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Sunshine Dreamers Defy Odds With 'Stand Still'

Courtesy photo

Stand Still is the latest release from Wichita-area band Sunshine Dreamers. Formed more than a decade ago, the group today features Ryan Benton, Clinton McClellan and Anthony Piazza. The friends turned to an all-star cast of local and regional musicians for the recording of this LP, including Caleb Drummond (Spirit of the Stairs, Jenny Wood), Les Easterby (The World Palestine, Wichita Flag), Joey Lemon (Berry), Quinn Lake, Julia Trechak, Jenny Bowen, Markus Stoesz and Mark Foley.

The album was several years in the making and for Benton is a deeply personal record. Diagnosed in early childhood with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the 32-year-old musician was never expected to live beyond his early 20s. For a time, he wondered if the record might be the last that he might make and some of those concerns are reflected in the music and lyrics on what may be the band's most complex release to date.

Benton recently stopped by the KMUW studios to talk about Stand Still and more. The group will host a listening session on Saturday, Oct. 27, at 1200 Seville Street in Wichita at 7 p.m. Also on the bill are Zone Ender and Golden Living Room.

Special thanks to Anthony Piazza for his assistance with this story.

Interview Highlights

Do you have a lyrical obsession that you keep returning to?

This record tends to deal with time. In a weird way, it was a time in my life where I'd always thought about the past or in the moment. I was given a treatment that helped extend my life a little. I started thinking more about the future. It was just a weird thing to think about something like that that's so simple but your whole life you lived in the moment, so much you never really thought about anything more than a month ahead. So a lot of the songs deal with that mentality and state of mind, thinking, ‘OK, now I have a little more time but what do I do with it?'

Do you feel comfortable sharing a little bit about your diagnosis and treatment?

When I was three, I was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It's a progressive disease. Pretty much my whole life I've just dealt with it, knowing it's a terrible thing and you have to accept the fact that your life is going to be a lot shorter. I think that's why music is so important. I try to make the most of each day. I can't really play keyboard anymore. But when I could, I just did it all the time because I knew I had to take advantage of it.

So this has been stem cell treatment.

Yeah, stem cell treatment.

That's been something that's controversial, so you've had to leave the country to do that.

I have to continue leaving because the FDA just hasn't caught up with the times, basically. The CD coincided with when I started the treatments or at least that's when I knew that they were really working and extending my life by a short period when we started doing this. Relating it to music, I was sure that this was our last CD. I was positive this would be the last one I would be able to do. I have to continually go out of the country. It takes up a lot of my time but it's worth it to continue doing something you love. A lot of people, when you're given [a chance to] have your life extended, you have to think, "Why am I being allowed to continue to live?" That's something I don't talk to many people about. I love music so much. That's the reason I get to continue going.

A lot of time people talk about lifespan. Have you outlived your expectancy?

For sure. We started the band when I was 20. Early 20s, late teens was my life expectancy. I definitely try to always live every day to the fullest. I continue to have years ahead that surprise me each time I hit those points.

There are two things that have always struck me about you: You've always struck me as a very positive person. And a person who has an incredible sense of humor.

That's true.

Those have to be helpful.

I hope. I'm just fortunate. I've been fortunate to do music. I've been fortunate to do it with people that I've really grown to love. It's cliché to say but I'm just extremely fortunate in a lot of ways.

Correction: A previous version of this post had an incorrect date for the listening session.

Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.