NVDAILY.COM | Lifestyle

Posted February 12, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Shooting stars: Early success, CD in the works, band is aiming high

Sunset Shootout
Members of Sunset Shootout, from left, Ben Hughes, Joseph Emswiler, Adam John, Sam Sumser and Drew Dirr, pose for a publicity photo. All students at James Madison University, the musicians plan to release their first album this spring. Courtesy photo

By Preston Knight -- Daily Staff Writer

HARRISONBURG -- Joseph Emswiler takes the brunt of the jabs, most of them coming from the direction of Adam John.

Emswiler's musical inspirations? Those would be Celine Dion and Cher. His famous look alike? Try Hilary Swank. They're bold answers from a 19-year-old, John, who is wearing a Cookie Monster hat.

Yet somewhere in the guidebook listing the essentials to being a successful band is the need for positive relationships, both among bandmates, musicians and the people who lend their ears to the sounds being produced. In its infancy, Sunset Shootout, of which Emswiler, 20, and John are two of the five members, has stressed just that aspect and, with it, has found a working formula.

It helps, too, that there is good music being offered, band members said.

Emswiler, John, Sam Sumser, 20, and Ben Hughes, 19, all students at James Madison University who are from Northern Virginia, recently discussed their early success and their long-term plans. With Drew Dirr, 22, also a JMU student from Northern Virginia, the band is on the verge of going from newly formed to having a national television audience in a matter months.

In the Internet age, that's not too shocking. Music is available everywhere online, and it stands to reason that somebody will get noticed. Sunset Shootout has, namely by the management firm Andon Artists LLC in New York, and now awaits signing on with a record label.

"It comes down to being unique and marketable," Hughes said.

John adds, "And good looking."

This is not to say the short journey the band, which considers itself a mix of pop, hip hop and R&B, has taken since its inception in September has been easy. With relatively instant popularity -- there have already been more than 1.2 million views on their MySpace page, which has several original songs -- comes increased demands for something new from the fan base. And then there's the matter of being seen just as much as being heard, a pursuit that sends Sunset Shootout on the road performing every weekend.

For these college students, it's a demanding lifestyle they are learning to love.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," said John, the lead vocalist.

Band members said it's difficult to describe their sound, recommending instead that people check it out for themselves online or live. The band has taken its Top 40 vibe throughout the East Coast, holding its first gig in Altoona, Pa. Its largest performance will be next month in New York City for a fundraiser that should attract 1,500 listeners. Sunset Shootout has played locally only once, in Winchester in January.

At each concert, band members said they make it a goal to talk to everyone, something they attribute their early success to.

"Personality definitely has helped us," said Sumser, a guitarist and backup vocalist.

But the band itself must also enjoy its own company, and whether it be John taking friendly shots at Emswiler or all of them joking about how their music might make girls in the audience cry, all signs indicate that positive relationships have been established.

"The day one of our songs makes a man cry," John said, "I'm throwing in the towel."

He and Sumser attended the same high school, Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, and recruited the other members of the band after John arrived at JMU this school year. They have overcome the early obstacle of having to learn to play as a group and figure out each other's strengths, Sumser said.

"I met Joe through a friend, and I knew Ben through the music scene in Northern Virginia," he said. "It was perfect. We were all in the same spot. We thought we should try to do something. It's worked out. We've clicked."

The band does not consider itself a college band and would like to erase that thought from any listener's mind. The plan is not to play music for a few years and disband, members said.

In fact, a college degree may have to wait if things go well and the band gets signed by a record label sometime in the next few months, which is the immediate goal. Helping its cause will be getting some songs played on a few popular MTV shows, including "Real World" and "Keeping Up with the Kardashians."

The bassist, Emswiler said Sunset Shootout's energy -- "Make sure the whole stage is stepped on," he said -- adds to its appeal. With Dirr on drums and Hughes playing guitar, the band considers itself ready for stardom.

"We're getting where we want to be," John said.

Sunset Shootout's first album is due to be released sometime in the spring.

  • Contact Preston Knight at pknight@nvdaily.com

  • Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily | nvdaily.com | 152 N. Holliday St., Strasburg, Va. 22657 | (800) 296-5137