe, but here in Croatia is especially hard. It is easier in Norway, the Nederlands, France, they have a lot of blues clubs and strong blues scene, and Croatia is also at crossroads of western and eastern culture. The blues is here, but on the margins. The Thrill Blues Festival has a strong team of fighters, so we made a surprisingly good festival.
Are there any memories from the Thrill Blues Festival which you’d like to share with us?
Hrepa: There is a one from last year’s festival that I often retell. It was around 3 A.M., the afterparty at backstage just finished and I was sitting with Harrison Kennedy from Canada and James Perri from Chicago. We were tired but satisfied. Then, at the other bench across us, I saw a huge local hillbilly guy. He had a scary look, but he was just sitting and staring at us with a big missing tooth smile. He called me and asked me if he could take a picture with Harrison and James. I said no problem (who will say no to that kind of guy). After the picture taken he told me: „Thank you for organizing this! I never ever heard this kind of music, the blues, but this is the best music in the whole world!“ … And this is the best compliment I’ve ever got.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
Rola: I wish I’d lived in the 50s or 60s. I love that period, I enjoy watching blues documentaries from that time, but right now I am missing everything not that long ago, I miss time before corona came, concerts, festivals, traveling, hanging around with our blues friends.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
Hrepa: Mmm, a hard question. There is a lot of things in musical world that can be better, but I am doing my best to share a good vibe with my music and everything, and that is all I can do. I would like to bring back many great people and musicians who passed away but this is beyond my abilities.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
Hrepa: When we were first time in Memphis, at the 2011 IBC, I joined one big jam at the Tin Roof Blues Club. It was a dream coming true, playing on Beale Street with Afro-American blues musicians. I’d waited my whole life for that moment, to grab a guitar and play. When my turn came I immediately started to play licks throughout the whole song. One guy from brass section, a trumpet player, leaned forward to me and told me quietly to slow down, not to rush, and that I have to wait for a signal from singer who was always the master of ceremony. I stopped, and I follow the singer. It doesn’t seem like a big lesson, but for me it was.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
Rola: There is a one special moment in history of blues where I would like to be. I would set up clock in Delorian on June 26 (also the date of our son Tibon birthday, 1933, around midnight, in one special Chicago nightclub. I would lean on the bar, drinking whiskey, chilling and watching cutting contest, a guitar battle, between Big Bill Broonzy and Memphis Minnie. Sure, before that I would pay a bet on Minnie.
Interview by Michael Limnios / Photos by Milka Grozdanic & Jerry T