By Adam Rogers
VANCOUVER — “I wanna get weird; I wanna make Finnegans Wake the record,” says Sonny Smith of Sunny & the Sunsets.
Sonny & the Sunsets, first known for their simple breezy indie surf rock ‘n’ roll; summer on the West Coast for your ears. “Creating the Sunsets, I just wanted something basic, basic rock-n-roll, simplistic, because that is what I was into that couple of years,” recounts Smith. Yet with each passing record, there’s been a shift to the less conventional and more to the quirky and weird. 2013’s Antenna to the Afterworld saw a departure from the “classic” breezy Sunsets sound to something much more textured that revealed Smith’s belief in the afterworld, ghosts, aliens, and the supernatural. “Truth is,” Smith says, “my early solo stuff, was much weirder and stranger, and nobody listened, it was off the radar, maybe eleven people heard it.” It’s obvious that Smith’s creative drive is fuelled by natural instinct and not some grand plan.
The Sunsets’ new record, Talent Night Ashram, pushes even further from the original ‘Sunsets’ sound. The project was originally imagined as a series of short films, which would then be stitched together to make one feature length film. Smith wrote scripts, hired actors and even began to shoot some scenes, until the project quickly began to take on a new life. “When writing the songs for the film, I went where it was more natural,” admits Smith. “Directing the actors and stuff? I just felt I wasn’t succeeding at it, and simultaneously the songs were coming to life. I ended up following what was working, which was hard as my ego was clenched around the original idea. Once I let go and committed to the record, it felt exciting again.”
Focusing his efforts on the stuff that’s working, Smith has no desire to go back to the film project. “I’m just gonna move on, and let the film ideas be what they were. It was a creative project that morphed into something else.” And that’s been a trait of Smith’s throughout his career, “I have lots of abandoned projects,” he says. The volume of ideas can be overwhelming at times, but it would seem there is a freedom in which Smith approaches his work; he won’t allow himself to get hung up, or overly attached to an idea. “The creative process never stops, things are constantly being imagined, or re-imagined, things getting recycled.”
New album track, “Happy Carrot Health Food Store”, plays on this, as it is part song and part screenplay that Smith recycled when looking through his notes from the film project. “I saw this scene, and I was like, why not just put it in a song, which was really fun.” The song is about going into a Health Food Store, which Smith describes as: “A passageway into a mystical weird realm, which I often feel when I walk through the door, and for some reason these places have a special place in my heart!”
What’s remarkable about the new record is the fragmented nature in which it has come together, but how it seems to just flow beautifully. “I like records that have that podgy sound, when recordings are done at different places; my house, a friend’s, or recording in another scenario. I always liked that, makes a record sorta sound like a mixtape.” Smith refrains from recording in a studio, and this enables him to be more free in his process. This could have complications when calling upon friends from other bands to collaborate. Talent Night Ashram is boasting a host of guest musicians such as Shayde Sartin (The Fresh & Onlys), and Garret Goddard (King Tuff). Smith doesn’t schedule, but thankfully he says: “They seem to have gotten used to me now and don’t mind my spontaneous calls for them to come around and record!”
Sonny & the Sunsets perform at The Fox Cabaret on February 18.BC, British Columbia, Fox Cabaret, Sonny & the Sunsets