Driven and inspired: an interview with Sugarshack

Driven and inspired: an interview with Sugarshack
Photo cred: Joey Harkum

In 2014, the Sugarshack Music Channel was launched with the intention to create a platform for music by delivering stripped down and unfiltered live recordings. Over the last eight years, Sugarshack has become a world-renowned source for music being played without all the bells and whistles attached. The channel delivers music in its prime, with a true, organic essence leaving you feeling good with every performance.

This vision has become a vehicle for breaking through to the underground reggae rock scene.

What once was a mellow gig on the back deck of Eddie Kopp’s home, has now become a global music mecca for many artists. More than hundreds of bands from around the world have performed live and unplugged for Sugarshack since.

I first started watching Sugarshack last year; as a primary metalhead, this channel helped me delve more into the rawness of other genres, such as reggae, reggae rock, folk and hip hop. Their choice of music is impeccable. Almost better than being at a live concert itself, the setting gives you that intimate vibe… you feel a sense of closeness to the music. Based in Bonita Springs, Florida, Sugarshack is now a channel and multimedia production company, drawing in musicians and fans from all over the world!

Filmed on the Sugarshack Channel are ‘sessions’: not full concerts, but rather mostly acoustic live performances that are completely inspiring. The world has been watching the brand’s progression in this endeavor and it is clear we will be seeing even more amazing things from them! Some of the biggest bands have already come through, from SOJA to Iya Terra to Rebelution and hundreds more! I got to sit with Eddie Kopp — the visionary, director and editor of Sugarshack Sessions. We discussed the origin and what inspired Sugarshack to come to life.

So, were you born in Bonita Springs?

  • EC: No, I was born in Iowa, but raised in California.

The other day I was at our local bar in Cocoa Beach called Beach Shack and was speaking to a friend who runs the place. He was saying they wish they could have a gig like Sugarshack. I thought to myself, ‘that’s right, I have got to hit them up’!

  • That’s great, you’ve got epic timing!

What did you do before Sugarshack?

  • I was in some bands… played the drums with a lot of different bands before this. I did the touring thing. I had a good run with my old band; we had music on Spotify and stuff like that. I was pretty involved into the modern reggae world. So, I knew a lot of the artists. I cut my teeth in the music scene here in Florida… opened for the bands like Passafire, Mike Pinto… a lot of bands that I love still to this day. I was always that guy in the band with the GoPro. This was kind of before Instagram and stuff like that. Started taking pics of the bands and had a lot of fun with that.
  • When the band broke up, I put the petal to the metal in video production. At the same time, I joined the military — did six years in the Air Force. It changed my life: put my feet on the ground, set me straight. So, I had some friends that trusted me to film them and this was my first video ever. It was an acoustic track for a modern reggae band here in Naples, Florida. I told them I had just moved into this house [and] it’s got a cool deck out back. They said, ‘let’s try it.’
  • After we made the video, it looked cool. I’ve always been interested in session channels, so this could be something. I felt inspired to start something up myself. I somehow convinced four other guys in town that had cameras or audio recording equipment to take this leap of faith with me. We all had jobs and lives… whether working at restaurants or college — things like that. The classic mid-20s lifestyle. They were all digging the idea. We worked with what we had; I started inviting all these bands like Passafire and Ballyhoo!. After we got all the locals done, we started contacting and inviting all the artists coming to the state of Florida. A lot of them were saying ‘no’, but a couple of them started saying ‘yes’. We kept building and never stopped.
  • We believed in what we started and saw the magic since day one. The first official Sugarshack Session on the channel was a band called the Sweet Teas — a female trio and local artists from the Fort Myers/Naples area.

How did you come up with the name?

  • I was transitioning from college campus living and all that. I found this little cottage on Craigslist; as soon as I walked in, I fell in love with the house. It’s like an old Florida bungalow from 1942… it had so much character and, obviously, the back deck was cool! I had 30 days before the campus living was up. So, having this empty house and being in a band at the time, I decided to use it as a practice space. One day the bassist walked in laughing and said, ‘Hey man, this is a sweet little Sugar shack you got here!’
  • I thought that was so random — what a cool name. The band started calling the house the Sugar Shack. Then the fans of the band started calling it ‘Sugarshack’, it was all over the place for five years!

How do you select session artists?

  • I handle all the booking, I really enjoy that side of it. Obviously, I was reaching out to the bands for the first couple years. Then, at some point, the tables have turned and my inbox is bananas! So, I check out the emails and if I like the [artist’s] sound, then I’ll send it to the team. We try our best to cater to everybody as much as we can. We look for bands that are serious about their careers, have some touring history and an album or two.
  • It takes a lot to do what we do. A lot of energy and equipment. It’s really a two-way street. We want the band to take this content seriously and help us push the channel. It doesn’t cost the artists anything to do this and it’s distributed strictly from our platform. This helps the community that we built grow and expand. In turn, it helps the artists grow.

Do you have a big crew?

  • In the production team, we have seven people doing audio and video. We have also have a hospitality crew for the sessions, which is five to seven people, including our chef, bartender and the host. It’s a whole operation now — probably about 16 people per session total.

Tell us about the VIP sessions?

  • So, we have VIP sessions on our website. People always ask to come see the sessions… it’s my personal home, the deck included. We are trying to move out now, but the housing market is insane. It’s always been VIP friends and family. Now, we can create sessions live for the public through VIP. It’s not a very big space, but we finally got the team to a good place so we are able to have the VIP Sugarshack experience.
  • We sell 10-15 passes per session. Show up around 5:30pm; the show goes till about 9pm. You get a pair of Bluetooth headphones when you show up. Also, a full meal, open bar and you get to hang out with artists and with us. Sit under the stars with us and watch it all go down. It’s sold-out for the rest of the year — selling out almost immediately! We will be booking more soon, just keep looking out for the VIP passes.
  • Our goals were to use this platform like a business card. Through the Sugarshack Music Channel, we really created a multimedia company. We go to music festivals, we do commercial work for businesses and restaurants — all music companies, all things video production. We created a whole media house here! The goal is to eventually just use the channel for payroll. We are trying to make this channel our livelihood. But, yeah, we travel all over the country doing freelance video work, too. That’s pretty much what funds the channel right now. That’s how the VIP helps… we had to figure out how to recoup our costs to pay the staff.

How do you guys film at other places? I watched a session with Iration elsewhere…

  • We do Sugarshack pop-ups at music festivals, where we try to emulate the back deck. We’ll do three songs in an acoustic set. We have the corner of the fest and between the sets, it’s like a whole Sugarshack experience.

That’s genuis! No one is doing this, so it’s very smart!

  • Iration did it last year with us and we had about 1,500 people show up at 11am just to see Iration play three acoustic songs! It was great!

What, in your opinion, has been the most memorable Sugarshack experience?

  • Oh man, they’re all so memorable! Okay, one night Leilani Wolfgramm, Fortunate Youth and Jacob Hemphill from SOJA were all here at the same time. They performed the song “Change the World” and I’d like to say that really changed our world! That was the epitome of what Sugarshack is about. It was so special!

Who are some artists you would like to come through that have not been a part of this experience yet?

  • E: Stick Figure, first. We get emails EVERYDAY, comments like crazy… we call them our Sugarshack Unicorn! (Laughs) We would also love Jack Johnson, Dispatch and Chris Stapleton.

You love your job, don’t you!?

  • Greatest job in the world!

You found what you love and you went for it. Did some people ask you in the beginning ‘what are you doing’??

  • You know, it’s been amazing journey so far. There’s something so cool about it… people saw that right away. From the first one, everyone was like ‘we’ve got something special here!’ Our friends and family saw the passion and the drive we had. We didn’t make any money for a very long time. It’s been an interesting journey for us.

Where do you see Sugarshack in five years?

  • I think the next chapter will be using a real venue — like a public destination. We’ll keep pushing the channel to become a household name.

What would you say to the fans of the show and to people trying to follow their dreams?

  • Believe in yourself and follow your passion! Don’t give up — go for it! To the fans, I need a word bigger than “THANK YOU”; I am so grateful we can put out content four nights a week. It just continues to grow. The community is super dedicated. I love our fans!

Leilani Wolfgramm – “Change the World” ft. Jacob Hemphill & Fortunate Youth | Sugarshack Sessions

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