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Interview: Sunny Sweeney talks UK tour, new music & collaborations and why radio isn’t reflecting the current trends in Country music

Sunny Sweeney recently announced a very comprehensive UK tour for November on the back of shows like her Long Road festival appearance here last August. With new album, ‘Married Alone’ in tow and a new cover of ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ with Rissi Palmer, Miko Marks and Tami Neilson just released we were thrilled to catch up with her to talk all about it.

Lovely to speak to you Sunny, thanks for your time today. We last saw you at the Long Road festival here in the UK last August. You are one of the few artists, alongside people like Brandy Clark, who can make me laugh and cry and the same time.

Absolutely. Thank you too. (laughing) The point of music is to bring out emotions and they can be good and bad and sad and happy. When I go and see show I want to cry and I want to laugh my ass off!

Who does that for you?

Oh God, Loretta Lynn did. I also just saw Stevie Nicks last weekend, she does it. Her voice can make me cry. She can be so funny but she can be so heart wrenching too. It can be pretty brutal but it was an amazing show. It was her and Billy Joel, it was amazing. Here I am with a crush on a 75 year old man! (laughing)

You are back for more shows in the UK in November. It looks like a really good sized tour.

I am beside myself about this! I am so excited. If y’all don’t know how much I love the UK yet, then you are about to find out because I want to turn this into a regular thing. My old management weren’t really keen on me coming over to Europe, they were, like, ‘Let’s focus on the USA’ and I wanted to focus on the world and I love the people in the UK. I’ve got a new, bad ass agent over there and she’s totally killing it.

I would like to do this once a year, tour the UK and Ireland every year. Would love to. And then keep up my European festivals during the summer. If the acoustic thing does well I can maybe bring the band next time, right? I love the people, love the food, love the countryside – everything. It’s so easy to tour there and I’d love to do it regularly.

Don’t you do the driving in your van when you tour in the States?

Me and my partner / guitarist Harley do it. When we’re in the UK the rental cars are just so damn expensive that we’ll have to figure out which of us is going to do it because it’s too expensive to have both of us down. Here, we split it.

I was listening to the Bobbycast podcast you did back in March with Bobby Bones and it made me laugh when he was talking about you showing up at his house in your van!

(laughing) He wasn’t there when I got there and he was, like, ‘there’s like an armoured tank out front in my driveway, is that yours?’ (laughing) He was laughing because i’d drove it over and I was, like, ‘what do you think I did, that I got dropped off here?’

You’ve just released the fabulous sounding ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ with Rissi Palmer, Miko Marks and Tami Neilson. Tell me about the drivers behind that one and how tat group of power-gals got together!

They are all friends of mine, I’m obsessed with them all. Our voices are all different from each other and so I think when there is an all-female cover song or collaboration you need to be able to differentiate between who is singing.

I’ve always loved the song, always loved Bob Dylan’s version. There’s a Susan Tedeschi version that I also love and even a Johnny Cash version that I like and they are all so totally different. I wanted to get a group of girls together to do it because the song is about your shit blowing up and it’s the saddest song ever! I started to think about some of the girls I know that have actually lived a little, right? I was going into the studio to record another song and so we added it to the session. I sang all of the parts at first and then we muted some bits and put the other vocals in to make it sound like we were all in the same room in the way that older collaborations used to sound.

That’s a great choice of artists you have on it with you.

I’ve known Rissi Palmer for about 13 years at least now. I’ve always been a giant fan of her voice, it’s so sexy and powerful. It can gentle when it needs to be gentle and then she’ll blow your ears off when she has to. I met Miko Marks through my radio promoter and we just hit it off the first day we met. Then I found out that her and Rissi were good friends and I was, like, ‘woh, wait a minute there, I’ve got an idea!’ (laughing)

Tami Neilson is a bad bitch, people need to check her out. I sometimes have to pull over and stop when I’m driving and listening to her songs, her voice is so sick! I asked her, one day, if she was a fan of Miko Marks and she said, ‘of course!’ and then sent me a picture of her and Miko and Rissi together! (laughing) I took that as a sign right there.

I photoshopped myself into the picture of the three of them and sent it to all of them asking them to do the song! (laughing) It was cosmic!

Your last album, ‘Married Alone’ which came out in September 2022 was terrific. Have you been pleased with the reaction to it and are you picking up which songs are resonating with people?

Oh yeah! There’s a song on it called ‘How’d I End Up Lonely Again’ which I didn’t expect to hit people as it seems to have done. ‘Easy as Hello’ is working well, ‘Leaving is My Middle Name’ too. It’s always weird to do a record and not know which songs are going to resonate with people before you release it. DSPs are super weird to me but they can give you information around which songs are playing well with people and I am a super-streamer as well it’s how I find most of the new music I listen to.

I need more people to stream over there in the UK so I can come over for two months at a time! (laughing) I just need to find a way to get my dog over there because I can’t keep leaving him here whilst I come over and live my life with you guys! (laughing)

Lori McKenna has got four co-writes on the album. Did they come out of the same session or did you meet up multiple times? I’d love to be in a room and watch the two of you at work! Maybe add Brandy Clark into the mix and you’d probably get the rawest song ever written in Country music!

No they came from different sessions. We did ‘A Song Can’t Fix Everything’ by itself one day. Shit, if you could manifest that writing session into being that would be awesome, I love Brandy! That would be one hell of a writing session!

Do you and Lori ever look at each other and go, ‘We can’t or shouldn’t say that!’

(laughing) She probably has way more of a filter than I have. (laughing) She’s so eloquent and she doesn’t ever say anything that isn’t perfect but I’m sure that sometimes she’s, like, ‘Sunny, my god, let’s not go down that road!’ (laughing)

You’ve become known for your raw honesty and biting humour. I still think ‘Bottle by My Bed’ is the most heartbreaking of all the things you’ve written. Do you find writing therapeutic?

Oh god, yes. Absolutely. That’s why I do it. It’s part of a healing process for me. It wouldn’t be fair if other people took comfort or healing from my songs and I didn’t, right? (laughing) It’s like a diary where you get it out into the open and then you move forward from there.

It can make the writing process quite exhausting at time, for sure. It’s emotional. Me and my friend, Erin Enderlin, were writing the other day with, excuse me whilst I drop this name, Trisha Yearwood and we were laughing so freakin’ hard at one point that tears were rolling down my face. I sitting in a room with Erin, one of my best friends, and Trisha ‘freakin’ Yearwood using words & phrases that we probably shouldn’t be saying but we were going to because we are blunt about everything we write. So, there are days like that as well as the days where you feel sad and drained after you leave. There are ups and downs all the time, I cherish it and I don’t ever want to do anything else.

Do you think the Nashville of 2023 is different to the one you left in 2012? It feels like there is a yearning for more authenticity and grit these days than there was back then?

I feel that there is more of a yearning now for authenticity, sure, but I also feel like there is just a lot of talk too. If they are yearning for more authenticity then they should put it on the f**king radio, right? Quit talking about it and do something. There is so much good music that could blow up in the mainstream around right now – it drives me crazy when I think about how radio stops that from happening.

The fact that the pool of artists is so small from which radio chooses from is embarrassing. I can’t believe that some of the indie artists I know, who I am friends with, aren’t on the radio. Their music is so heart wrenching, knife-in-your-chest good and how is that not the popular thing? It’s so irritating. Oh my god. I know how popular their songs are in smaller markets – there is so much more out there than just 25 songs in current rotation.

Do you think ‘Poets Prayer’ has replaced ‘From a Table Away’as your signature song now? What an interesting journey and lifespan that song has had.

It’s so weird, someone asked me that recently. I wrote that song with Erin Enderlin and Buddy Owens. We didn’t write it for any other reason but to have a little prayer to keep my close friends safe. I never expected it to catch on but it has. As far as spins and sales goes, it hasn’t made much of a dent but it seems to have hit people hard, emotionally. People really react strongly to it when I play it live. You never know what songs are going to resonate with people and it’s often the ones that you don’t expect to that do!

Sunny Sweeney is out on tour across a huge part of the UK this November. Treat yourself to an evening with one of Country music’s most honest and talented performers. Dates and ticket links are right here.

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