Sonny Smith is uncomfortable with the notion that he’s prolific. The iconoclastic musician and artist balks at the label as if he’d been lauded for his respiration skills. Over the course of the new millennium, he’s released eight albums, crafted a series of one-act plays in the form of songs, and completed the ambitious 100 Records project, all in the name of pushing the boundaries of identity and his abilities.
On the 100 Records project, Smith created everything but the album art for the 100 fictitious bands that he’d also crafted. From idiosyncrasies to stylistic hallmarks, each faux outfit was its own country to be explored across a varied sonic map. Smith brought in an artist per record (each band got two tracks to themselves for a full A/B-side treatment) to come up with album art that reflected their differences. Just because he deferred to outside artists doesn’t mean that fine arts are lost on Smith.
“These past two years I’ve been drawing little sketches of a moment per day,” Smith tells the Appeal.
“Like just the other day at a gas station I saw a biker gang pull up to a gas station. They were all wearing leather and had beards and braids. It was one of those biker gangs where all the women look real weathered. They all had vaporizers dangling from their necks from these smoking lanyards. It was really this modern-day scene so I drew it and incorporated it into a story.”
That snapshot came from Texas as Sonny & the Sunsets made their way back to their home turf with stops in between. The SF band is touring in support of their latest album, Antenna to the Underworld. The name came from a comment from a friend describing his frustrations in hammering out a song. Its hints of mysticism and cosmic lyrics are a whole other beast altogether.
Smith’s mother was an avid reader of science fiction novels. Though growing up he never read them, they helped broaden his palette as an adult once he finally delved into them. Add to that a potential glimpse of a flying saucer and a serendipitous experience with a medium and you’ve got an album perforating the clean surfaces of timeless questions.
“Both of those things came from an artistic place. I don’t care if it’s real or not or if the medium was a hustler or that the alien was just a military plane doing practice. I’ve never really thought too hard on it either way, whether or not an afterlife exists,” Smith admits.
Antenna to the Afterlife thrusts forward with a few new tricks from the many mediums Smith dabbles in. The frontman is content to roam free on his creative plane. He’ll be taking his new material (along with the Sunsets) to the Chapel this Saturday.
It won’t be a grand spectacle of a homecoming show but it will certainly be a showcase of a band not content to rest on its laurels. Fellow Bay Area workhorses Shannon and the Clams and Warm Soda kick off the night of music.
To those still mystified by his output, Smith imbibes wisdom through his 100 Records project. The many aliases that Smith had to choose from helped free him ultimately from himself.
“Most people can’t step out of that. It kind of keeps people from being creative, just having those labels. Most people can’t step out of that,” Smith says. “Once you do, you’re free from the trappings of your identity, of who you’re trying to be and what you’re trying to do.”
Catch Sonny & the Sunsets at the Chapel Saturday August 31 at 8 PM.