Monday, January 24th, 2011 | interviewZ, musiX, pdX
It’s relatively safe to say that TDoL has become a San Franciscophile over the past year. I can’t get enough of it. High on my list is singer-songwriter Sonny Smith, and his ramshackle pop crew the Sunsets.
And over the past year Smith has been a busy body, releasing the universally adored Tomorrow Is Alright, as well as embarking on the 100 Records project/traveling art show, in which he created more than 100 fictional bands, wrote songs for them and enlisted a “Wrecking” Crew” of S.F. musicians including Ty Segall, Kelley Stoltz and The Sandwitches’ Heidi Alexander, who belts it out for Earth Girl Helen Brown’s “I Wanna Do It.” Smith didn’t stop there, working with artists from around the country to provide cover art for each imaginary 7-inch and then releasing Volumes I and II of songs from his creations including Zig Speck & Specktones, Fuckaroos and Loud Fast Fools.
Smith is playing a few dates up the West Coast, including a solo set here in Portland on Wednesday, Feb. 2 at the Doug Fir with The Blow. The Days of Lore is giving away a pair of tickets to the show. Just leave your favorite Sonny/Sunsets song in the comments section (as well as the pertinent contact info), and we’ll set you up. Deadline is Sunday at midnight (January 30), and the winner will be announced the following day on TDoL’s Facebook page.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the new Sunsets record—Hit After Hit will be out March 1 April 12 on Fat Possum. Sonny Smith took some time to talk to TDoL about 100 Records, writer’s block, and a glimpse into the new Sunsets album.
TDoL: I wanted to talk a little about the 100 Records project. How did it come about?
Sonny Smith: I was working on a novel and I wanted to make some drawings of the fictional records of the characters in my novel. It was just a small idea, to put a few drawings within the novel. I received a small residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts to work on these drawings. While I was there I farmed a few drawings out to other artists. The work that they did was spectacular, in my humble opinion, so I began making up more and more fictional musicians and asking more and more artists to be involved. Soon this new project took over, eclipsing the novel, and my unfinished manuscript was shelved. Here it is next to me on my desk, this uncompleted novel, yet the 100 Records project continues to travel from city to city.
It sounds like quite an undertaking.
It was a big, fun, mysterious year.
How did Cabezas Cortades come about?
That was just one of the many bands I made up. The art that went with it that Juan Luna Avin made is one of my favorites. Incredible piece. And the tune that Pablo sang is amazing. That should be a radio hit all through Latin America!
The art show was, by all accounts, pretty successful.
It seems to be still trucking along without me now …
And more volumes of music are in the works?
I’m working on a book of the art. The music comes out in little bits and pieces here and there. One of the fictional characters, Earth Girl Helen Brown, is coming out with her own EP on Gorilla Vs. Bear records. So she’s become a real band I guess, she’ll be playing out live soon. A 7-inch was put out of the Transients, and Jackie Feathers, and Adelard Grassley. I’m putting a band together for the Beachticks, so that band will become real. Some of the songs will be on the next Sunsets record.
Is there a part of you that’s relieved to be done with it?
Nah. I’m empty inside now! I need to start something new.
Who are some of the writers that influence you? Do they influence your songwriting as well?
I don’t know where to begin. Tennessee Williams was huge for a while. Sam Shepard. When I was around 17, 18 years old Kerouac and all the Beat stuff had a huge effect. Later I was into Celine, Miller, all the big macho males from the ’40s. There were a lot of poets, too—Whitman, [Pablo] Neruda. I read books here and there, but I graze a lot—just open books, enjoy a few pages, find a passage or something, put it down, move on to another book, come back to the other one, on and on, grazing …
You’re a pretty prolific songwriter … ever get writer’s block?
Yeah all the time. What I do is I try, if I can, to scrap it if it’s not flowing too easily. Put it on the back burner and come back to it later. Then later, I can see what it has, what parts are worth keeping, or getting rid of. Or I can see that it is really meant to be something else, like the song should be a short story, or the article I was attempting should be a comic book.
And now everybody’s burning question: What can we expect from the new Sonny & the Sunsets record?
A politically charged, sexually explicit meditation on the mystic nature of lust. Acres of lust.
“I Wanna Do It” – Earth Girl Helen Brown
“Death Cream” – Sonny & the Sunsets