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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sonny & the Sunsets Wonder if Signing with Fat Possum Records Will Pay Bills

Posted By on Wed, Jun 23, 2010 at 4:32 PM

Sonny & the Sunsets, with Sonny Smith third from left
  • Sonny & the Sunsets, with Sonny Smith third from left
Last week, San Francisco songwriter/artist/singer Sonny Smith's band Sonny & the Sunsets signed to Mississippi's Fat Possum record label. What does that mean? Well, for one thing, the band is in excellent company: Fat Possum releases music by The Black Keys and Band of Horses, as well as bad-ass southern blues veterans like T. Model Ford and Junior Kimbrough. Sonny & the Sunsets' music has a rootsy, vintage-rock vibe, with frank, storytelling lyrics, so they certainly fit in on Fat Possum.

But we were curious about what else this might mean for Smith, who recently finished an art project in which he made 100 album covers for 100 fictional bands. (He's now working with other local musicians to record and release songs by the bands he invented.) We spoke to Smith as he was driving to pick up his six-year-old son, Oliver, from a day camp in the Sunset, about the deal, plans for a new record, and whether being on a cool label pays any bills. Sonny & the Sunsets perform Sunday at Bottom of the Hill with Ty Segall and Grass Widow, and were recently added to the bill of the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.

So you've signed with Fat Possum records. How did that come about, and what will it mean for you and the band?

Sonny Smith: I don't know what it's going to mean. I'm not exactly sure where one of the guys from Fat Possum was first hearing us, but I first met him in Austin this year at SXSW, and then we were just talking and exchanging music and stuff. A couple months later and I'm on their label. I wasn't out there trying to pitch my stuff to Fat Possum, but I've been buying their records since the '90s. It's also kind of nice to visit their label and ... to actually see black people and country freaks and other (musicians) than just indie-rock, white middle-aged people.

What Sonny & the Sunsets records will come out on the new label?

They're going to put out Tomorrow Is Alright [originally released in fall 2009 on Soft Abuse.] I have another record done already. They're going to put that out, too. [When that happens] is kind of dependent on what happens with the first one. If Tomorrow takes off and it's a really big deal and its worth working for a good solid year or more, then we'll do it like that.

Was it Sonny Smith, or the band Sonny & the Sunsets who signed the deal? How does that work?

Although I basically write all the songs and am the singer of the songs and stuff, it's not like Sonny & the Sunsets is entirely different than Sonny Smith. But on the other hand, it would be kinda weird to go release records as Sonny Smith at the same time as Sonny & the Sunsets. Having said that, there is a record coming out on a local label that is affiliated with the art project I did, which ultimately falls under the category of a Sonny Smith record. It's called "100 records Vol. 2: I Miss the Jams" and it's 10 songs from the art project. It's coming out as a box set of five 45s -- each one is a split. Each side is one of the fake bands.

What does being on Fat Possum mean for you financially? Do you still need a dayjob?

I have a job. It actually pays real money as opposed to the fictional money that my fictional bands create. [Laughs] I'm doing some social work stuff for a Bay Area social work agency. Some of it is office work and some of it is field work. I rent a little office out of the back of a surf shop here in the Sunset, so I get to feel like a grown up -- I go to an office every day and do stuff.

I'm getting more opportunities to tour, which is good, although I'm in that zone where it's not exactly all paying for itself. It's like, 'Hey you have the opportunity to play these great gigs and lose some money -- you can't not take it.' Sort of in that zone. Maybe Fat Possum will change that.

Do you view singing with them as an achievement in itself? That's a pretty solid label to be on.

I wouldn't say I saw it as a mark of achievement, but I wouldn't say I was overly flippant about it, either. I'm pretty sincerely happy to be on a label and have the record be put out there. I wouldn't play it off too cool. Maybe in 10 years you can check with me and I'll be like, 'Yeah, whatever.'

Follow this blog @SFAllShookDown and the writer @iPORT

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Ian S. Port


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