Interview: Collyn McCoy of Sugar Fly

Sugar flyBassist Collyn McCoy lays down some heavy grooves with a huge helping of funk and soul with Los Angeles based rock and soul group Sugar Fly.

Sugar Fly was conceived by Collyn McCoy (bass) and Grammy nominated producer  Noah Lifschey (aka Stereo Lif), after performing together on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s TV show, HitRecord. Fueled by a steady diet of classic vinyl, vintage tube amps and Kentucky bourbon, the two sequestered themselves to Noah’s studio and birthed the burgeoning sound that had been swimming in their heads. All they needed was the vocalist of their dreams with the ability to peel the paint off the walls of their studio. Enter Tia Simone. Equal parts Aretha, Etta, and Bon Scott (with the charisma of Freddie Mercury) she evokes starpower and infuses several vocal styles into one deeply soulful fusion. “Sure soul and rock have been fused many times before, but just not the way we do it,” says Tia.

I had the opportunity to ask Collyn how he started as a bass player, his gear preferences and got the low down on his latest project Sugar Fly.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you first got into playing bass?

I’ve been playing electric and upright bass since I was fourteen years old. But my first instrument was trombone, which I played in marching band from age 10 through high school. And I briefly played guitar before switching to bass. My father was also a bassist; he played jazz in the Boston area in the 1950s – 1970s. He played with a lot of guys who went on to do big things — Tony Williams for instance. When I first started I was mostly self-taught. I learned by playing along with records. I probably spent a year learning every Iron Maiden and Rush song there is. And then I moved on to Jaco and Stanley Clarke. When my dad heard me playing along with Stanley Clarke’s “School Days” he knew bass was something I was serious about, so he started giving me pointers. Not formal lessons or anything, just “hey, maybe you should hold your hand this way.” I eventually majored in music, first at Plymouth State University in NH then at the University of Massachusetts. That’s when I started taking upright more seriously. Knowing theory and especially how to read music — like actual black dots — has been my secret weapon. That and upright bass. I’m really only a passable upright player, but it still gets me a lot of gigs.

In addition to Sugar Fly I also play in The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic, which is an instrumental psych rock band, co-starring Ed Mundell from Monster Magnet on guitar and Rick Ferrante from Sasquatch on drums. I also played bass on the last few Otep records. And I play “baguitar” (a hybrid bass/guitar type deal) in my swamp blues band, Trash Titan. 

Tell me about your gear, what is your go to bass?  Amp?  Any pedals?

I tend toward classic tones. Give me a Fender bass through a vintage tube amp and I’m good to go. My go-to rig is a 1976 Fender Jazz through a 1968 Sunn 2000s. But with Sugar Fly, particularly for the soul-leaning stuff, I use a Fender P bass with flats. The classic Motown/Stax sound. I also have a Reverend Dub King, which is a short scale semi-hollow bass. It’s the one “modern” bass that I really like. Reverend makes great stuff! I use tapewound Fender strings on the Rev. 

As you can probably imagine, the Sunn 2000s (with matching 2×15 cabinet) is a beast of an amp to lug around so depending on the venue I’ll sometimes use an Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 with a lightweight 1×15 cabinet. I absolutely love the Aguilar, it has classic tone in a modern package. And it’s so damn light. I’ve always preferred 15” speakers to 10”s. Although I used to have a little Phil Jones with 5” drivers that sounded pretty sweet.

As far as pedals go: With Sugar Fly I only use the standard Boss tuner and a Full-tone Bass Drive. With UEMG, however, my pedal board gets pretty epic. The Boss tuner goes into a Morley bass wah, which goes into an Electroharmonix Bass Balls, then into a Bass Big Muff Deluxe, which goes into not one but two Line 6 delay pedals. And then whatever pedal Ed hands me, be it a phaser or some crazy fuzz thing. We use a lot of pedals!

How Did Sugar Fly come together?

It’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s fault. Noah (Sugar Fly’s drummer/producer) and I were doing a live performance for Joe’s “post modern variety show,” HitRecord on TV. I was on upright bass, Noah on drums, and we were backing up Joe and Tony Danza. Seriously, it’s on YouTube, look it up. Noah and I had worked together in a few different bands, but it had been a while. We started talking about projects we could do. At some point we arrived at the basic Sugar Fly premise – vintage soul meets heavy rock n’ roll.

In addition to being a kick-ass drummer Noah’s also a Grammy-nominated producer, so we’d get together in his studio to woodshed ideas. We came up with a grip of tunes but obviously it all came down finding the right singer. The wrong voice would sink this thing. Somehow we found Tia Simone, who is, simply put, fucking amazing. Tia is at a level that is so far beyond most singers. She’s got the chops, the passion, the tone, she writes great melodies and lyrics… and live she’s a wrecking ball. Equal parts Tina Turner and Bon Scott. It must be seen to be believed!

Together the three of us co-wrote the bulk of our material before assembling the live band. Dre DiMura, our young buck, is a killer guitarist who’d just moved to L.A. from New Jersey. Like me, a classic tone guy, and not limited to any one style. And Esteban Chavez came in on keys. I knew Esteban from The Freeks, which is an awesome garage-psych band. We also have two amazing backup singers, Nina Kasuya and Leah Ashton, whom we dub “The Sugars.”

How would you describe Sugar Fly’s music?

Like Tina Turner fronting Led Zeppelin. Or Etta James fronting Black Sabbath. 60s soul, 70s hard rock riffs, but with modern production – we wear our influences on our sleeves, but we’re not a throwback act. Our record sounds like it was made in 2016 not 1966. 

What can people expect from a live Sugar Fly show?

They should expect to have their faces blown off. Sugar Fly is all about the live experience. It’s a high-energy, high-intensity, high-volume rock ‘n’ soul show. Emphasis on SHOW. We try to take a page from the old soul revues – like Ike and Tina or the Sam and Dave Show — but with a dash of AC/DC. You won’t find us gazing at our shoes or mumbling into the mic about our feelings. We also dress the part; no flip-flops or cargo shorts. Rock ’n’ roll lost a lot of its entertainment value in the 90s. I mean I love a lot of the bands from that era, Soundgarden especially, but we went from David Lee Roth to Kurt Cobain and never looked back. Sugar Fly is trying to rectify that a bit.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Sugar Fly’s debut EP comes out on February 26th, 2016, available wherever digital music is sold. You can also pre-order a physical CD from our Bandcamp page (link below). And we’ll be having our Record Release party on Saturday, March 12th, at El Cid in Silver Lake, CA.

Sugar Fly’s live band is composed of Tia Simone (lead vocals), Noah Lifschey (drums), Collyn McCoy (bass), Dre DiMura (guitar) and Esteban Chavez (Hammond organ/analog synths).


Check out their single “Heartbreak City”

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