Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Shawn Biggs
Sonny Smith always seems to give us a drinking story when we hang around with him. It's not that he gives you these pre-made drinking stories. He makes them with you. He invites you to participate with him and you feel obligated, but more than that, you feel as if you'd be a damn fool to not participate. He's one of those guys that you can watch drink anything and he makes it look like the greatest fun. He never seems to overdo it and he always looks happy. The first time we recorded with Smith, it was out in San Francisco and the drink of choice was a whole lotta beer. We night-capped with him and it was a good thing we did - with the session stretching well into the late night. We found him again out in San Francisco this past late winter as we were back again for our third Noise Pop festival go-round. Instead of playing with the Sunsets and instead of drinking beer this time, Smith brought in a batch of fellow Bay Area musicians from bands The Fresh & Onlys and The Sandwitches to make a collection of country and western songs and drink White Russian after White Russian. We were wise to schedule the session at the end of our night and we allotted what we thought was enough time, but you never allot enough with this man and his prolific outputting. There were three or four takes of every song, for no better reason than it might be enjoyable to do another one, it could be countried up some more, it could be livelier, it could be sexier, whatever the case. Smith has a way with these sorts of stories that had to have been bourn out of a buzz and the sketchiness of a mind. They come from the part of the ego that will always be confident, will always want more action and will absolutely always want to stay for just one more drink. You can hear the belly laughs and the cackles from blocks away. You can sense that there are likely two or three ulterior meanings and wink, wink, you know what I'm talkin' abouts to every song. He comes across as one of the brainiest, smirking-est and genius garage rock songwriters around. He writes absurdist lines, like, "In the year of the cock, I was covered in leeches," from a song heard here first, titled, "Year of the Cock." It's a song that goes a long way toward nailing down what Smith does best and that's gluing together wonderful bits of language, degenerate behavior and the easy-going - but inventive -- melodies and music that make anyone who's ever tried to write a sturdy song green with envy. He can do this over-and-over, making it look like skating. He's got a hold on a scruffiness and a take that's always playful, but never disingenuous. He means all of the wildness that he sings about. He loves to see the nights at their deepest and when he sings about a lost year of crowing all night and all day, of feebleness, lust and lost questions, there's pride in his voice. He tips his cap and cracks another top and jumps back in.
Sonny Smith and The Sunsets Debut Session
Sonny Smith Official Site