"I get treated like shit daily in everyday life. Being a black woman is exhausting" We chat with Sunny War
Hey Sunny, so to warm you up, an easy question first, what have you been up to today?
Hello, it is only 10 am as I am writing this and so far I've just started some laundry and am having my morning coffee.
And where are you right now?
I am at home in downtown LA.
Introduce yourself to our lovely readers, in case they don’t know you.
My name's Sunny and I'm a blues musician.
Tell us a bit about you, what’s your first memory of playing music?
I first started playing guitar when I was seven years old and my earliest memory is laying the guitar flat across my lap because it was too big for me to play properly. I also remember sitting out on the sidewalk with my guitar and someone walking by and giving me a dollar. I remember that especially because a dollar is a lot of money when you're seven!
You moved around a lot as a child, how do you think that affected the music that you make?
I think it affected me in a very positive way musically. Not necessarily because I was influenced by the different places but more because I needed music to feel grounded. Music was the only steady thing in my life growing up so I couldn't put it down so easily. My entire identity was wrapped in it.
With The Sun has been out just over a year now, what can you tell us about the album?
With The Sun is kind of a coming of age story. It's pretty much the diary of my early 20's. It is musically very minimal and rootsy I think? It is also the first time I got to record songs with local musicians that I've admired for a long time.
Which of the songs do you feel differently about a year on?
I feel differently about 'To Love You'. I don't think I would want that song on the album if I could decide now. I like the guitar but the lyrics are trash. I was just so desperate to use the guitar part on that song that I just farted out some pretty generic lyrics. It's the only song on the album that isn't lyrically about anything and that bothers me.
There are loads of great songs on the album, ‘Gotta Live It’ is great, what can you tell us about that song?
'Gotta Live It' I wrote when I was living in a two bedroom apartment with four other people. I was working full time at the Crenshaw mall as a janitor and I was super depressed. I stopped playing music to find a more stable job and I was still struggling to pay my rent/bills. That song is just about the frustration of working as many hours as legally possible and still not being able to afford to live. I was feeling really hopeless and scared that I'd get evicted.
And what’s the story to ‘Immortal’?
'Immortal' is about reincarnation. It's about how love reveals the secrets of reincarnation and how love is the only passage to being in touch with our ancestors and remembering our past lives. When you feel things deeply you know those feelings can't die and therefore neither can you.
What’s your approach to writing (and choosing) songs to record?
My approach is writing as many poems as possible and making phone recordings of chord progressions and hoping something works. Right now I have five song ideas recorded on my phone. I listen to them and think of ways to make them better. Sometimes I listen to my phone recordings and decide I don't like the song at all. So I'm hoping to catch any future 'To Love You''s before they make it to the studio. I want to spend more time making sure I really like the song before recording.
I was reading a really great interview you did with Bluegrass Situation where you were discussing sound healing and melodic trances, how much of that kind of thing is a conscious inclusion in your music?
That really depends on the lyrics for me. If the lyrics are meant to be comforting or gentle I will tap into what I learned from working at ayahuasca ceremonies. There are certain tempos and chords that align with our pulse that put us in meditative states. There's a science to it! I don't know much about it yet but I did get to try to play trance music a lot at these ceremonies and it was a great way to learn about music healing. But there are a lot of songs that are meant to be the opposite of meditative and I want to make those kinds of songs too.
Can you describe the recording of the album for me, what was your process? And what was the studio like you recorded in? Did you personalise the space at all?
I recorded at Hen House Studios in Venice, CA. I did not personalise the space at all but I definitely felt very at home there. I recorded the guitar first, then bass, then vocals. Once we had that recorded we started bringing in friends to play drums, violin and lead guitar. The studio is spacious and bright. I could totally live there.
What do you think your next album will bring?
My next album is called Shell of a Girl and it will be released August 23rd this year. I don't know what it will bring but I hope it brings more gigs!
I’m fascinated by American towns (my dad lives in Cottonwood, AZ) so I always like to ask, where’s the favourite place you’ve visited?
My favorite American town is Memphis, TN. I've only been there once and only stayed for two days but I fell in love with Memphis. If I could buy a house anywhere it would be there. I had a blues and bbq overdose and it was heaven.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
So far I don't know if I've been treated differently as a woman. I also don't know if I'm in an industry. I don't feel like I'm a part of a music industry anyway. If there is a show where they are looking for only female artist or if there is a female musician looking for a female opener I am considered but other than that I don't know if my experience is different than the male musician experience. But I have not gone on that many tours and although I've been playing music for a long time I don't think I've played as many live shows as a lot of my friends. So maybe I need more time to be able to answer this question.
And have you experienced worse issues because of your gender or ethnicity?
Yeah, totally. It's weird though, music seems to be the only safe space for me these days. I get treated like shit daily in everyday life. Being a black woman is exhausting. All the microaggressions really take a lot of energy to deal with. I could be doing something as simple as grocery shopping and end up dealing with some bullshit. It is what it is though.
Have you felt a change at all over the last couple of years?
I have felt more determined. The last couple years I have done more writing and recording than I ever have in my life. I have learned a lot from working with Harlan at Hen House. I've learned a lot about recording and it has been really fun and exciting. The biggest change I've felt is now knowing I am 100% in love with the process of writing and recording a song and all the emotions that go along with it. Even though I end up hating everything I make I am completely obsessed with trying to make something I love.
Who inspires you?
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
I'll recommend 2: Uhuruverse and Trapgirl.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
I like iced coffee black and hot coffee with a very unhealthy amount of cream and sugar.