Sunny Sweeney comes to us from East Texas, which one will figure out the minute they talk to her.
“When I get around my friends from home or family, my accent gets thicker and you will most likely need a translator,” Sweeney said. Described by herself as a “pretty low key person,” Sweeney said when she’s not on the road, her idea of fun is to sit on the couch with her three dogs, have a cold beer in her hand, and watch trash TV. She considers herself a country music history buff and loves the Grand Ole Opry. And, her humor is contagious, as any who have seen her in concert can attest.
“I have a dirty mouth and I should get my mouth washed out with soap more often,” she said. “I am blunt and I say what I mean, but I also mean what I say.”
That may have been the reason she skipped off to New York City shortly after graduation to pursue a career in theater or comedy instead of conquering the dancehall and opry circuit back home. Frankly, there was a spell there in her early 20s when she seemed hell-bent on collecting as many different W-2s as she could, instead of pursuing her destiny. And she actually did OK at the comedy thing after leaving the Big Apple and returning to Texas to hook up with a comedy troupe in Austin.
But every time a skit found her singing, it became more and more clear she was just putting off the inevitable.
“My friends in the improv group kept saying, ‘Man, you should try singing,’” said Sweeney. “At first I thought they meant ‘cause I wasn’t good at the comedy stuff, but they were just being supportive and wanted me to succeed at what they thought were my strongest points.”
Her family seemed intent on pushing her in the right direction, too. Her stepdad, a musician and songwriter himself, had tried to teach Sunny guitar when she was a child, but it didn’t stick. Years later, when he tried again, it did. So much so, she became obsessed.
“He gave me a guitar for Christmas and taught me the three country chords: G, C, and D,” she said. “The next day, we drove to Colorado to go skiing, and I played the damn thing the entire way up there and back.”
She played her first “real” gig, fronting her own band, in September 2004 at Austin’s Carousel Lounge. In less than a year, she was holding down weekly residencies at multiple Austin honky tonks and drawing a crowd at each show that countless other artists in the “Live Music Capital of the World” would kill for. She even scored a short tour of Europe, highlighted by sharing a bill with Dwight Yoakam at a festival in Norway.
“This is the hardest I’ve worked on anything in my life,” she said, “But I still cannot believe this is my job. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, and, honestly, it’s the thing I’m supposed to do because I haven’t gotten fired yet!”
But the real proof that Sunny Sweeney is doing exactly what she’s supposed to be doing is all right there in her first record.
Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame isn’t one of those quiet, timid little baby-steps records that slowly grows on you with hints of future potential. It explodes into the room with an ultra-confident, Texas-sized “HOWDY!” and demands your full attention.
The first thing that grabs you is her voice a big, bold and brassy instrument that brings to mind both the classic female country singers of the ‘60s and ‘70s that she grew up on as part of a country-music-loving family (both her grandfather and stepfather played in bands) as well as two of Sweeney’s biggest modern influences, Natalie Maines and Kasey Chambers, at their most unapologetically untamed.
It’s a voice that all but screams Sweeney’s adopted slogan: “Get your honky-tonk on!”
“Growing up in East Texas, we had mostly country radio stations, but I was a child in the early ‘80s, right when the genre had started its downfall,” she admits. “But the first time I heard Merle Haggard, I remember actually thinking, ‘Now this guy, his songs are worth a shit!’ I’d hear something else I didn’t like and then I’d hear the intro to a Merle song and my heart would stop. And I always loved Loretta, too, but it wasn’t until I got older that her lyrics really started to mean so much to me. It was from her that I learned that it’s OK to be yourself: write from your heart and what you know.”
And here’s what Sweeney knows now: this whole singing and writing country music for a living is even better than she ever dreamed it would be, even though she’s still getting the hang of doing it on her own.
“That’s the coolest part to me,” she said, “that people actually come to a show to see me. That still freaks me out - but I love every minute of it!”