It was during a gig on an Old Town patio that Christy Starks, vocalist for Sunshine the Bunny, noticed that her husband, guitarist-singer Kurt Starks, had wandered off. This wasn’t unusual. Kurt is known for jumping into friends’ cars, guitar in hand, for a quick ride around the parking lot, or hailing pedestrians along the sidewalk like an old-time barker.
On this occasion, Christy spotted him posing for photos atop a motorcycle.
“We all keep singing and playing, we’re used to it,” she recalled. “Then we glance over, and I see he’s removed all his clothing, and he’s sitting on the motorcycle in his tighty whities.”
Asked to rank her husband’s antics, Christy said, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve seen him do in our band, so far. Every gig’s different. I look forward to it because I never know what he’s going to do or say.”
Judging by the group’s fans, a lot of Wichitans feel the same way. Mixing a bright pop sound, an emphasis on original tunes and Kurt’s often bawdy humor, Sunshine the Bunny has become one of the city’s busiest bands over the past three and a half years. The quartet plays at the Brickyard’s afterwork party Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Kurt, it should be noted, doesn’t generally strip down to his underwear. But he’ll go beyond music to make each show as memorable as possible.
“Our thing has always been we don’t want to be the best band, or the most popular band, we just want to be the most-talked-about band,” he said.
“I know we get that perception that everything we do is joke songs, and maybe a little naughty,” he added. “Those are the songs people remember. That’s OK, I’ll take it.”
Instead of a tip jar, the band sets out a tip tub – and usually jumps a battery-powered toy Evel Knievel over it. An accountant by day, Kurt on stage looks like someone who’s spent the past week partying at a trade convention in Las Vegas. The always stylishly dressed Christy soaks it all in with the air of a good sport.
Kurt is a veteran of several Wichita bands, including Roomful of Walters and The Naughty Astronauts, the latter of which changed its name to The Astronauts after his departure (“I guess I was the naughty one,” he said). The group’s other guitarist, Shaun Ray, played in Film at Eleven and is also a member of Lucky People, which sometimes presents a scheduling conflict. “We play without him, but we prefer to play with him,” Kurt said. “It’s just better. He’s obviously the best musician.”
Drummer Ted Myers also plays in Tornado Rose, while Sunshine the Bunny is Christy’s first musical venture. Kurt said the idea of the band came after his wife finally mustered the courage to sing in public.
“She’s really shy,” Kurt said. “We went to a karaoke bar one night. I mean, she’d never even gotten up to sing. The one night she felt good enough to do it, she just blew it away. I said, ‘I had no idea you can sing.’ I said let’s start a band, that’s where it all came from.”
Christy said she always wanted to sing in a band “but I couldn’t get over that fear of being in front of people. It’s taken a while. I still get nervous before gigs, but once we get started, I’m fine.”
The band plays some cover songs, leaning on what Kurt calls “guilty pleasures” and the “classic alternative” sound of the 1980s. But up to 75 percent of any given show is made up of songs written by Kurt.
“It’s hard to play originals in Wichita,” Kurt said. “I’m real proud of us sticking to our guns. We’ve really built it up. We’ve been daring enough to do it. It doesn’t always go over, but for the most part, it’s pretty good.”
Sunshine the Bunny has released three CDs – “Nanny Nanny Boo Boo,” “Capish” and most recently “Sock It To ’Em.” Kurt throws himself into marketing the band, putting out T-shirts, buttons and some of the most creative fliers around. For the latest CD’s release, he shot, directed and edited a music video based on a song about what might be termed, um, personal enhancement. The title of the song won’t fit in a family newspaper, but it is campy and funny and can be found on the band’s website, sunshinethebunny.com.
The band’s first CD produced what may be its best-known song, “Merril Teller,” about Kurt’s fantasy of taking revenge on the veteran local TV weatherman for an incorrect forecast.
“He (Teller) actually came to a show, which is awesome,” Kurt said. “He brought his umbrella. He set it down in front of us, and we sang the song.”
Christy said a few venues have asked the group to tone down its act, but most encourage it. Not that her husband seems to require any prodding.
“Mostly through our shows I can’t look at him because I’ll laugh,” she said. “I miss out on a lot because somebody’s gotta sing.”
This story is part of an occasional series in which the spotlight is put on local bands. If you’re interested in having your band considered, e-mail email@example.com.
If you go
Sunshine the Bunny
Where: The Brickyard, 129 N. Rock Island
When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday
How much: Free
Upcoming gigs: Aug. 20 at the Brickyard (with the Mischief Makers), Aug. 21 at Oeno, Aug. 25 at Botanica, Aug. 27 at Mort’s and Aug. 28 at Barleycorn’s.