During a phone conversation, Sunny Sweeney receives a Twitter message from a fan that she reads aloud: "Is your song 'Carolina on the Line' ever going to be on iTunes? I'm tired of the YouTube version."
Sweeney says, "That's one of the new songs I'm talking about. I've never even recorded it. I've only played it at shows, and people love that song. Yeah, that's what makes me keep doing what I'm doing."
In 2011, Sweeney found mainstream success with "From a Table Away," which ultimately climbed to No. 10 at country radio. Although she parted ways with the Big Machine Label Group over the summer, Sweeney remains focused on a career in country music.
Not long after receiving an ACM nomination in the new female vocalist category, the Texas native chatted with CMT.com about her stash of new songs, her direct line to fans and her goals for the year -- including a trip to Sin City.
CMT: What did that recognition mean to you when you received the ACM nomination?
Sweeney: It's crazy. You know, I've been doing this for a long time. I had my first show almost 10 years ago. One guy the other day said, "New female vocalist? You've been doing this almost 10 years." I said, "Dude, you can put whatever adjective you want to in front of it." I don't care what you call it. I am so excited, and it is so validating. ... I mean, I started doing this for free beer, so this is amazing. It shows that people appreciate all of the hard work that I've put into it.
"From a Table Away" was a big song for you. What was the most common response you heard from other songwriters about that song?
When I play that at a songwriter's night, it's always really flattering. I wrote it with Karyn Rochelle and Bob DiPiero. And when I play it at a songwriter's night, other songwriters go, "Man, I love that so much." To me, that's almost the biggest compliment. When somebody I look up to says "That's a great song," I'm like ... "Thank you."
Do you have enough songs for a record at this point?
Oh, yes, absolutely. We're in the process of picking out which songs we want to use. There's a lot to choose from. I'm trying to figure out which way I want to go with the record. Do I want to do story songs or some of my more fun drinking songs? Or songs that fans love live? So I'm trying to figure that right now.
If you start touring a lot, you'll get your answer that way.
I'm telling you, that's the way I like picking out songs. Some people say, "Well, some songs go over live better than they would on the radio," or "Some songs go over better on the radio than they do live." But I [listen to] the fans and their reception to the song and their opinion of the songs. I can play something live once, and if it's a good song, immediately people start tweeting and Facebooking. Like, "Hey, what was that song you did the other day?" I'm like, "Oh, so you like that one, huh?"
That's country music for you. Fans will tell you.
Yeah, they're very opinionated. You know I love opinions. I'm like, "Bring it on!" (laughs)
You seem to be pretty accessible to your fans.
I look at it like this: Remember when we were little and we had somebody we looked up to? You had to join their fan club and write them a letter, and they would never write you back? Twitter and Facebook are free, first of all. It's a direct line for fans to get in touch with you. So I think it's awesome. I always look at music as if I were a fan and how I would want the other person to respond to me. You do this for your fans. I mean, I don't know if everybody does, but I certainly do. So if somebody wants to tell me something, they should be able to write me directly.
I'm always in amazement how easy it is for a fan to write to you and say, "This song that you wrote, or sang, broke my heart." ... And then they open themselves up and tell you the whole story. I cannot tell you how many songs I've written based on fans' stories that they've written me. Ideas come all the time from fans -- and they don't even know it! (laughs)
What's coming up for you in 2013?
We're working on touring right now. My booking agent, my manager and I are putting our heads together on that. And we've got some cool stuff like fairs and festivals coming up. And I'm always looking for an excuse to go to Vegas. So I get to do that for a week [for the ACM Awards]. It's where I got married. I love it so much. So we're going to hopefully go back to the casino where we stayed when we got married and gamble and win again like we did when we were there. You know, it's just a lot of the same stuff but hopefully a lot more of it.