Sunny Sweeney‘s Provoked showcases an already-sharp songwriter growing exponentially. High watermarks balance salty (“You Don’t Know Your Husband”) with sweet (“Carolina on the Line”).
CMT Edge spoke with the Austin resident — who notched a Top 10 country hit with “From a Table Away” in 2011 — about her excellent new collection.
“I usually write about things that have happened to me or people around me,” Sweeney says. “It’s a piece of me in one way, shape or form, and Provoked bridges the gap from my last record to this one. It goes from where I was to where I am personally and professionally, too.”
CMT Edge: Explain the album title.
Sweeney: The title just encompassed the songs as a whole. There are songs on there about relationships failing, whether it’s me or the other person in the song. Either way, when things go wrong, it seems there’s always someone stirring the pot, trying to end the relationship.
There are also funny songs like “Backhanded Compliment,” which is about other people provoking me. I guess Provoked can be humorous or serious, but I just thought that was a cool title, and then the artwork solidified it.
Tell the story behind writing “You Don’t Know Your Husband.”
I’ve been joking around saying that’s the prequel to “From a Table Away.” That’s one that I’ve been singing for years, and people are always asking, “Is that gonna be on a record?” So I had to put that on. It had to happen. When we were writing that, we were laughing so hard. We were looking at each other: “This is either gonna be really crappy, or this will be funny and good.” We wrote it really fast, and it was like a joke. It makes me laugh. (laughs)
How does the new album generally represent your evolution as a songwriter?
I started writing with Natalie Hemby, and she opened my eyes to a whole different way of writing and giving me another method. I learned a whole lot, and I go into writing appointments with more of an open mind now as far as who I’ll be writing with.
You typically write what you know, right?
I guess I’ve always written about what I know. People come up after the more personal songs and say, “Thank you for writing that. I just went through that, too.” I guess it validates the way that I write for myself. “Uninvited,” for instance, if I sing that at a show, they don’t have to know what it’s about for me, and they can still come up and say, “I’ve been through that exact thing.” I guess it’s easier knowing that the most honest songs are the ones people seem to relate to.
Do you prefer co-writing?
Oh, yeah. Now I do. I never had done it before, and when I started doing it around 2006, I really enjoyed it. I prefer it because it’s an extra brain or two in the room. You might think something’s cool, and they might think it sucks — or vice versa.
There are also more egos, though.
I definitely have been in the room with people like that, but I tend to gravitate toward the people I have the most fun and relaxing time with. I mean, it’s like writing in a journal, but you’re doing your job, too. You can talk about things you might not talk about with your spouse at dinner, and it’s just a therapy session you’re making music with.
I was looking at the songwriters on the record the other day, and I was like, “I’m seriously friends with all these people.” I hang out with them. To me, it’s like hanging out and making music and having therapy all at the same time. (laughs)
“Bad Girl Phase” certainly sounds therapeutic. How did that come to you?
That’s actually one of the two I didn’t write. I do like picking out songs that sound like I wrote them, so that’s the biggest compliment that you think I could have. As soon as I heard that, I was like, “Oh, my God, that has to go on my record.” I love it.
Explain what drew you to the other cover, Randy Weeks‘ “Can’t Let Go.”
I’ve been doing that one for years at my shows. I just love it. I loved when Lucinda [Williams] did it, and I love Randy’s version. I’d been singing it for a couple of years before I knew it was his song. I was playing at Ego’s in Austin one night, and this guy walks up to me after the show. He goes, “Hey, I’m Randy.” I said, “Hey, I’m Sunny.” He said, “I really liked your set. I’ve gotta tell you something, though. I actually wrote ‘Can’t Let Go.’ You said Lucinda wrote it, so I just wanted to tell you.”
Have you gotten to know Randy around town since he lives in Austin, too?
Yeah, we became friends, and from then on, he would always get up and sing it with me at my shows. I just love that song. There’s something so sexy about it on Lucinda’s record, and I would put that on repeat. Randy’s version is completely different, and I would like to think that mine’s different than theirs.
Tell the story behind writing “Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass.”
(laughs) Out by Midnight Rodeo here in Austin, there’s that office park where they filmed Office Space. After I got out of college, I had a job there in that office park. It’s the only real job I’ve ever had, as far as going to an office. I had this horrible boss named Tammy, and she was so micromanaging all the time. I wrote that mostly about her with Brett Beavers and Connie Harrington. We were all laughing about “damn the man,” you know? It’s kind of like “Take This Job and Shove It.”
Who came up with the title line?
I think Connie came up with that line — “And everybody else can kiss my ass.” I went, “Oh, my God, yes. That’s so perfect.” I just turned it into a kick-your-heels-off drinking song. If you have to go to work, you have to go out and celebrate in the evening.
That’s gotta be a big hit at your shows.
It’s pretty funny, yeah. When I was on my radio tour and doing the conference rooms, I would go around to all these conference rooms in radio stations at 8 o’clock in the morning screaming, “Kiss my ass!” That cracked me up. (laughs)