“I’ve always loved music. I’ve loved playing guitar for 20 years now.”
“My daily poems got brutally honest and dark. I was just reflecting on my life at the moment.”
Sunny War is a Los Angeles-based artist whose influences vary as much as the music she produces. Though she claims her version of blues is “new-school,” Sunny has a unique two-finger picking style heard in more traditional blues guitarists. This comes as no surprise since some of her key influences have been heavy hitters in the genre; artists like Robert Johnson, Bo Didley, and Mississippi John Hurt have had an impact on Sunny’s craft.
What separates Sunny from traditional artists, however, is her words. While her playing is light and unique, her lyrics are deep and meaningful. With a tinge of desperation, her songs draw upon real-life experiences and are steeped in a kind of self-reflection everyone can relate to.
Whatever she categorizes her music as you’ll dig her brand of blues.
When did you realize writing and performing music was your calling in life?
I’ve always loved music. I’ve loved playing guitar for 20 years now. I didn’t start singing or playing my own original music until I was a teenager in my band, Anus Kings. Later, I had to really depend on playing music for survival. I have a criminal record and no education, and at this point in my life, I really feel like I have no choice but to continue to play music. I recently was turned down by a dog walking company. I’m not even qualified enough to walk people’s dogs for a living.
You have a musical background diverse in genres ranging from country to punk. How can you best sum up your style of blues?
I would call it “new school” blues, I guess. I love old blues and country, but I am not from the same time as Mississippi John Hurt – and I shouldn’t pretend to be. I hope 100 years from now, maybe someone can listen to my music and really get a sense of how things are today. People will always have the blues, but as we learn more about our world and environment as human beings, I think there we will also experience new blues causing traumas … like nuclear war.
You were born in Nashville. How has your time in Music City impacted the style of blues you play today?
I was born in Nashville but only lived there until I was about ten. Luckily, in my short and sweet time there, I took guitar lessons with a man called James Nixon, and my mother took me to see Bo Diddley. Both guitarists have influenced me greatly, and I still remember seeing them both play like it was yesterday.
You’re currently in Los Angeles. How is the blues scene in the City of Angels?
I don’t honestly know much about the Los Angeles Blues scene. But I do know a lot of it takes place at venues like The World Stage and McCabe’s Guitar Shop.
Like many “old school” blues artists, you play fingerstyle, meaning you don’t use a pick. Have you always played this way, or did it come to you over time?
I have always played this way. The first song I ever learned to play was “Blackbird” by the Beatles, and I have been fascinated by finger-style guitar ever since.
You’ve been very open about a period in your life of homelessness, train-hopping, and substance abuse. Many artists, particularly blues artists, reflect on these times as inspiration for their songs. Do you?
I do in a way. I think, “Girl, you better try to write something someone will want to listen to before you become homeless again!”
Your last album, With the Sun, features “Gotta Live It” – a song with particularly powerful lyrics. What inspired this tune? Is it autobiographical?
It is autobiographical indeed. I was forcing myself to write a poem a day, no matter what, at the time. I was working full-time as a janitor, and I was drinking every second I wasn’t working. My daily poems got brutally honest and dark. I was just reflecting on my life at the moment.
You’ve received positive reviews and great publicity from outlets, including NPR and Rolling Stone. How would you describe your following – are they blues purists, hipsters, or a little bit of everything?
I’m not really sure who listens to or follows me. But I am curious!
Can you tell us about your next move and whether With the Sun may have set the bar high?
I just plan on making another album and touring. Writing, recording, and touring. There is a split album with me and Particle Kid that we just released April 20th titled Particle War. I like With the Sun, but I definitely like the songs I’m currently working on a lot more.
What message do you have for up-and-coming blues artists who want to achieve your level of success?
Hire a publicist.