Following the debut solo release of Sunny & Gabe’s Sunny Moonshine, Popscure writer Jerome Spencer got the inside scoop on the record that’s been a long time coming, Listen to Me, Lightning.
“I’m afraid I’m going to say something that’s like, self-deprecating, and I’m trying not to do that,” Sunny tells me when I ask her what she wants people to know about her new album, “I mean, listen to it when you’re in your feelings and in the headphones. And you don’t really need to listen to it with other people around. I kind of feel like I’m secretive about it, and I feel like everyone else should be too, but I don’t know if that’s true.”
I don’t know if that’s true, either. I’ve spent a lot of time with Sunny Moonshine‘s new offering, Listen to Me, Lightning, and it’s pretty difficult to keep it to myself. And I don’t even own headphones, but Sunny’s lush, layered soundscapes and warm vocals make me wish I did so I could catch every sonic detail. From the shimmering bounce of “Coconuts” to the hazy closing-time-lounge vibes of “Drughands,” Sunny makes a big impact in just ten tracks. It feels like an effort years in the making with a lot of painstaking attention to detail, and that’s (sorta) true.
“I had all these demos, and I put them all in a playlist,” Sunny says, “It was maybe 25 songs, and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t really know what to do with these.’ I wanted to figure it out because I’d been putting out demos in SoundCloud, but what would happen if I tried to make them better? Like what would the finished version be? So I posted something on Twitter, and I think I asked for 10 people’s emails and sent 10 people the SoundCloud link. I asked them to give me their favorite songs. I may have said why, but the biggest thing was just finding out which songs people liked before I decided to go and finish some of them. And that’s sort of how I picked the first ones. From there, it was me buying speakers, watching like all these videos on how to mix music, trying to go in and make the beats, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Listen, the beats are dope. “Light Years” is one of the stand-out tracks for me, not only for its adventurous, compelling structure and eventual deconstruction of itself but also for the way that beat just sneaks in and out of there, unassuming and subtle until you notice your neck snapping under its uncomplicated endurance. Most of the beats on Listen to Me, Lightning, are insidious like that—nothing too flashy, but getting the job done and doing it extremely well.
“I decided that drums are my absolute weakness,” Sunny confesses, “But I had to do it. You have to do everything to find out what you may be good at. And there was a lot of it that I feel like I was okay. I got a lot better at dealing with my vocals. I got a bunch of extra plug-ins. I downloaded every sound from NASA and just fucked with those. I had sort of an idea of how I wanted my music to be. And it is what I wanted for the most part; besides, I’d wanted someone to go through and redo the drums. At the end, I had Gabe [Niles] and [Mike] Mizzle—I brought them in and said, ‘I’m done. I need y’all to kind of like maybe switch out the drums.’ And they’re like, ‘Nope, you gotta keep your drums.’ And I’m scared because I didn’t want my drums in my songs, but they’re there.”
And that’s the thing I find most admirable about this album – it’s all Sunny. We all know Sunny. She’s (literally) synonymous with Sunny & Gabe—her wildly successful, genre-bending duo with Gabe Niles—and she wowed the local music scene with her short-lived yet unforgettable band Dapzam—yet she chose to make a true solo endeavor. And for all the right reasons.
“I didn’t want to, but I kind of had to,” Sunny tells me about doing an album mostly on her own, “Because I want to be autonomous. I didn’t want to be always bothering someone; I wanted to see what I [could] do. It was less about having to do everything myself than it was about wanting to do everything myself. Because there was a lot of exploring I had to do in order to build the songs up. I didn’t know what I was doing the whole time. It’s like years long of just…layering guitars and putting things in reverse and discovering automation and Ableton and things like that. So it’s all stuff I wanted to do.”
And that’s probably why Listen to Me, Lightning feels personal. Sunny’s perseverance and tenacity pay off in a culmination of strange beauty, heady soundscapes (those NASA sounds, though), hypnotic melodies, and crisp beats. It also feels intimate, though. It’s as if Sunny has let her listeners behind the curtain—even if it’s just a glimpse.
“It was intimate.” Sunny says, “Like, I don’t know how much of it is like deeply personal about breakups and how much of it is just lyrics that you thought sounded good. You know what I mean? I don’t really know what every song is about because it might be about five different things in one. I just know that it’s pretty much like influenced by just heartbreak of all different kinds.”
“I wanted to help people. That’s the only reason why I want to release this. Because I feel that being very, very vulnerable, like that is something that people need, too. You can help people to deal with whatever they’re going through. It’s very scary. I’m a wreck about it. I’ve been a wreck. That’s why it’s taken me so long. I’ve never felt self-conscious like I do with this material. Listen to it when you need to be comforted because the last time I was having a day, and I thought, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ all upset, I really did lay there with the headphones. Like it wasn’t mine. And I was like, ‘Oh, okay. This helped me.’ I was like the outsider in that situation. So it really is kind of something for people to like lean on or relate with.”
And that’s beautiful. Sunny really hits home with her headphone masterpiece, but that doesn’t mean it’s short of bangers, either. The Mike Strong helmed “Annalise” is sure to be bumping out of trunks all summer long, and the undeniable bounce of “Icicle” is destined for DJ booths. There’s a delicate balance not often valued in today’s single-obsessed SoundCloud, and it’s bound to keep Listen to Me, Lightning on repeat for a long time…or at least until Sunny drops the next joint.
“Oh, I know what’s next,” Sunny tells me, “Because I’m so far past these songs that I’m at the point where I’m just like finding ways to make fun of them. So I feel like I have to release them in order for me to really move forward. So at this point, I’m finally gonna do it. It’s going to make me feel more free. But yeah, what will be next is—“
You know, maybe this is one of those things I will keep to myself.
Featured image courtesy of Lou Cambridge
Listen to Me, Lightning is available wherever you listen to music and you can probably order headphones on the internet somewhere.