Braiden Sunshine, the teenage phenomenon who sang “Renegade” on Season 9 of The Voice, finally meets his idol, Tommy Shaw, in Connecticut on September 25. Here’s how it went.
by Mike Mettler
photo by Jason Powell
Sometimes, the good guys really do win. Styx fans will readily recall the tale of one Braiden Sunshine, the now 16-year-old Connecticut resident who sang “Renegade” on Season 9 of NBC’s hit vocal-competition reality show The Voice on November 16, 2015. Braiden was instantly voted into the next round the following night as a result, as his rousing version of “Renegade” shot straight up to #1 on the iTunes Rock Chart — and Styx’s original version of the song climbed into the Top 21.
“A true Renegade. That’s great! Go Braiden! I believe in him,” enthused one Tommy Shaw, the singer/songwriter of “Renegade,” in the wee hours of the morning of November 17 after he and the rest of Styx had watched Braiden sing their signature song, not long after the band had finished a gig in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
The teenager’s dream to see Styx live and meet the man who wrote the song he sang so well finally came true this past September 25, as Braiden and his super-supportive parents, David and Liz Sunshine, were in the audience when the band played a killer set at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Connecticut. (More on that exciting encounter in a bit.)
Last November, Braiden was quite humbled upon hearing Shaw’s response to his performance. “That was really cool, because he wrote the song!” he exclaimed to me in a Styxworld exclusive interviewconducted just a day after his rendition of it. “You know, you’re always afraid that people are going to judge you. I never would have thought he would reach out to me — let alone hear it, because I didn’t think he would have even paid attention to it. It’s just a little clip. But the fact that he took the time to send something and say something about it is really cool. And the fact that he liked it is even cooler! He wrote the song!”
Since his time as a Top Ten finalist on The Voice, Braiden has resumed pursuing his solo career, playing gigs whenever and wherever he can. Braiden will release a new single called “Heartbeat” next week on October 25 via iTunes, Amazon, and Apple Music, and you can find more info about what’s next for him at https://www.braidensunshine.com/.
At any rate, back at the Oakdale Theatre on September 25, Braiden and his family made their way backstage as Tommy and the band commenced their usual, behind-closed-doors post-show cooldown. As per custom, we would be given a very specific signal when it was time to make our way to his dressing room. Before meeting the man, Braiden took a few minutes to talk to your Styxologist about what he just saw, and how it all felt.
“This is the first time I ever saw the band, yeah,” Braiden said. “I really didn’t know what to expect. But when I walked in, I was blown away. They’re just so tight as a band. Everything is perfect. For a lot of bands, when they’re tight like that, it almost feels like it’s in a ‘mechanical’ sense, because they’ve done it so many times, and the passion leaks its way out. But there is so much passion in what they do. Everybody is just having fun. Sometimes bands practice and practice and practice, and it sounds like they’re playing off the album — like they’re just playing the record. But Styx puts so much into it, and their passion just draws you in. It really engages everybody — and that’s something you don’t find every day.”
At this point, we’re given “the signal,” and, as a group, we make our way toward Tommy’s dressing room, where Braiden and the creator of “Renegade” meet face to face for the very first time. Here’s how that conversation went, word for word.
Tommy Shaw: Wow. Braiden — you just knocked it out. We were up in Canada, on our way to Winnipeg after playing in Thunder Bay, Ontario. We all watched it together after the show, and it was great.
Braiden Sunshine: Yeah, it was fun. My coach, Gwen [Stefani], had sent me this really old ballad. I just wasn’t really clicking with it. I learned it, but I had “Renegade” ready. I brought it in and told her, “I really want to do this song. Do you really want to hear this other one you asked me to do?” She said, “Do it once and then do your thing, and then we’ll decide.” After she heard “Renegade,” she said, “Do that.” So that went well.
Tommy: Well, thank you. I’m honored.
Braiden: Hey, me too! (smiles all around) You guys were so tight tonight. I’ve never heard a band be so into it after doing it for so long. It’s crazy.
Tommy: It’s a lot of fun. It’s like a sports car. As hard as you’re willing to hit it, you can do it. It’ll go until it goes off the rails — but this band is great when we go off the rails!
Braiden: I didn’t know you guys were going to do the confetti [both near the beginning of the “Rockin’ the Paradise” encore, and toward the end of the encore prior to the conclusion of “Renegade”]. I didn’t see it at first because I was looking the other way, and then there was this total bombardment!
Tommy (laughs): Yeah, it was a double one. Well, we have fun out there. And you sang “Renegade” — it’s a fun song to sing, isn’t it?
Braiden: (nods) Oh yeah!
Tommy: All of them are like that. There’s not a song that we do that we don’t love. And we go deep into the catalog too, like when we play “Man in the Wilderness” [from Side 2 of 1977’s The Grand Illusion]. We were an album-rock band. Even if you didn’t buy the album when it came out, you’d listen to the radio, and you’d hear the whole thing. And then you could decide whether to buy it or not.
And the vinyl is so easy to get too. Everybody does a vinyl release now, and I still love it.
Liz Sunshine: Any recommendations for those just starting out?
Tommy: Just do what you love. Keep fighting for the music that you like to do, and you’ll always love doing it. If you’re feeling it, that’s half the job right there. (to Braiden) And don’t baby your voice!
Braiden: Oh, you know it! (all laugh) Trust me — I’ve been singing in a band since I was 9. When I was 11, I used to do 5-hour gigs every other day. It was fun, but it was challenging.
I used to play this place called the Roadhouse. It was an old bar, and when I was 11, I was really short — up until about 2 years ago. Anyway, I would jump up on the bar and sing AC/DC, and then run around the bar!
Tommy: Well, there you go! Just keep doing that. I went through a little phase where I thought maybe I should start taking it easy. But the easier I took it, the worse I got. So I just went back to laying it all out there.
Braiden: Cool. Oh, and just a sidenote: If you ever need a backup singer, I’m available!
Tommy: You’re a frontman — you don’t need to back anybody up! (all laugh)
If you’d like to read more of my exclusive backstage conversation with Braiden Sunshine about Styx and the impact of “Renegade,” become a Styx Lounge member today! Just click on JOIN to learn how you can do so.