Sonny & the Sunsets have been releasing awesome, diverse records for some time now. Though they often get lumped in with a generic “garage rock” tag that seems to envelop a number of disparate bands from SF or LA, each Sunsets record is quite a departure from the last, from the ramshackle rock of Tomorrow is Alright to the bubblegum-minded Hit After Hit to last year’s country-rockin’ Longtime Companion.
The latest album from Sonny Smith and his crew is his best yet. Antenna to the Afterworld finds Smith delivering surrealist lyrics about aliens and robots, yet they’re rooted in human emotion. “I come from the planet of dogs … And I walk on your streets ... And I can't wait to find/My little place in your weird world,” he sings in the brilliant opening track “Dark Corners,” over spage-age synths and a post-punky bassline. “Green Blood” finds Smith and bandmate Tahlia Harbour detailing Smith’s affair with an extra-terrestrial who is married to a vengeful cyborg. Even in our wildest imagination, reality creeps in.
That combination of levity and realness is what makes Antenna to the Afterworld a remarkable record. Smith was inspired to ponder life and death after the murder of a close friend, and after a medium brought him into contact with another recently deceased friend (partially documented in the summer jam “Palmreader”). I recently discussed the record with Smith, and all its physical and metaphysical influences. And check out the band July 13 at the Echo!
PST: Given the previous Sonny & the Sunsets record, Longtime Companion, was a country record, Antenna to the Afterworld feels like a big departure. What inspired the sort of sci-fi psychedelia sound for this record?
Smith: I’d been watching a bunch of sci-fi and thinking about all the sci-fi books my mom used to read. She was into Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov. I can’t get into that stuff, but I dig Philip Dick. In the same year, I became more interested than usual in the afterworld, aliens, alternate universes, dimensions, death, supernatural stuff.
PST: This record has a perfect lo-fi punch to it. I love how "Green Blood" and "Palmreader" sort of sound underwater, but everything still comes through crisply, and how the drums on "Void" have just enough crackle to them. Can you talk about how it was produced and how that differs from previous records?
Smith: Ryan Browne stumbled across a sound for his bass that serendipitously — is that a word? — that matched the lyrical stuff perfectly. Total genius move. Kelley Stoltz’s drumbeats were also unintentionally perfect for the songs. Another genius. There was some providence involved in the songs coming out the way they did ...
PST: Lyrically, things get pretty surreal on songs like "Mutilator" and "Green Blood," but they're still rooted in real emotion. How much do you draw from your own experiences versus your imagination?
Smith: Just a big mixture of both always all tangled up till I don’t even know what’s real.
PST: How did what you went through with the death of your friends affect the making of the record?
Smith: Death being around made me interested in the afterworld. A visit to the psychic stirred some ideas about supernatural stuff. Love, death, the afterworld, other dimensions, aliens, outcasts, planets, it all just became interesting in the same year for various reasons. The album also explores other stuff not related.
PST: I'm torn between believing aliens have to exist but haven't contacted us yet, and being totally fascinated by accounts of contact with aliens. What are your feelings on the matter?
Smith: It all exists. Aliens, afterworlds, parallel dimensions, universes, telekinesis, teleportation, the force and an infinite rainbow of experiences and realities we can’t even conceive. I believe in all of it.
PST: Are you already making plans for the next Sonny & the Sunsets record? Any hints at what to expect?
Smith: No clue as to what I’m working on now. I have no idea.
PST: Can you make us a list of five records you're into? Either sci-fi-inspired records or great country records. Or a genre of your choosing.
Smith: Hmmm. Here’s 3?
They’re all connected for me. They all have dreamy mysterious sounds with some sexy sultry saxophone. Pretty funny.