Honest, emotionally raw, and as badass as they come... that is the only way I know to describe Sunny Sweeney. Her third studio album, Provoked, is incredibly unapologetic, which also makes it kind of perfect and one that is impossible to ignore.
I had the chance to speak with Sweeney in advance of her new video being released this week about the album, her writing process, and the gut-wrenching new single, "My Bed," featuring Will Hoge.
(Watch the heartbreaking video for "My Bed" below.)
The Reel Spin: First of all, your latest album, Provoked, is just amazing...
Sunny Sweeney: Thank you.
TRS: Yeah... when I first heard it I was like I so wish I could thank Sunny right now, because you literally put to song what so many of us feel inside, and I think that anyone who has been through a difficult relationship can relate to this album. I'm curious if you find that fans are identifying with it and thanking you for it as well?
Sweeney: Well, thank you first of all... very sweet of you. I was going through a divorce, first of all... I mean it could be any relationship, but going through a divorce was literally the hardest thing I've ever done, and I was the one that even wanted it, and it was still hard. So, for me, I always just think if I was ever having a bad day, man I wanted it... think about how these people feel that get papers dropped on them.
Sweeney: It was a healing record for me, because it basically forced me to see that there's light at the end of the tunnel. When I started putting the songs together, and we were recording them, I was like wow this is chronological, and wow there is light at the end of the tunnel. By that point I was already married again to who I should have probably married first, but had I married him first then I wouldn't have been where I was, and that's what second guessing is about. We always talk about every single thing happens for a reason, and if one thing would have changed then you wouldn't be where you were to meet my husband now. I would have never met him had I not been married before, because my ex-husband actually took me to the bar first where I met my husband.
TRS: Oh, that's so funny.
Sweeney: Yeah, so it's always like that, and whenever I would get upset about my break-up or actually it even brings it up when my friends go through a break-up now, you know? I'm... ugh, been there, I know it sucks.
TRS: I think that's what for me comes across so much in this album... the honesty that's there.
Sweeney: Thank you.
TRS: I know that is what I responded to, and I'm sure that's what everyone else is responding to also. Did you know when you started writing this album that you were going to be taking fans along this journey with you or did it just evolve that way over time?
Sweeney: I usually like writing songs from kind of a personal experience standpoint, and the people that I co-write with kind of know that about me. Like tomorrow I'm going to write with Lori McKenna, and I've already got ideas stored up for her, and hopefully she will like one of them, but she is like a therapist, and Natalie Hemby is like a therapist, and it's almost like you're talking to a friend and y'all are making a story up. I guess the answer is yes, I kind of did do it intentionally, but I have other songs too that are on my record that I didn't co-write like "Bad Girl Phase." I heard that song one time, and out loud to my producer said, "If this song is taken, we are not friends anymore."
TRS: [Laughs] Yeah, it is a great song...
Sweeney: I needed that song. It finalized everything record-wise.
TRS: That's awesome, and I also love that the album kind of ends with a love song... "Used Cars." It really completes the story. Is that a first for you to do a love song?
Sweeney: Oh yeah... I never had one of those before. So, at the bar where I used to play called the Poodle Dog, there was a used car lot next to it, and this is way after I'd gotten with my husband now when I saw this. I was driving around, and I saw that bar where I used to play, and I pulled over in the parking lot and was like wow this is nostalgic. Then when I pulled out of the parking lot, I saw this used car lot next to it, which it had been there for years... it's a couple doors down. I'm looking and saw crappy cars, then there was this one really nice car, and I thought what a cool idea for a song. I mentioned it to a couple people, and they were kind of like let's move on, find something else, because that is kind of how co-writing goes. You mention stuff, and then either your co-writer will jump on it or not, and anyway, I mentioned it to Natalie Hemby, and she goes, "if you write that with anyone else I'll be so mad." So she came out on the road one gig . . . and we hung out on the bus all day and wrote that. I go in the front when she leaves and I play it for my band, and I said, "Y'all, I have a love song." They all kind of rolled their eyes like really? And, I said, "yeah, but it's not a sappy love song or whatever." Then I played it for my husband, and he was like "oh, baby, that's so sweet."
TRS: It's a great song... I love it. It's clever. Like I said, I feel like it really completes the story for the album.
Sweeney: Thank you.
TRS: Yeah, you know... even the titles on this album are really exciting like when I saw the title for "You Don't Know Your Husband," I could not wait to hear that song. Do you ever come up with a catchy title first and then write around it?
Sweeney: For me personally... I always am thinking of titles. You know, sometimes a couple of lines will just come out and you'll write them down. I focus on titles a lot . . . I like writing around titles, because to me as a music fan, and I'm a music fan first and foremost, I look at records, and if I see one called "Butterflies..."
TRS: Yeah... pass...
Sweeney: But if I see one that makes you think it's going to be something else, or that sounds like holy shit I cannot believe she just said that. That's what I like, and as a fan, that's what I'm listening for and looking for when I'm listening to a new record.
TRS: Luke Wooten produced this album, right? You had worked with him before?
Sweeney: Yeah, he mixed and engineered my last record. Brett Beavers produced it, but Luke was extremely involved, and Luke is who's always done my vocals, so he is super in touch with making my vocals sound the exact way that I want them to, and recording in two different weeks, he was super patient, we picked out the mic and recorded stuff on different mics and went back and were like wow that brings out the highs in my voice, that brings out the lows in my voice. When we did this record, we decided we wanted to just work together by ourselves, and it was in my opinion, a very good option, because I am very proud of how it turned out.
TRS: Definitely, the results speak for themselves.
Sweeney: Thank you.
TRS: Actually, another one of my favorite songs on the album is your new single, "My Bed," which is a duet with Will Hoge. How did Will get involved?
Sweeney: Me, and Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe wrote that for just like one girl to sing or one guy. I wanted that on my last record actually, but it didn't end up making it, so when this record came around, I was like man I am definitely putting that on this record, because I love that song. So, we talked about it, and everybody agreed. My manager one day was like "this may be kind of weird, but what would you think about making that a duet?" And I thought... huh, well I never thought about it, so I said, "who were you thinking?" He said, "Well, I don't know... Will Hoge would be really cool, and y'all's voices would sound really cool together." I just stopped him right there, and said "I'm in. Totally." I went and printed out the lyrics that night and cut and pasted who I thought should sing what, and we hadn't even asked him yet, and I was like please, Lord, let him do it. So he called his manager I guess the next day or something, and very shortly after that he was in the studio recording it. I was in tears... not balling or anything or sobbing, but my eyes were welling up, because his voice completed that song for me so much. I had already heard it with just my voice, but it brings a whole different level of pain hearing him sing it too. We did the video for it, which I'm so excited for people to see.
TRS: Just the song itself... just having it be a duet... the way the two of your voices go together, it creates a visual, so the video will just take it to the next level.
Sweeney: I'm very excited about it.
TRS: You also opened on select dates for Miranda Lambert [recently], what was that like?
Sweeney: It was absolutely the most fun I've had in a very long time. Really, really, really fun. Me and her are from right around the same part of Texas, and it's nice hanging out with people that are just kind of cut from the same cloth. We're just kind of similar. It's really nice, and she is so funny. She had us in stitches one night telling us about her animals. She's super cool, and her crew and band are all really cool. And her catering is great.
Sweeney: Catering makes the biggest difference.
TRS: Nice perk.
TRS: I'm sure your fans will be excited to hear all the new material live. Can they expect more tour dates coming soon.
Sweeney: Oh yeah... there's a lot of stuff coming up, so stay tuned to the website.
For the latest on Sunny Sweeney:
Website - www.sunnysweeney.com
Facebook - facebook.com/OfficialSunnySweeney
Twitter - @GettinSweenered
Interview by Pamela Thomas