In 2011, the day before Oslo readied itself for the 17 May celebrations, a most curious spectacle unfolded in the outdoor seating area in front of Parkteatret. Sonny and the Sunsets, a laid-back group of Californian musical time travellers led by the ineffable Sonny Smith, played an afternoon set to an audience of knowing fans, bemused revellers and intrigued passersby. Mixing melodic Sixties garage sounds of the beach and the burbs with lyrics partway between Jonathan Richman and outlaw country artist/singer Terry Allen, it was a sight and sound to behold. This month, the band return to play – at night – at Revolver on Friday 18 September. You’d be foolish to miss it.
Smith, an accomplished artist (visual as well as musical) in his own right, seldom seems short of inspiration. His musical landscapes and drawings are populated by eccentric characters, aliens, older women, paranormal experiences and health food stores. Since 2009, he has released six albums and three EPs with The Sunsets, and two solo albums of selected songs from his art project 100 Records – 100 fictional band names and song titles, with cover art by Smith and other artists, for each of which he wrote a piece of music. He’s even released a song from that on a local Oslo via Paris label, Compost Modern Art. Sonny & The Sunsets’ most recent LP, Talent Night at The Ashram, was originally intended to be a film project, but after shooting several scenes with actors he realised it would work best as an album. “I filled out the application to be a human being,” Smith sings on the record’s opening track. “I hope my papers go through.” He need not fear on that score.
Smith recently took time to communicate electronically with Bad Sounds about the upcoming show:
Bad Sounds: Last time you played in Oslo in 2011 was a sort of informal arrangement out front of Parkteatret, it was excellent. Was it a fun gig to play?
Sonny Smith: To be in Oslo was exciting and I jumped in a fjord.
BS: That was a few years ago, will this show in Oslo in September be a different kettle of fish?
SS: Well the music has changed a bit, but I am the same.
BS: I also saw you in Melbourne, Australia supporting my favourite band of all time, The Clean. Are you a fan of theirs at all?
SS: Yes of course, one of the greatest…
BS: Do you take more satisfaction out of playing music or creating artworks?
SS: I think of them more or less the same, part of the same thing. Certainly there are times playing music that feels like an adrenaline rush. A different kind of high then just the creative process. In truth they are both from the same place.
BS: I really enjoyed the 100 Records idea, how did that come about?
SS: From an unfinished novel about many fictional musicians.
BS: How does the music in your imagination compare to the music you have made?
SS: The music in my head is much better.
BS: So was Talent Night at The Ashram initially conceived as a film project?
Sonny Smith (photo by Chloe Aftel)
BS: Have you spent any time in an ashram?
SS: No. I lived on a commune though. Which had some similarities. Every night at a commune is an (unofficial) talent night. Its just what happens at adult sleep away camp. Which is what ashrams and communes and retreats are.
BS: If you could have any musician from any time in a supergroup, who would they be?
SS: I suppose it might be interesting to be in a band with Sun Ra or Snoop Lion or (Lee) Scratch Perry or Woody Guthrie. (Holy shit, that would be quite an incredible band)
BS: Let’s hope Bernie Sanders is the next president of the US.