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Interview: Sonny & the Sunsets

Sonny & the Sunsets is the kind of project that doesn’t really need bandmate bios or in-depth influence checks–in fact, I think the band would really just prefer it that way. It’s rock ‘n’ roll, its good-natured, and it’s fun (sign me up!).

The San Francisco-based project fronted by musician, artist, and writer Sonny Smith already has two fantastic full-lengths out and about Tomorrow is Alright and this year’s Hit After Hit on Fat Possum, not to mention an endless roster of coveted past plays.

In anticipation of his upcoming show with us Sonny was nice enough to exchange a few email Q’s with me about the band and some of his own artistic endeavors–just keep in mind: this is not beach rock.

You’ve been making music for a number of years simply as Sonny Smith, and I guess ‘the Sunsets’ was the magic number? Where do you think the break happened–did your songwriting change, a specific line-up, or just a dash of serendipity?

I’d say all three.

I’ve noticed that the Sonny & the Sunsets project gets quite a lot of beach pop // surf rock genre tags, but those descriptions seem to be misleading. Are you surprised by the band’s general perception or are you like whatever, yeah I hang on the beach?

‘The sun-kissed melodies of Smith’s beach babylon…’ and other funny crap. The funniest one is when they say something like ‘Smith sings with a stoner grin’ or somehow make me out to be a surfer Spicoli kinda guy; a beach bum stoner sort of lightheartedly ambling through life.

I live by the beach, yeah, but I’m afraid of drowning. I’m very afraid of the water, I like to skimboard because it’s very safe. I’m more like Woody Allen when I’m walking to the beach, all nerves, bound up with catastrophes on my mind.

I’ve seen you guys live a few times, you actually sound a bit harder and heavier than on recordings. Is that a conscious boost or an unintentional product of moving the set-up live?

Both I figure. In the studio it’s easier to be a more relaxed, live it’s more fun to get sweaty.

The first time I heard about the ‘100 Records’ exhibit you debuted last year, I was completely in awe of the project–very cool, very overwhelming undertaking. Were you working off of a particular surge of inspired energy or was it just a really physical incarnation of workflow you’re accustomed to?

Once I came up with this project, I felt “well, this is too fun of an idea to bail on just cause it’s so daunting”. So I just decided to give it a whole year.

After I started writing and writing and hacking away at it, about three quarters through I surprised myself. It was a lesson, that we’re capable of much more than we think, but we gotta put ourselves in a position of sink or swim.

Being based in San Francisco seems like that’s where the highest concentration of those ‘classic sounds of rock ‘n’ roll’ fetishists are hanging out these days. Is there a community of Bay Area doo-wop fanatics or does it just appear that way from the outside?

A bunch of media bullshit I think. Just a few bands made some headlines the last couple years and were made to represent San Francisco. I mean, this is a major city, there’s bands doing everything here. All kinds of music, anything you can imagine probably, and within each little area there must be great artists doing fantastic stuff, there’s gotta be, the law of averages dictates…

Thanks Sonny!

Come see Sonny & the Sunsets with The Sandwitches // Friends // Carnivores

July 30th at Glasslands

Get yr tickets HERE

For all general enquiries and hate mail, please reach us at info@popgunpresents.com or tweet us @popgunpresents

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