Sonny Smith talks working w/ Dan Auerbach on new album, upcoming tour & more (BV Q&A ++ LP stream)
On his new album Rod for Your Love, Sonny Smith hooked up with Dan Auerbach of Black Keys/Arcs who signed him to his new label, Easy Eye Sound, and also produced the album. It's his first album in a long time under his own name, and it's also a back-to-basics record for Smith, whose last few Sonny & The Sunsets records flirted with synths and new wave. If you dig the "Too Young to Burn" era, Rod for Your Love is definitely in that vein and is probably his most instantly appealing set since Tomorrow's All Right. It's out next week (3/2) but we're premiering a stream of the whole record, which includes great single "Burnin' Up" (featuring backing vocals by Angel Olsen) and nine more terrific songs. Listen below.
Sonny has also created a web series, Corny and Horny, about a touring indie rock band that he stars in, along with his mom who plays the band's drummer. You can watch the trailer for that below. He's also going on tour, including West Coast solo dates, and Sonny & The Sunsets will play Brooklyn's The Bell House on April 27 with EZTV. Tickets for that show are on sale now and all dates are listed below.
We talked to Sonny, via email, about the new album, that web series and his upcoming tour. You can read that Q&A below.
First things first, how did you get hooked up with Dan Auerbach's new label? The label also signed your old friends Shannon and the Clams...is there a connection? Package deal?
A friend pointed out to me some concert footage going around the web of Dan’s band covering one of my songs. I didn’t actually know too much about Dan Auerbach or Black Keys or any of that world. And I was vaguely in touch with Richard Swift, who was really the one that probably brought my songs to Dans’ band The Arcs. Anyhow, Richard reached out and invited me to play the song ["Too Young to Burn"] on stage when they came to town. From there Dan and I stayed in touch, and we plotted this scheme to make a record in Nashville at the tail end of one of a tour. At the end of the tour I packed my mates into a Megabus, the only thing below Megabus is like, living on the street, or prison. But, in tatters, we arrived at his marvelous studio. Oh Shannon & the Clams, I think Shannon was in touch with Dan through other channels, so it was more of a coincidence.
What does Dan Auerbach bring to the table as a producer (and label head)?
It was very inspiring watching him work as a producer. His studio is just wonderful, really like a studio should be. He had lots of great ideas and he believes in first thought best thought, working quite fast, and keeping the pace fast enough that you can’t second guess too much. I think there was a moment when someone wanted to play synth and he rolled his eyes because once the synth is out, it takes like twenty minutes to find the right sound. So that’s kind of an example of the speed, don’t wanna be doing nothing for twenty minutes!!! Compare that to studios where the engineer takes two days to mic the drums...
Rod for Your Love is credited to Sonny Smith. I always took it that Sonny & The Sunsets seemed to be mainly you anyway (or at least a ebb-and-flow lineup)...why use your own name this time?
Its true the lines are blurry over the years. I’ve really intentionally tried to mess with the identity of both ideas. But they stay separated in some part of my brain, not sure why. I can’t really say why the separation helps. Maybe it’s kind of like identical twins. From the outside you can’t really tell the difference, and yet if you’ve ever known twins, you know how different they are. So somewhere inside my messy brain, they are different, and it helps me write.
This seems to be a more back-to-basics sound this time compared to the last few Sunsets albums. Was this a conscious decision?
Yeah. In fact it’s got more layers then I wanted. I thought it was going to be one guitar, bass, drums, vocals. And well, you have fun in the studio and the next thing you know there’s piano and back up vocals and congas and stuff. It’s fairly minimal but not totally minimal... And yeah, just wanted to keep it rock and roll, no frills and stuff. Meat and potatoes and all.
You created a sitcom -- Corny and Horny -- what can you tell us about it and when can we see more than the trailer?
I stopped touring in 2017, aside from a show here and there. And I needed to purge, and process this whole thing about travelling around being a musician. Cause it’s a little nuts. And what makes us do it? And why do we meet who we meet and how did this get so weird out here? So I made this art show about touring. And I wrote a bunch of episodes to a sitcom. I don’t know when the next episode is! We shot a few scenes to release. I wrote this part for “the drummer” right?, and I made the drummer kind of a mute, and kind of like a rainman character. Sort of an idiot savant. And the drummer gets into all kinds of predicaments, sexual predicaments, romance predicaments, arguing predicaments, and fights and stuff. I wrote it for a twenty eight year old male right, that kind of idea. But then this actor I had tapped bailed out so I casted my mom as the drummer. Which is funnier. but if I make this sitcom and I make my mom do all this stuff I wrote for the drummer, I’ll be shot.
You're on tour soon -- who is in the band these days?
I don’t know! I’ve been playing with these teenagers I got hooked up with, they’re just so talented. Their minds are so open. But wait, they’re in high school, they can’t go on tour. I have some buds to join me. Sunsets first lieutenant, Tahlia Harbour, she’ll be in the mix. Some other old and new friends. Lots of people have passed through the doors of this band. Starting to get a bad reputation over here. Actually, I’m starting to realize I use my band to make new friends. That’s how I make friends, can’t do it at a bar or a job picnic like others. Gotta make a friend by hiring him to play my terrible songs.
I have fond memories of seeing you at Union Hall in 2010, which was the tour with Kelley Stoltz (where you backed each other). What are your memories of that tour?
I think my new computer had gotten hustled out of the drummer, a straight up big city con, and it made me really frustrated and I was in a bad mood. I was losing money and New York is so difficult to pass through sometimes. But on the bright side, it was New York, and those people from that era, eight years ago, Rusty Miller, Kelly Stoltz, Tahlia Harbour and Ryan Browne, what great people, great friends, they’re still part of my life. I count them as amongst the most treasured human beings of all I’ve known….
Anything else we need to know?
Sonny Smith - 2018 Tour Dates
MAR 02: Los Angeles, CA @ The Resident
MAR 03: San Francisco, CA @ The Chapel
MAR 25: Boise, ID @ Linen Building (Treefort Festival)
MAR 29: Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studios
MAR 30: Seattle, WA @ The High Dive
MAR 31: Everett, WA @ Fisherman’s Village Music Festival
APR 27: NYC @ The Bell House (Sonny & The Sunsets)