Live Wire Athens Presents An Evening with Sunny Sweeney.
February 22, 2019
Sunny Sweeney is the party and the morning after. She’s the quip that makes you laugh and the truth that makes you cry, the devil that’s egging you on and the angel whispering that you aren’t alone. But those compelling contradictions aren’t what’s most interesting about Sweeney: it’s the depth and brazen authenticity she brings to all her roles that grabs you and won’t let go.“I’ve grown up doing the bar scenes, and you have to have drinking and partying songs there-–youhaveto,” Sweeney says. “Now, my songs are still about the same things, but I feel like they’re more mature versions.”Sweeney’s salty wisdom and Texas-hewn soprano have never sounded stronger than they do onTrophy, her anticipated new album.Trophyis a breakthrough––the album we all suspected she was capable of making. The wit and honesty that have always defined her stone-cold country have blossomed into confessional, complex songwriting for grown-ups, still whiskey-drenched and honk-tonk-ready. Drugs, death, the ex-wife, drinking, devotion, and longing for a child: it’s all here, raw and real.“I have not felt this good about music in a really long time,” Sweeney says from her front porch in Texas. “I’m really excited.”The success of artists including Margo Price, Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, and others make it seem like the world is more open now than ever before to smart women singing smart country. It’s about time. Sweeney is a veteran of the trade, and has logged her miles the old-school way. A three-year residency at the Poodle Dog Lounge in Austin––“It was a dump,” she says. “They didn’t even have a credit card machine or liquor license.”––along with improv and stand-up comedy experience went a long way toward teaching her how to hold a room of cynical drunks in the palm of her hand.The mastery of holes in the wall, major label stint, and serious songwriting chops make Sweeney something of a rarity: an artist with barroom cred, mainstream validation, and songs meaty enough for listening rooms. Or, asRolling Stoneput it in September 2016: “Sweeney is one of the rare entertainers who can hold her own at CMA Fest as well as AmericanaFest.”Produced by Grammy nominee Dave Brainard (Brandy Clark’s12 Stories) and recorded at Sound Emporium and Decibel Studios in Nashville,Trophygoes 10 songs deep without a single throwaway line. While Sweeney wrote with her longtime favorites including Monty Holmes, Buddy Owens and Jay Clementi, she has expanded her circle of collaborators in recent years. Lots of time writing with Lori McKenna, Caitlyn Smith, Heather Morgan, and others resulted in a deck that’s refreshingly stacked: most of the songs on the album were written by women. “I feel like I have branched out a little in the writing department,” Sweeney says. “And the record I ended up writing was pretty heavily written with females. While Sweeney didn’t intentionally set out to write almost
exclusively with women, the resulting songs capture the feminine experience with a combination of nuance, humor, and accuracy only possible because of the source.Album opener “Pass the Pain” is a perfect example of Sweeney canvassing familiar territory in a more complex way. “It’s a drinking song,” she says. “It all actually happened when I was going through my divorce.” Eased into with steel guitar and plaintive piano, the song begins with an indignant Sweeney demanding another round, but her brash confidence soon melts into a forlorn apology to the bartender reluctantly pouring her drinks, making the interaction and the hurt all the more real and sad.“Bottle by My Bed” explores a different kind of heartbreak with breathless candor. “I only call my husband baby cause I love that word / never wanted something so bad, that it hurts / even give up these damned old cigarettes / if I could have a bottle by my bed.” Written with the awe-inspiring McKenna, the song lays Sweeney’s soul bare and captures the agony of not having a child when it’s all you want. “That song is where I’m at right now in my life,” she says. “It’s the worst pain ever. When I wrote it with Lori, I never really even imagined singing it live––I certainly never thought I’d record it. Didn’t think I had the balls to do it.” Thankfully, she did. The song is important, not just because of Sweeney’s gut-wrenching delivery, but because it tells a story too seldom told.Sweeney wrote a total of four songs with McKenna for the record. “She’s my spirit animal,” Sweeney says of McKenna. The pair’s “Grow Old with Me” is a tender ode to finally finding love that can last. “Trophy” is a wry takedown of Sweeney’s husband’s ex-wife. A slow burn with finger snaps and sauntering bass, the song reclaims an insult and makes it a compliment to laugh-out-loud effect. “Nothing Wrong with Texas,” grapples with returning to a home that has an outsized identity you needed to escape before realizing it completes you.The album’s two covers sound like they could have been penned by Sweeney herself. Chris Wall’s subtly brilliant waltz “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” has never been in better hands. “Pills,” written by Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay, tackles addiction and impending overdose with jarring empathy and cleverness. “It’s a story about real life,” Sweeney says of the song. “Brennen is one of my best friends, and we think a lot alike.”Perhaps most of all,Trophyis proof Sweeney knows exactly what she wants. “There’s a lot of personal stuff on this record,” she says. “I feel like the songs that get the strongest reaction are the ones that are the most truthful––the ones that have emotion. That’s my job as a writer: to evoke some kind of emotion. I want everybody who hears this album to come away with something, whether it’s to feel like they’re not alone or inspired or like they want to laugh. I just want them to feel something.”
Live Wire Athens Presents JUICE
February 26th, 2019 9pm
There’s strength in numbers.
With seven distinct personalities, Juice distills rock, r&b and hip-hop into a signature sound with
a distinct kick of electric violin, rich harmonies, honest lyrics, and festival-worthy choruses. The
Boston septet—Ben Stevens [lead vocals], Michael Ricciardulli [guitar], Rami El-Abidin [bass],
Christian Rose [violin, vocals], Kamau Burton [acoustic guitar, vocals], Daniel Moss [guitar], and
Miles Clyatt [drums]—perfects this mix on its 2018 independent project.
“There are so many colors when we play,” explains Michael. “The chemistry is there in the
studio and on stage. When we play to a crowd, it’s all organic. The reactions… the faces… the
experience, what you see is what you’re getting, people know that, they can tell. We’ve learned
to listen to each other and to what the music has to say. At the same time, we channel our
youth, there’s no bottling that up. We’re always searching for something tangible our listeners
can thoroughly feel at the core of the music. We’re trying to create an atmosphere much bigger
than the seven of us on stage.”
It was evident from the band’s beginnings that this collective potency could contribute to
something far greater, and something truly different. After meeting as freshman at Boston
College, Juice became unified upon winning their school’s “Battle of the Bands” in 2014. Soon
after, things got serious.
Through constant gigging Juice honed their live performance, displaying an original raw energy.
Soon, Juice went from frequent gigs at the city’s famed Middle East to selling out East Coast
hotspots such as Brighton Music Hall, Mercury Lounge, Rockwood Music Hall, and more.
Releasing their full-length debut in 2016, the band landed a viral hit in the form of “Gold,” which
popped up on countless “Discover Weekly” playlists and cracked over 386,000 Spotify streams
without any traditional promotion.
Hitting Summerfest Milwaukee for the first time in 2016, Juice impressively won the grand prize
at of the festival’s “Land The Big Gig” Competition. Graduating from college a year later, the
musicians returned to the annual festival and opened for pop juggernaut DNCE.
Along the way, they carefully sharpened their style, merging virtuosic musicianship and vivid
songwriting. “The hardest question for us to answer is always who do we sound like. We have
so many influences from so many different places. When it all falls together, we end up with
songs that are honest, songs that we love, songs people remember…but songs that don’t sound
like anyone else” explains Michael.
“It’s a combination of so many things,” says Rami. “Everyone hears their own impression, first
you might hear the violin, then the soulful, dynamic vocals, and then the melody driven guitars,
all of which is anchored by our prominent rhythm section.”
After meeting GRAMMY® Award-nominated producer Johnny K at Summerfest, the band
headed to Milwaukee in 2017 to record their upcoming project. Now, they introduce this
collection with the soaring single “Sugar.” Hummable funk guitars lay over a steady groove
before the chantable hook—“I cannot get by without you honey”—takes hold. Airtight raps and
radiant chorus harmonies drive the song into the bridge before an old school rock n’ roll guitar
solo gives way to stomping handclaps and gospel-style backing vocals.
“On the surface, you can think of ‘Sugar’ traditionally like buying into lust, it’s an insatiable
feeling” explains Michael. “It does go a little deeper though. At our age, we experience elements
of this vanity culture in high concentration. It speaks to that. There are also elements of
temptation in there, but at its core, it’s some youths taking a crack at a bright rock ‘n’ roll record.”
Clean guitars unfurl amidst flourishing violin and delicate crooning on the heartfelt “Workin’ On
Lovin’,” which culminates on the admission, “I need someone to love.” Dreamy piano shuffles
into a young love confessional on “September Told Me.”
Then, there’s “Heartbreak In A Box.” An honest statement about “hol