“I’ve been through a bunch in the last two and a-half or three years personally,” Sunny Sweeney muses. “It’s been rough. My marriage fell apart — just a lot of different things [happened]. That’s where all these songs came from.”
The Texas-born singer-songwriter is reflecting on the emotional territory she inhabited when she was putting together her recently-released second album, Concrete.
“I wanted the [name of the album] to be something that was, like, tough,” she explains. “And I wanted it to be one word. Concrete, I think, is heavy. … Also, concrete builds foundations. From all this hard stuff I’ve been through, I feel like I’ve built a really solid foundation for more positive stuff to happen in the future.”
The explosive nature of love permeates the album, as evidenced by such dramatic song titles as “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving” (her current single), “Drink Myself Single,” “It Wrecks Me,” “Mean as You,” “Worn Out Heart” and “Helluva Heart.”
Austin-based Sweeney co-wrote seven of the 10 songs on the album, all of which are expressed from the first-person, it’s-about-me, point of view. Clearly, there’s some major catharsis going on.
“I think a lot of [songwriters] try to make love and life and everything sound positive,” she says. “But I think everybody’s who’s been in a relationship knows better. There are wonderful relationships. I’m in one right now and absolutely, to the best of my knowledge, the best I can pick — a perfect relationship.
“But I’m not a perfect girlfriend or wife. Guys that I’ve dated and the man I was married to weren’t perfect. I’ve learned [about romantic relationships] by playing shows. People come up to me and say, ‘Thank you. We’ve needed something that was real. And you’re singing about real-life situations.'”
Sweeney’s fans have had to wait a long time to hear the full scope of her new music. She debuted her first album, Heartbreakers Hall of Fame, on an independent label in March 2006. Then Big Machine Records took over and reissued it to a national audience a year later.
So there’s been a four-year dry spell, musically speaking. But Sweeney says the span between albums had nothing to do with her personal problems.
“When [Big Machine chief] Scott [Borchetta] signed me to his label, I said, ‘What am I supposed to do now?’ He was, like, ‘You need to keep playing. You need to polish your show up, polish your guitar [playing] up.’ It was basically, ‘Just play, play, play.’ That was all right with me because he’s the one who knows the record business. He’s the genius when it comes to putting the music out. So I just trusted him.
“I follow other people’s plans. Label and management — they’re the ones that have been around in the business for this long. And they haven’t steered me wrong yet. So there was a little bit of a delay. But had I tried to fight to make a record earlier than that, I wouldn’t have had any of these songs because they all came in the last couple of years.”
Sweeney now records for Republic Nashville, a Big Machine affiliate.
To guide her through the making of a new album, Sweeney turned to songwriter and producer Brett Beavers, who’s best known for his work with Dierks Bentley.
“Scott and I were talking one day about who I wanted to produce me and everything,” Sweeney recalls, “and I said, ‘I really like this guy Dierks Bentley. I love how his records sound.’ Scott said, ‘All right, go get everything he’s got and find out other people’s music that you like.’
“So I bought every Dierks record I could find. Then I just kept going back to his records because they sounded so cool. I went, ‘OK. Who’s producing all this?'”
The answer, of course, was Brett Beavers.
“Come to find out, he’s from Texas,” Sweeney beams. “He loves traditional country music. But he knows how to make it modern for radio. We met, and I was just crossing my fingers the whole time that it was going to work out. And it did. He’s the only person that I can see myself using because he totally gets me musically.”
In addition to producing Concrete, Beavers also co-wrote with Sweeney on “Worn Out Heart.”
Sweeney began recording the album in late 2008 and completed it last year. Five songs from Concrete were released early this year as a digital EP. She has been touring with Brad Paisley since May.
Some of Sweeney’s initial publicity alluded to her work as a comedian. That subject has become something of a sore point with her these days — not because it’s untrue or she’s ashamed of it but because it tends to divert attention from her music.
“I’ll never, ever do comedy again,” she vows. “I loved doing comedy when I was doing it. But when I do five-minute radio interviews, they’ll say, ‘Let’s talk about comedy.’ And it turns out to be two or three minutes spent talking about that when we could be talking about my music, which is what I’m promoting.
“I figure one of these days, when I get one of these long, two-hour televised interviews, I’ll spill my guts. I’ll talk about anything because that makes me real.”