GIF

MUSIC

’90s rock band from Delta resurfaces with songs never properly recorded or released

Underwater Sunshine’s online reunion involves four guys who lost contact for years

Nearly a quarter-century after the music stopped, members of the band Underwater Sunshine have resurfaced to rock again with old songs tweaked to sound new and fresh.

The North Delta-area foursome had a following on the Vancouver music scene in the mid- to late-1990s, but things fell apart before an album was properly recorded and released.

Now, thanks to technology on a couple of levels, the band members have reunited to realize a dream of producing music again, even though they aren’t performing together right now due to, what else, COVID-19.

The original recording tapes had survived many moves and weathered various garages through the years, according to vocalist/guitarist John Nikolic. This year, the four guys started the tedious task of extracting the recorded tracks into today’s usable technology formats and begin mixing the songs.

The result is Suckertree, an album of guitar-based pop to be released this winter.

Cleverly, the band’s @Suckertree Instagram account features old photos, new songs and some pop-culture moments of the decade when the band was first active – Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ear, tickets to Town Pump gigs, dial-up Internet, the Titantic movie, Elaine Benes’ crazy dance on Seinfeld “this week,” eBay’s arrival and more. “It’s as if we are posting in 1996 or 1997, some references to that era,” Nikolic noted.

(Story continues below)

Back then, Underwater Sunshine attracted crowds with harmony-rich songs that appealed to fans of Sloan, the Grapes of Wrath, Treble Charger, the Posies and other bands of the day.

It’s a sound the quartet began exploring as teens growing up in North Delta, where guitarist/vocalist Tim Bonikowsky still teaches. Drummer Blair Mitchell now lives in the Victoria area, Nikolic is in Langley after a move from Surrey several years ago, and bassist Enzo Figliuzzi calls Vancouver home.

“We’re keeping the name for a few reasons,” Nikolic said, “because we had a pretty good following back in the day and we’re trying to get the word out to everybody 24 years later. It’s a struggle to get back into the game.”

The recording project was like digging through a time capsule, he says.

“Originally we were doing this just for souvenir purposes, after sitting on the tapes for 24, almost 25 years,” Nikolic explained. “They were never mixed, they were just on ADAT, which was used back then as sort of the first digital-format tapes for recording. So all the vocals, drums, bass, guitars, everything, it was separated and didn’t sound like anything, because you have to mix it all down, and we never got to that point.”

Nikolic said some record companies showed interest in signing Underwater Sunshine, circa 1997, but a deal never got done.

“Some of the guys kind of got cold feet,” he said. “You know, we’d been at it awhile and none of us had been going to school in the meantime, but I had, and they sort of opted to work on career and more of a solid future, I guess. It happens.”

The band was once featured in a Surrey/North Delta Leader newspaper story headlined, “Fab Four: Power pop goes listener friendly.” Nikolic sent a screenshot of the story when he first contacted the Now-Leader about the band’s reunion.

(Story continues below image of the newspaper story)

homelessphoto

“We were doing five or six shows a month around town,” Nikolic said.

After the breakup, three of them went into non-music careers. Mitchell moved to Scotland to pursue social work, Figliuzzi continued to play bass professionally and later got into the construction business, Bonikowsky is a Student Services Department teacher at Delview Secondary, and Nikolic took over the family painting contracting company.

Of note, not long after Underwater Sunshine split, Mitchell played in a band that would become Theory of a Deadman.

“That original grouping, they all worked at the Keg in Delta,” Nikolic said. “After our band split up, Blair went over there and saw the band also had its frustrations in their early days, so he went into social work and moved to Scotland, his parents’ home country, then came back and moved to Vancouver Island.”

The guys of Underwater Sunshine hadn’t communicated with each other much over the years, according to Nikolic.

“Just recently we rekindled a bit of a conversation. That opened up the idea to dig up these tapes and, you know, ‘Hey, maybe we can mix a few of these songs, see how they sound.’ That was a process in itself.

“It resulted in some pretty darn good-sounding mixes compared to what we would have been able to produce back in the day, which was exciting,” Nikolic added. “There was the technology change and also finding the right guy who understands the technology (Evan Morgan, with Evan Morgan Productions), and it just really worked out. So here we are, and instead of a couple songs we have 16 or 17 we recorded at the time, we’ll bring that down to 12, maybe, and hopefully will release those before the holidays here.”

(Story continues below)

Early this year the plan was to rehearse together but then COVID hit, just weeks before the first get-together. And so, they’ll have to wait a bit longer to plug in again, for gigs to be booked.

Just last week, in a full-circle moment, Big Star drummer Jody Stephens contacted Nikolic to green-light the band’s recording of the Big Star song “When My Baby’s Beside Me,”

“Back when we were 19, we sent them a copy of the song and received a call from him all the way from Memphis, just to tell me how much he loved our version. Twenty five-plus years later, it’s going to be on our album.”

It’s all been an “exhilerating and fun” musical adventure, Nikolic says.

“We were just kids when we recorded these tracks, and to listen to them again is pretty trippy,” Nikolic said. “We’re not doing this to really break any ground, we’re doing it for some fun and to see if we can rekindle some of that energy, for whenever COVID allows for live shows again, you know, and we’d like to finish off a few things we left unfinished back then, the fun of it all.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Tom on Twitter

Live musicMusic

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In 2017, a member of the Disneyana Fan Club curated a small Community Treasures exhibit at the Museum of Surrey about the early days of Disney and the cartoonist Walt Disney. The museum is now accepting applications for its 2022 Community Treasures exhibition. (Photo: Submitted)
Museum of Surrey wants to spotlight local organizations and clubs

Museum now accepting applications for its 2022 Community Treasures exhibit

Musician Dana Vande is seen in a screenshot from a music video on Youtube. Vande recently released a pro-lockdown track in response to an Eric Clapton and Van Morrison anti-lockdown track.
Cloverdale musician writes pandemic response song to Van Morrison and Eric Clapton

Dana Vande answers a Clapton-Morrison anti-lockdown track with a pro-lockdown track

Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or in writing.
LETTER: Cloverdale man said public pressure only convinces church goers they are right

Engageing churches in discussions on how to reduce transmission would be more effective than bans

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Delta Police dog retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Surrey RCMP Constable Mike Della-Paolera as seen in a cut-out used for the detachment’s Operation Double Take program. (File photo)
Surrey’s tall ‘Operation Double Take’ cop is on the move

Cut-out of Constable Mike Della-Paolera used in program to curb speeding and dangerous driving

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

(Realtor.ca)
Rent dropped to 2019 rates across parts of Metro Vancouver in December: Rentals.ca report

Rent costs have declined since May, a trend expected to continue due in part to the COVID pandemic

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Most Read