Sunny Sweeney’s music is about hard times and harder people, old school country that’s as familiar with misery and heartbreak as it is with pill and alcohol addiction.
“I feel like country music is about cheating and drinking for the most part,” Sweeney says with a throaty chuckle. “So there’s lot of different angles you can take on those two topics, make it funny or serous. That’s why I love country music, because it tells stories.”
Sweeney’s stories have been featured on four albums since her ’07 debut, “Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame.” Her 2011 sophomore effort, “Concrete,” yielded her first Top 10 single, “From a Table Away,” a snarky masterpiece that reveals Sweeney as the other woman, observing her faithless married lover re-wooing his wife.
“Guess you didn’t see me in those low dim lights / I knew who she was by the ring still on her hand / Sure looked like you still wanted to be her man / And I heard you tell her you still love her / So it doesn’t matter what you say / I saw it all / from a table away.”
2014’s ‘”Provoked” got her two back-to-back Top 10 Texas Music Chart hits, “Bad Girl Phase” and “My Bed,” a duet with Will Hoge. Her latest, 2017’s “Trophy,” displays Sweeney at the height of her songwriting prowess on “Bottle By My Bed,” co-written with Lori McKenna.
Despite the title, its not a classic country drinking song. The bottle she wants at her bedside is of the baby variety: “All my friends are raising babies / I’m still raising cane / They must think because I’ve waited that I don’t want the same ... Right now our mortgage is the only thing that’s due / It’s an empty room at the top of the stairs. We wait.”
The story is true. Sweeney and her husband have been trying for a while to have a child.
“I only call my husband baby ‘cause I love the word / Never wanted something so bad that it hurts / Even give up these damned ol’ cigarettes / If I could have a bottle by my bed” she sings in her twangy Texas drawl.
She’s intensely aware of the effect the song has on other people, and is still unable to look audience members in the eye when she performs it.
“I start seeing couple of girls, and guys too, that are affected by it, and I don’t want to interrupt their moment,” she says, laughing nervously.
Sweeney has recently had the opportunity to tell her stories on a huge platform, opening for Bob Seger on his farewell tour. At first glimpse it seem like on odd fit.
“You and me both,” Sweeney says with a laugh. “It was really nuts because my parents are huge Bob Seger fans. I know every single song he sings.”
Seger’s “Against the Wind” was one of the first songs she learned to sing, driving along with her mom, screaming it at the top of their lungs.
“And my mom always goes, jokingly of course, ‘I wonder why you have relationship problems?’ She’s telling you this when you’re 4, 5 years old.”
Sweeney swears she has no clue as to how the opportunity came about.
“My manager called and was like, ‘Hey-Bob Seger wants you to open for him,’ and I was like, ‘Shut up! And he was like, ‘No, I’m serious.’ We did one round in March, then they called and asked us to do it again in May. He evidently doesn’t think we suck ’cause he keeps asking us to come back.”
Sweeney says Seger has been very supportive of her and her band.
“He just plopped right down in front of us during sound check, smiled his huge great smile, just like looked at us, smiling from ear to ear. I called my mom as soon as I was done and was like, ‘You’re not gonna believe what just happened.’ ”
Seger has since moved on without Sweeney, but she’s learned a marketing lesson from him, as well as touring with Blake Shelton and Garth Brooks.
“We’re strategically going back and hitting those markets. It’s been really fun playing with people I really look up to, too. You learn stuff, too, by seeing those big arena shows. You can just watch their show and say, ‘Oh, my God, I wanna do that.’ ”
Sweeney has wanted to do that stuff most of her life, finally acting on the impulse to channel Dolly, whom she admits she loved even as little girl, at a high school talent show. She even named her dog Dolly.
“I’ve never met Dolly,” she says. “I’ve seen her do a show, but I’ve never met her, (and) I want to so bad. But I feel it’s probably divine intervention that I haven’t because I know I would stick my foot in my mouth and say something about my dog being named after her, and I don’t know if she would take that as a compliment, but it was a huge compliment. The first song I ever sang at the talent show in high school (was) ‘9 to 5,’ and I stuffed my bra and pouffed my hair up, and my parents were like, ‘Oh dear Lord, what have we done?’”
But after all these years, Sweeney is unrepentant about her sound and career, content to let others write a simple obit for her: “I hope that people say, ‘Wow! She’s really country.’”