The Kennedy Center

Sunny War


It’s  no  secret  that  great  art  comes  from  the  margins.  From  those  who  are  either  pushed  to  create  from  inner  forces,  or  who  create  to  show  they  deserve  to  be  recognized.  Los  Angeles-based  street  singer,  guitarist,  and  roots  music  revolutionary  Sunny  War  has  always  been  an  outsider,  always  felt  the  drive  to  define  her  place  in  the  world  through  music  and  songwriting.

As  a  young  black  girl  growing  up  in  Nashville,  she  searched  for  her  own  roots,  looking  first  to  the  blues  she  heard  from  her  mother’s  boyfriend,  and  learning  from  a  local  guitarist.  Moving  to  Los  Angeles  in  her  teens,  she  searched  for  herself  in  the  LA  punk  scene,  playing  house  shows  with  FIDLAR,  and  shoplifting  DVDs  from  big  box  stores  to  trade  at  Amoeba  Records  for  80s  punk  albums.  But  here  too  she  found  herself  on  the  outside,  working  to  bridge  her  foundation  in  country  blues  and  American  roots  guitar  traditions  with  the  punk  scene  she  called  home.  She  first  made  her  name  with  this  work,  bringing  a  wickedly  virtuosic  touch  on  the  fingerstyle  guitar  that  sprang  from  her  own  self-discoveries  on  the  instrument.  But  her  restless  spirit,  a  byproduct  of  growing  up  semi-nomadic  with  a  single  mother,  led  her  to  Venice  Beach,  California,  where  she’s  been  grinding  the  pavement  for  some  years  now,  making  a  name  for  her  prodigious  guitar  work  and  incisive  songwriting,  which  touches  on  everything  from  police  violence  to  alcoholism  to  love  found  and  lost.

Her  new  album,  With  The  Sun,  out  February  2,  2018  on  Hen  House  Studios,  is  the  culmination  of  years  of  burning  curiosity  as  an  artist,  the  result  of  many  wandered  paths  to  find  some  new  way  to  speak  her  heart.  For  the  first  time,  she’s  writing  songs  first  and  crafting  the  guitar  work  second,  focusing  on  her  own  poetry  and  trying  to  tell  her  own  story.  She’s  an  outsider  artist  in  the  truest  sense,  living  on  the  margins  of  the  establishment  and  fueled  only  by  her  own  creative  genius.

To  help  achieve  With  the  Sun’s  larger  vision,  Sunny  War  turned  to  the  ragtag  group  of  Venice  Beach  musicians  she’s  fallen  in  with,  mainly  members  of  psych  folk  band  Insects  vs  Robot,  including  multi-instrumentalist  Micah  Nelson,  fiddler  Nikita  Sorokin,  andguitarist  Milo  Gonzalez.  Produced  by  Harlan  Steinberger  at  Hen  House  Studios  in  Venice  Beach,  which  also  doubled  as  the  record  label,  the  new  album  pushes  and  pulls  between  cleverly  arranged  orchestration  and  the  DIY  aesthetic  that  remains  as  Sunny’s  throwback  to  her  punk  roots.  For  an  artist  with  so  many  different  influences,  the  album  is  remarkably  cohesive,  choosing  to  focus  on  Sunny’s  songwriting  and  intricate  guitar  work.  As  an  artist,  Sunny  borrows  ideas  and  patterns  at  will  from  across  the  canon  of  American  music.  Her  influences  range  from  Elliott  Smith,  Black  Flag,  Joan  Armatrading,  and  Tracy  Chapman,  to  Robert  Johnson  (“To  Love  You”  is  her  homage  to  Johnson’s  “They’re  Red  Hot”),  Elmore  James,  and  Bessie  Smith.  “I  feel  like  I  am  a  blues  guitarist,  but  I  don’t  think  I’m  a  blues  artist,”  Sunny  explains.  “I  only  use  the  scales  and  techniques  that  I  know  and  the  only  time  I  was  trained  in  music  was  on  blues  guitar.  I  really  love  Elizabeth  Cotton  and  Mississippi  John  Hurt.  I  still  like  to  listen  to  them  to  feel  that  there’s  nothing  wrong  with  me  playing  the  way  I  play.”

Watch Past Performances

Video 11/29/2018: Sunny War

Sunny War is a blues/ folk/ punk guitarist originally from Nashville, Tennessee, currently residing in Los Angeles, California. She is a master of fingerstyle guitar with a superb clawhammer technique.

Sunny War