Sonny Smith is a busy guy right now. His solo album, Rod For Your Love, came out last fall on Easy Eye Sound. He just opened a record label called Rocks In Your Head. His long-time band Sonny and the Sunsets just released, Hairdressers From Heaven, (the first album produced on said new label). It’s an exciting time for this San Franciscan to bust into role of producer. So what’s this mean for his own projects?
If you didn’t catch it in November, let’s take a little peek at Rod For Your Love. For starters, the album sounds fantastic. I guess I’ve got a thing for Easy Eye Sound, because everything owner Dan Auerbach produces is a warm and juicy ear treat. Opening track “Pictures of You” has got something rather “Tom Petty” about it and is a nice introduction to some of the songs Smith’s serving here (real pleasing drum-tambo combination smackin’ around on that track). Another album favorite, “Burnin’ Up,” is an experience of a song that goes nicely with closed eyes and some good headphones: sweet harmonies and a bayou-like baseline that pairs so kindly with the melody.
We asked Mr. Smith how the process went at Easy Eye Sound and he shared that “… Dan’s studio is so fast and efficient… you build things incredibly quickly with Dan. That’s kind of his thing. You just plow forward and try not to question things too much. That is a very fun experience. And you really get some great music out of that kind of pressurized moment. For this latest (album) this experience was more patchwork: a song here in this city, a song there in that city, another few ideas at this meeting, a few more at that one. Spend a few days drinking beers and listening to things and talking about stuff. (It feels) more like hanging out with your friends and you happen to be making something.”
So how does Smith feel about that style of recording, writing, producing? “I’m actually more a fan of that patchwork version of making records than going into a fancy studio for five days, because it gives you a little bit of a project to work on over a year. Like writing a novel, it’s nice to live with your art for a while. It might be nice to write a novel in three days, I suppose; in some Herculean, Kerouac mythic event, but then your well is emptied really fast and you’re emptied out creatively all in one swoop. Then what do you do with yourself? Go sit on a park bench and stare? So yeah, I like to live with the project for a while. It gives my life a nice structure.”
And now for a look at the new Sunsets album. It’s one of those albums you can ease the needle onto and just let it fill the room, flip. Repeat. It’s “all over the place” as Smith says. Opening track “A Bigger Picture” starts the album up nicely with a calmly epic piano riff (almost a Heartbreakers feel with some 70s Kinks), another track has an ELO feel, a Talking Heads feel here and there. Songs have touches of country, lyrics that occasionally border on overly pure, but all around it’s got a nice “little of this, little of that” feel. Smith describes the album as “…a country kind of number, and a drum machine type of song, a song about talking worms at Drug Lake. A piano ballad about hairdressers… It was just whatever I wanted to make on the day I was making stuff. I don’t want any concepts or rules…”
Hairdressers was the first album released off the Rocks in Your Head label and Smith’s got three more lined up: one is a compilation of San Francisco bands; an album for the Gonks (a new band Smith also plays in); and for Galore, a new band Smith really likes. So what kinds of records are they hoping to produce?
“The sound (of the label) is ‘back to the garage.’ I’m a little spent on all the synths and the string sections and the ornate multi-layered, sonically lush intricate chord changes people do, and did I say synths? I’ve had fun with that, there’s some of that even on my last record, at least a song or two, so I’m pointing the finger at me too here. I’ve embraced all that on different records, but I’m a little tired of it….at the moment I’m a little more interested in 2 minute songs. Stripped back. I like the Tronics, the Gories, Thee Headcoats, Sub Sonics; minimal stuff like that. So, if there was a kind of light house in the distance for this label it would be that family of music. Not too many bands out there are really doing that at the moment. So maybe it will be hard to find. I guess that’s the adventure I’m on.”
Sonny And The Sunsets perform live on Sunday, May 16th at The Chapel.
Bio: Michelle Kicherer is a fiction writer and music journalist living in Oakland, CA. She writes for The Deli Magazine, The Bay Bridged, SF Station and others. She enjoys long walks, hound dogs, and her second novel is in the works. Instagram @michellekicherer