The versatile Sug Daniels continues her ascent to musical success
Sug Daniels has long been most recognizable as the leader of those darlings of the Delaware music scene, Hoochi Coochi, a self-described “hand-clapping soul-stirring, funky soul-blues band” that performs original music along with occasional crowd favorites.
In their six years as a band, they’ve packed venues and festivals up and down the First State, and opened for national acts like Low Cut Connie, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and Larkin Poe. They played XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, N.J., in September.
Co-founder and vocalist Daniels, known also as Brown Sug (and as Danielle Johnson before launching her solo career), has had her hands in booking, promoting, and writing lyrics for the band since its founding.
“We had a really busy summer,” says Daniels. “Like every other band, we didn’t do anything for a long time. Once summer kicked in and everybody was outside, we were booking shows like we never left.”
For the past few years, she also has performed as half of an acoustic act, Brown Sug & Blonde Blonde Roast, with Lauren Kuhne. While the duo caters to Wilmington’s thirst for cover music, they also offer some original songs, and occasionally add drummer Barret May — from Kuhne’s band, Lauren and the Homewreckers — to make a trio.
“Danielle is the most driven person I’ve ever met,” says Kuhne, “while also the most mindful about how to care for herself and others. She has a way of instantly drawing people in whether through warm conversations or her dynamic performances.”
Daniels recently took an even deeper dive into music by adding solo artist to her resume.
During the early months of COVID-19, when musicians were experiencing a booking famine, limited (by law) to outdoor events, Daniels spent her time writing music with a different goal in mind.
“It was music for myself and by myself. It was fun to explore solo work because I’ve always been part of a collaboration,” she says. “For the first time in my adult life, I explored how to create on my own. It was very eye opening. I can’t say one is better than the other; they’re both every different, both very fun and cool.”
Releasing Franklin Street
In September, she released a four-song EP, Franklin Street, under the fledgling boutique label Weird Sister Records, which was founded six months ago in Brooklyn by Deanna DiLandro and Madison Hetterly.
DiLandro had booked Daniels for shows on occasion, and tapped her as the label’s first artist. Franklin Street is one of just two releases so far from the fledgling label.
Daniels has embraced the new relationship. “It’s fun to help them on their journey and I need the help, too,” she says.
The newly-branded solo artist, as always, is a consummate collaborator. Once the pandemic response allowed group activities to resume, Daniels and her various musical partners were able to get together and rehearse again. She soon introduced her solo work to her band, with satisfying results.
“I love letting people add their energy and spin to things I create,” she says.
Two bands and a solo career would be a lot for anyone to juggle, but right now Hoochi Coochi is on hiatus. While that may disappoint the many fans of the band, it has given Daniels a bit of a breather.
“I’m taking a break from one and doing the other,” she says. “It’s possible to do both at the same time, but I think I’m better when I’m able to focus on one thing solely. The band was ready for a break anyway, so it was perfect.”
While she’s “enjoying life, spending time with family,” and “getting ready for holidays,” she continues to experiment.
“I’m always trying to record, so me and my label are looking at having some artists remix my songs,” she says. “I have a home studio, so I have some music demoed, unreleased, with some different players and different music. It’s a great way to figure out how I want to record.”
Adding a Uke
The home studio isn’t her only new tool. In addition to singing and songwriting, she has embraced a new instrument.
“I’ve been playing this little Fender ukulele [belonging to] my friend,” she says. “I was jamming on it. It was little and fun. I never owned one.”
She says that her brain works “in a melodic way” and she just started writing songs with the ukulele and recording them, which in turn created a desire to play it for an audience.
“An electric uke, a Fender, is definitely a conversation starter,” she says. “It’s so fun to play it, and it’s adorable and I like things that are aesthetically pleasing, too.”
Daniels’ musical productivity changed with the discovery of the new instrument: Rather than waiting for someone to join her on a piano or guitar, she has gained more independence thanks to the tiny stringed instrument.
“I have the ability to do it all the time now,” she says.
Daniels’ versatility recently was rewarded by Mark Rogers, host of the long-running Delaware Valley radio show Hometown Heroes. He gave both Hoochi Coochi and Daniels the Delaware version of a Grammy: a Homey Award. The band won for EP of the year with The Watershed, and Daniels was named Artist of the Year, both for 2020.
Rogers has high praise for Daniels. “She’s multi-talented and a very good writer,” he says. “Beyond that, I think of her as being kind of the face of the local music scene. It’s a lifestyle for her.
“And once she moved to Wilmington, she moved full speed ahead.”
Wilmingtonians will no doubt be disappointed to learn that the Smyrna native, having lived in Wilmington just since 2018, plans to move to Philadelphia.
“I definitely am feeling like it’s time to spread my wings,” Daniels says. “I plan on moving to south Philly, and ingraining myself in the music scene there, and continuing to spread the Delaware gospel.”
As she prepares for her next big-city move, she won’t be abandoning Delaware.
“I absolutely cherish this state,” she says. “I love calling myself a Delaware artist and will always be one. I have so many connects here, no way I won’t come back.”
The same is true for what was once her “day job” as a booking assistant for Gable Music Ventures, the founders of the Ladybug Festival and Wilmington’s premier music booking machine. Rather than saying goodbye to Gable, Daniels has taken on a new role: blogger.
“I wanted to continue working with Gable,” she says. “I always thought about a blog, and we talked about starting one. There really aren’t too many, and there’s so much talent and so much art in the state. I love to write anyway, and I’m doing spotlights and interviews and music reviews.”
The new blog demonstrates what Rogers says about the singer: “She’s always promoting other artists, not just herself.”
“I love seeing people rise, it inspires me,” says Daniels. “If I can’t go to a show, the least I can do is highlight the people that are around me. I love it. It’s my favorite thing.”