Sunny Sweeney talks 'Concrete,' alternative country and her brilliant bio
If Miranda Lambert is the Crazy Ex Girlfriend, and Carrie Underwood is the All-American Girl, and Natalie Maines is Not Ready To Make Nice ... what does that make Sunny Sweeney?
Depends on the song. Maybe she’s the hell-bent woman done wrong from Drink Myself Single (“I’m gonna kiss all the boys ’til I kiss your memory goodbye”). Maybe she’s the remorseful other woman trying to explain her adulterous actions in Amy (“He needed love he said he never got from you”). Maybe she’s the wizened wife on the brink of a breakup from Staying’s Worse Than Leaving (“Both our hearts let go a long time ago”)
Whoever Sweeney is, it’s working. The spunky country cutie is winning rave reviews for her new sophomore album, Concrete, a disc of rollicking twang and honeyed ballads that hew heavily toward the Texas side of Nashville. Buoyed by the Top 10 single From A Table Away, Sweeney is well positioned to become country’s next female sensation — which is funny, because to hear her tell it, she’s just a feisty Texas gal who loves cheeseburgers, gossip mags, Luden’s cough drops, souvenir spoons and the smell of cigarettes and gasoline.
Seriously, those are all facts. It’s all in her official bio. Which Sweeney wrote herself.
On Friday, Sweeney will open for Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton at the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre in Tampa. Last week, we got her on the phone to talk about her album, her sound and her curiously revealing bio. Here are excerpts.
Congrats on Concrete. What, for you, has been the highlight, the absolute pinch-me moment, of the past week?
I got to play in my hometown, so that was pretty cool. I haven’t played there in a very long time, and it was really, really awesome. There were people there from my middle school. And then actually looking at my CD in Walmart — I went and bought it. That was pretty awesome, too.
I saw that you tweeted a picture of that.
(laughs) It was so cool!
Was the show like going to a reunion?
It wasn’t necessarily the students that would have been there. More the teachers. My fourth-grade English teacher was there, and then the principal from my middle school and the principal from my high school. It was so weird, and so awesome to see them.
Your English teachers are totally going to take credit for your songwriting abilities.
Oh, no, they should, because that’s the only subject I did good in. (laughs) I’m horrible at school.
From a Table Away was released last summer, and it took over a year for a full album to come out. I’m kind of amazed in this day and age at how that happens.
Yeah, the record’s been done since then. But they wanted to wait until the second single to put it out. It’s just a newer business model. I’m so happy to actually have an album out. It honestly doesn’t even seem like it’s been that long, because I’ve been on a radio tour since last May, a year and a half. I’m just happy to have it out.
The world being what it is, I’m sure you get compared a lot to Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Jennifer Nettles, Natalie Maines. Does that bother you?
Actually, not a lot of people do the whole, “You remind me of...” thing. I’ve gotten a couple of people say that, but mostly, they say, “You’re very unique. How do you feel about being so different?” I love being different. That’s what I’ve done my whole life.
First time I heard From A Table Away, I thought: Kathleen Edwards. Lucinda Williams. I didn’t think traditional mainstream country.
I love that. And Kasey Chambers. Kathleen Edwards is a badass, I love her music. But that’s a huge compliment.
She’s someone I would describe as a little more alt-country. Does the phrase “alternative country” mean anything different to you than it would to the average music listener?
I don’t really put things into a genre like that. I never understood when my friends would have a rock band, and they’d be like, “We’re emo-punk-rock.” I’m like, “No, you’re rock.” You don’t have to make it some weird title to be cool. To me, country is what’s cool — just straight-up country music. And that’s what my music is, is country music. I don’t really care what people call it, as long as they know that it’s country.
But there’s a difference between a band like Whiskeytown and someone like Brad Paisley. There’s a different fan base.
Well, that’s more Americana. Whiskeytown isn’t country, necessarily. It’s country in the sense of instrumentation; a lot of times, it’s the same as what they play in other bands. Whiskeytown’s a great band.. Ryan Adams in general. People can call it whatever they want. But my music will remain, and always will stay, country.
Can you quantify the value of being an outsider in country music? You live in Texas; you don’t live in Nashville.
I did for two years, and I had an apartment for two years before that. Everything that I have is there — my manager, my label, my booking agent, my band, my accountant, my lawyer, my banker. Every single thing is there. I thoroughly, 100 million percent, enjoyed living there. But I’m a Texas girl. I was born and raised there, and I just wanted to go back. Quite honestly, the only thing I don’t like about Nashville is my family’s not there. I would live there again if my family would decide to move there.
I want to know the story behind your official bio. You seem to go out of your way to make it clear you don’t want to fit into the traditional country-starlet narrative.
Bios bore me to tears. I was a public relations major in college. I wrote bios for people on the side, for money. They’re so boring. They’re regurgitated, they sound horrible, it makes people want to puke when they read ’em. You’re sitting there like, “Why would you care who you opened for? It doesn’t matter what you did in your past. It’s what you’re doing now.” So I had a couple beers and wrote my own bio.
When I read the bio, I thought, “Well, maybe this isn’t her. Maybe this is just a form of good P.R. at work.”
Nope. It’s me. I am good P.R.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*