By Thalia Stopa
VANCOUVER — It may be the most pertinent question of our times: how to deal with living in a culture where we are relentlessly inundated with information? For San Francisco’s Sonny Smith, the natural response was to make a rock album about it with his band, the Sunsets. Their sixth LP, Moods Baby Moods (released May 27th) sounds groovy overall, but some of the material sure is heavy. The album’s funkier sound is a departure from the Sunsets’ previous albums but an unsurprising one considering they encapsulate a wide range of genres from country to experimental. The tracklist itself aptly swings from the goofy “Well But Strangely Hung Man” to the commentary on consumerism, “Needs.” When asked what one lesson listeners should take away, Smith’s response is simple: “Life is screwy.”
“The world is going down like the Titanic: fires, deserts, diseases, wars, refugees, extinction, world slavery, nations disappearing, etc.,” Smith continues. “Who cares about rock and roll, really, or any other genre, I hope it dies and new forms begin. I’ll be making some kind of shit till I die I’m sure, no idea what it will be….”
Smith has more than a few creative outlets which occasionally mutate into something suited to Sonny & the Sunsets, the project which is his first and foremost passion. However, there’s very little calculation involved in that process. “Death Cream” for instance is a catchy narrative about an ominous substance that began on 2009’s debut Tomorrow is Alright. More recently, Smith was inspired to continue the story in comic panels which morphed into lyrics for the opening track on Moods Baby Moods, “Death Cream Part 2 ‘Watch Out for the Cream.’” The comic book idea hasn’t been shelved entirely, but Smith says that it will have to wait until the trilogy is complete.
Along with a series of drawings of Caucasian policemen on trial – an allusion to the track “White Cops on Trial” – a vaguely autobiographical cartoon character named “Mr. Sensitive” recently popped up on Sonny & the Sunsets’ Instagram feed. The idea came about because the band’s rehearsal space is situated in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. “We’re always just…complaining about how disastrous it is. I mean it’s really disgusting and sad and messed up…just people with syringes hanging out of their arms, human feces everywhere…It’s just one of the most unhealthiest neighbourhoods I’ve ever experienced and of course it’s, ya know, due to some weird urban-planning and exploitation of resources and stuff but ya know we’re always kind of like, ‘Oh, Mr. Sensitive can’t handle human shit on the ground,’” he laughs. “Whatever. So it just kind of went from there…”
From comics to lyrics, Smith is a prolific writer who always has a notebook and pen handy. “I just write in the gaps of my busy life…I’m just one of those types…I always have my notebook. If I’m early to pick up my son at school I’ll just write in my notebook. If I am at something boring I’ll just write in my notebook, ya know? I just have my notebook all the time and I always have.”
It’s doubtful that Smith will ever give up his pen, but for Moods Baby Moods he did cede his role as producer for the first time, instead enlisting the Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus for the role who he plans on working with in the future…although with Smith’s predictions, who knows what post-rock’n’roll or post-apocalyptic form that will take.
Sonny & the Sunsets play FAR OUT at the Biltmore (Vancouver) on June 15th.BC, Biltmore Cabaret, British Columbia, Sonny & the Sunsets