Sunny Sweeney Grows Up With "Trophy"
Sunny Sweeney didn’t have great aspirations of being a singer-songwriter while growing up in Longview. She said she just did “regular kid stuff” but she was surrounded by country music and somewhere along the way she developed her own fiercely independent, country-girl vibe and headed off to college.
She studied public relations but decided to become a singer-songwriter after going to a concert in San Marcos where it suddenly dawned on her that “those people are getting paid.”
“I just started doing it to see if I could and it worked out,” she said.
Quite serious about her new venture, she needed an instrument to help ply her new craft.
“I asked my stepdad to teach me,” she said. “He got me a guitar and taught me a couple of chords and I moved on from there.”
She wrote her first song the first week after college and started playing in “lounges” around Austin.
After just a couple of years in Austin, she started playing out of town. In the last 15 years she’s toured all over America, Europe, Norway, and all over the world.
In 2013 she was nominated for the Academy of Country Music’s Best New Female Vocalist along with fellow East Texan Kacey Musgraves — the third nominee, Jana Kramer, won the award.
Sweeney is close to another of the region’s greats — Miranda Lambert.
“I went on tour with Miranda last year,” Sweeney said. “We’re friends outside the music business as well. Our personalities are pretty similar — we like co-writing about getting along with people.”
Rolling Stone is one of many national and state music publications singing Sweeney’s praises with articles popping up in print and on the internet at regular intervals. One endearing descriptive RS used for her is “twang-tastic.”
“I don’t hear the twang,” Sweeney said. “I think my accent’s gone. But it’s not, cause I still hear (people say) ‘you’re so country.’ It’s a good thing I’m a country singer.”
Sweeney’s sound might be somewhere between two other East Texans — Lee Ann Womack and Miranda Lambert — and definitely on the country side with some Americana squeezed in. Her songs come from her own life.
“Being raised in East Texas helped because country music is in your blood,” she said, citing Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Vern Gosdin, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Jessi Colter among her influences.
“Traditional country is pretty much all I’ve ever listened to.”
Although the topics and tone of her songs change some through the years, Sweeney’s bold character threads through all her albums. In 2007 Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame released, followed by 2011’s Concrete and 2014’s Provoked. Releasing March 10 is her fourth album, Trophy.
Sweeney’s co-writers on Trophy are mostly other women, and some are personal such as the ballad “Bottle By My Bed,” which touches on her desire to have a baby. Others provide a variety of moods she prefers listeners relate to on their own terms rather than defining them herself.
“I don’t like labeling anything if I can help it,” Sweeney said. “I want everybody to listen and see what they think. I do write from a perspective of what I’m going through at the time. That’s going to change through the years.”
Sweeney says she strives for “a little bit of highs and little bit of lows.”
“That’s a successful record when you can do that. Some of my songs are really funny and some are not funny at all. There’s some really deep songs that don’t have any comedy at all.”
The first song on the new album is testament to that. Tricia Yearwood joins Sweeney on “Pass the Pain” as she asks the bartender to “slide some more hurting my way.”
Next, “Better Bad Idea” lightens the mood, followed by “Nothing Wrong With Texas,” a reminiscent song where “It’s time to go back to where I learned what respect is.”
Sweeney’s version of Chris Walls’ waltz, “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight,” is one in which listeners will agree that sometimes Beethoven, Chuck Berry, or Bird’s saxophone won’t do. Ray Benson performs with her on this one.
The title track, “Trophy,” is a fun song about something an ex-girlfriend of her husband’s said.
“It’s one of my favorites,” Sweeney said. “It’s the side of smart ass, kinda sassy, version of me. It’s for ex-husbands and ex-wives and their relations that ensue after. It makes me laugh more than anything.”
“Unsaid,” is a painful ballad about losing a friend. She’s joined by Jack Ingram on “Grow Old With Me.”
Overall, critics are raving about the album and Sweeney’s happy with it too.
“It’s a much more adult record than anything I’ve every made,” she said. “It’s about an adult life and death and birth, and wanting relations to be a certain way and then they’re not, and being grateful when others are. Most of us spend our lives living, just getting through it one day at a time.”
Sweeney remains a force of nature.
“I was just raised to kinda have a free spirit,” she said. “My mom always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. If I had a weird idea, to go with it and see what happens. I try to be the same onstage. I’m just me. I think that’s what people relate to. I’m a music fan first.”
Sweeney doesn’t get to Longview these days as much as she’d like she says, but it’s still home.
“My whole family is there,” she said.
Sweeney lives in Austin now when she’s not touring and plays a regular gig at the Saxon Pub with Brennen Leigh when she’s in town. In March and April she’s performing in New York, Nashville, Seattle, Sacramento, and San Francisco to name a few towns lucky to have her. She gets a little closer to home with a June 1 gig at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth.
For more information and to order her music, go to sunnysweeney.com.