Sonny & The Sunsets
With the music world often falling to the whims of a perpetual bombardment of ephemeral trends, it's goddamn refreshing to see an act like Sonny & The Sunsets generate a fair share of organic buzz without aligning themselves to any bankable movement. Tomorrow Is Alright , the outfit's debut record, possesses a deceptive simplicity, recalling a long-gone era while simultaneously remaining distinctly timeless. Having being recorded more than a few years ago, it's taken a while for the endearingly unpretentious record to find acclaim from critics and to win fans, which it has certainly achieved now. The plus side to this is that we can look forward to a follow-up almost straight away, as Sonny himself explains.
"It's called Hit After Hit," he reveals. As for an Australian release date, he remains a little unsure. "Well, I know it's coming out April 12 over here. I'll have some copies to bring over to Australia, so that's the reason I thought it might be coming out sooner over there, but I dunno," he shrugs.
The recording process for Sonny & The Sunsets is as loose and carefree as the finished result sounds, with freeform sessions taking place with great spontaneity in a large array of different environments, Sonny recalls. "For the latest one that's gonna come out, we did a lot of weird stuff. We recorded in this art space in Portland, then more on this road trip with some people. Then some things in a basement studio, some things in a friend's living room, then in my house, then in the really expensive studio in Los Angeles for a few songs," he explains. "All kinds of weird, different scenarios."
It's also an ethic which worked on the previous effort, it seems. "Tomorrow Is Alright was done in much the same way. We would do things in a camper, in our rehearsal space, sometimes the studio. I don't think I've ever made a whole record all the way through just in a studio," he explains wryly. "Maybe someday. God, I'd like to."
His band The Sunsets have long been a loosely assembled group of musicians, but recent years have seen the lineup solidify its personnel a little more. "Well right now it's Ryan Browne, Tahlia Harbour and Kelley Stoltz," Sonny explains. "That's probably the most concrete lineup, although this particular tour to Australia, Kelly couldn't make it. So another Sunset, Zack, is playing drums." With a group of musicians who have their own pursuits, it could be assumed that managing everybody into the one timetable for recording and touring might be a headache. "Sometimes it's easy, and sometimes it's not. I don't know why," Sonny muses.
As well as fronting the up-and-coming feelgood rabble, Sonny's CV contains such titles as 'playwright' and 'author'. So do these different mediums of writing complement each other? "Well I'd say it's much different. I mean, the plays that I've written, I've only written a few, they're all fairly music-orientated. I wouldn't call them musicals," he states. "They all start out differently, but sometimes when I'm halfway through writing a play I realise it's supposed to be a song, or I'm writing songs and turn it into a play. It always blurs the lines at some point."
There a many moments in Sonny's recordings which employ a back and forth banter, much like the exchange in the golden oldie Love Is Strange. "Yeah it's my favourite shit," Sonny states frankly, "I love songs that have dialogue in them. I'm trying to think of a good example, I'm sure there are a lot of them," he pauses to contemplate. "Oh, I was just listening to this Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson (of The B-52s) duet called Candy. It has like this little talking part for each character and I'm like 'Yeah! It's the best,' I love that.
"And there's this great John Cale track where some French girl starts talking, I think it's called The Man Who Couldn't Afford To Orgy or something like that. Crazy title."
On their first visit to antipodean shores, the group have been selected to support legendary kiwi-pop outfit The Clean on their long overdue tour. "I'm only familiar with The Clean after starting to deal with them and I went and found all their music - which is awesome, so I'm really excited," he explains. "I'm sure I've heard stuff from Flying Nun bands, because I recognised the name when I started looking into The Clean. It's not like it's crazy or anything, but The Clean sort of eluded me.
"I'm not really like some of my friends who are like these encyclopaedic audiophiles," he adds. "I'm kinda more random with listening to music. People give me CDs or I just happen across something. I've never had a huge record collection or devoured music in this encyclopaedic way or anything. I'm always in the van with these types and asking 'What the hell is that?'" he discloses.
A haphazard approach to music appreciation has beneficial side-effects, with his output containing a perfect mix of nostalgia and indirect inspiration. "I guess that there are some positive qualities that come from that, like not trying too hard to be religiously like something else, or just to copy something. That can be the trapping if you're absolutely obsessed with a certain kind of music, and just end up making music which is too derivative."
SONNY & THE SUNSETS play SUNNY TONES at The Tote this Saturday March 5 from 3pm alongside Beaches, Super Wild Horses, The Ancients, Montero, Scott & Charlene's Wedding, Woollen Kits and Bachelor Kitchen DJs. They also support The Clean at The Corner on both Friday March 11 and Sunday March 13, and in between they play GOLDEN PLAINS on March 12 - tickets and info from goldeplains.com.au. Their album Tomorrow Is Alright is out now through Spunk.