RadioUTD: I love the new album, Antenna to the Afterworld. What inspired the new wave sci-fi psychedelia sound of the album?
Sonny: Well, not just one thing I guess. It was just a mix of few different things that all happened in the same year. I was watching Bladerunner one day and I was just like, “I love this soundtrack.” I looked up Vangelis and it talked about one of the synthesizers he used. I bought one and messed with it. That probably has something to do with it. Brian, the bass player came up with this sound on a few of the songs and it sounded kinda very new wavey. It wasn’t designed, you know. This was just an accident in the studio. It all started fitting when I started writing some lyrics about aliens, other worldly things and paranormal stuff. It all just started to fit together without consciously trying too hard, you know?
RadioUTD: Yeah, I think I’ve read you talk about that before. This album is different than Longtime Companion, which was mostly a country sound. I read that it wasn’t a preconceived concept, but rather was more of just what you were feeling and writing?
Sonny: Yeah, I’m pretty impressionable. If I’m on a really country kick and I’m listening to country music all of the time, it’s pretty much a guarantee that I’m going to start writing songs like that. At first it might be kinda without intent, just kinda following my interests. And then maybe after a little while, maybe when you get to about mid-record, you see what you have and then maybe a little bit more intention kicks in. You’ll be like ‘wow, it looks like I’ve been writing some country songs. Well, I’ve got a few. Maybe I should just keep writing some more and make a country record. It’s kind of like a blend of intention and non-intention.
RadioUTD: Another prominent theme on the new record is that of death and the afterworld. Following the death of close friend, you visited a medium. Can you talk about that visit?
Sonny: It was interesting. I mean I was going to visit a psychic. I didn’t realize she was a medium. I wasn’t going there to seek out anybody. It was a gift for my band to go see a psychic because they knew I’m kind of interested in that stuff. Then within the session she said there was somebody here who wanted to talk to me. As she described it, this was a woman who I had known somewhat, not terrifically, but my band had stayed at her house on tour. She was a fan from way back before I was even making any records. She had died in her sleep. A year or so earlier, her son committed suicide and she became really depressed. Maybe she died of a broken heart or something. Maybe just too much stress or strain on her heart. She was there apparently, if this is all to be believed. She had a message for me. The psychic was speaking as if she was the woman, and sort of delivered this message. I was just taken with it. I’m not necessarily a believer of whether it happened or it didn’t. I don’t know what it all means. It’s just the fact that I went to a psychic or a medium, and you know this person from the afterlife was available. Whether it was a projection of me was really intriguing and I just started thinking, reading about the afterworld and the afterlife. It kind of swirled in with the death of a closer friend and wondering where she went.
RadioUTD: Do you think you’ll continue visiting the medium?
Sonny: Oh, well she’s kind of expensive.
RadioUTD: Oh, it was a gift! That’s right.
Sonny: Yeah, it would be cool, but maybe if you went in there intending to meet someone from the afterlife it wouldn’t work the same. I have no idea about any of that stuff.
RadioUTD: You may be right. A few years ago you released the 100 Records project, which bridged the 100 fictitious band personas you created with the 100 artists you invited to produce the artwork for the record covers of each band. I need to add that you and artists created somewhat blindly, not knowing what direction the other would take in creating their respective works. What was that experience like?
Sonny: It made it work. I think if I had given them too much information on that back story of the bands, they may have made record covers that made too much sense. It might have ended being kind of predictable or trite or something like that. They were just free to make whatever kind of record cover they wanted. I just sort of glued it together. It seemed much more like “Okay, there was a band called Danny Dusk & the Twilights and this was their album cover. How crazy is it that they would have a picture of their ants on their album cover?” You can’t really argue it because it’s fiction. You can’t say that’s not what the record would’ve looked like because it’s all made up anyway. It made it that there could be no wrong.
RadioUTD: Was it a challenge creating music for genres that you do not regularly perform? I know you had a reggae one and you had mentioned a soul one that was sort of an Otis Redding type song. Was that fun?
Sonny: That soul one is funny because I can’t sing like Otis Redding, so I just made the lead singer a mute. So that’s how I got around stuff like that. With the exception of a few songs like the reggae, I didn’t really hop around genres too much. It was just kind of a gradation of what I could do already. There’s a lot of stuff that just sound like me.
RadioUTD: What was cool about the project was that you exhibited the project in a gallery which included a jukebox that held all 200 songs (A-sides and B-sides).
Sonny: Well, there were 100 songs. 200 titles because on a jukebox you see an A and a B, but if it was like a B song, they wouldn’t play. Everything was a hundred. A hundred songs. A hundred pieces.
RadioUTD: My earliest memories of falling in love with music came from being a tiny dude listening to Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and His Comets and Elvis on my dad’s jukebox. Can you talk about your early music influences?
Sonny: I think the very first era of music interest for me was Michael Jackson. Strangely, it was a dichotomy of Michael Jackson and Ozzy Osbourne. I was given Thriller and of course I was a kid of the 80s so it was a pretty big deal for everybody. I also had a friend who was really into Ozzy and I wanted to be like him. His parents let him go to the Ozzy concert and my parents didn’t let me, which just added fuel to how much I liked Ozzy. I had Ozzy written on my knuckles and just sort of had my foot in both worlds, I guess.
RadioUTD: Have you had a relatively strong connection and relationship with college radio in the past? I love being able to share rad new music with friends and listeners of our programs. Do you have any past experience with college radio?
Sonny: Well, I was a DJ in college for a couple of years. I did a really bad thing though and probably shouldn’t admit it to a college radio DJ. I stole a bunch of records from the station.
RadioUTD: Oh, haha.
Sonny: I still have them, too! For some reason stealing them was bad, but getting rid of them seemed worse. It’s like, “Wow. If I keep them for a lifetime it may mean something.” I was into blues and jazz and stuff. It was like the “blues and jazz hour.”
RadioUTD: I’m a regular follower of the Lagniappe Sessions on Aquarium Drunkard, and you recently recorded a session for that music blog. I was unaware of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, who you covered for the Lagniappe Sessions.
Sonny: Yeah, I kind of pulled it together during tour. I wasn’t thinking too hard about it. That is a great band.
RadioUTD: I like how you noted the Velvet Underground cover came out very Devo-sounding.
Sonny: Yeah, that’s because my friend’s band Sunfoot really have that sound. When we recorded together it was really them.
RadioUTD: Do you have any favorite song covers? I ask because of your recent covers and Devo’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.
Sonny: There is one I had on a mix CD. It’s kind of obscure, but it’s a Link Wray cover of the Bob Dylan song, “Girls From the North Country”. That one just came to mind.
RadioUTD: Have you toured or worked with Kurt Vile?
Sonny: No, I’ve never met him or toured or anything. I mean, we have some mutual friends. I think I saw him play when we were at Pitchfork Festival together, but otherwise, no.
RadioUTD: Yeah, Wakin On A Pretty Daze is gorgeous. Hopefully I’ll run into you at the show this month.
Sonny: Yeah, man. Thanks. Take care of yourself.
Sonny & the Sunsets will be performing with Kurt Vile at Trees in Dallas on Monday, August 19. Tickets are still available.