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Sunny War: Punk Rock is a Gateway Drug

Hidden Track Podcast

She’s truly a study in contrasts – right from her chosen moniker, Sunny War. Her story is an utterly extraordinary one, in terms of both her brilliant musical arc and her often-tumultuous life journey. She spent much of her teens and early 20s as an itinerant busker, living where she could, sometimes hopping trains around the States, experiencing trouble with the law, and battling drug and alcohol addiction. All along, Sunny War’s lone constant companion – her true lifeline – has been her guitar.

The folk/punk/gospel/blues artist was born Sydney Ward into a musical family in Nashville, steeped in rock, folk, and classical music, and started playing guitar as a child. Moving to L.A., she discovered punk rock in her early teens, which led her to a true DIY musical apprenticeship busking on the streets of Venice Beach. It was there that she began to develop her unique artistic voice, one that utterly transcends genre and era. She cites the influence of everyone from 1930s blues greats like Robert Johnson and Skip James, to 1980s reggae/punk firebrands Bad Brains and current experimental rap artist JPEGMafia.

Her 2022 album Anarchist Gospel was mainly written in the wake of a devastating breakup, in the loneliest depths of the pandemic, just before she decided to pull up stakes and move back to Tennessee. There, she made this album with producer Adrija Tokic (who has worked on albums by folks like Alabama Shakes and Hurray for the Riff Raff) and with collaborators like roots music heavyweights Allison Russell and David Rawlings.

Anarchist Gospel draws on the sense of duality that’s at the heart of her work – these are heart-rending songs about romantic pain, family strife, and doomy environmental woes, yet the album overall is somehow strangely uplifting. We hear that in the songs she shares with us in this episode of Hidden Track: “New Day”, “Whole”, and “No Reason”. She performed them solo in a breathtakingly intimate session, as she travelled through Alberta playing a pair of wintertime music festivals. Travelling solo, of course!

Host: Grant Stovel | Producer: Scott Zielsdorf | Graphics: Craig Taffs | Music: Doug Hoyer
Recording provided by Duke Paetz and Brendan Cross.

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