There's no faking chemistry, and Sunny Sweeney and Brennen Leigh don't have to. Friends for more than 10 years, the two Austin-based singer-songwriters have a great respect for one another and a shared affinity for traditional country music.
Between now and December, they are inviting music fans into their circle one night a month at the Saxon Pub where they’ll swap songs and one liners. In this intimate setting, the talent that brought Sweeney national attention and Leigh a following that spans continents shines.
“It mostly just gives us time to hang out and be stupid together and let other people see us be stupid together,” jokes Sweeney. The two clearly know each other very well, creating a comfortable ease when they share the stage.
“There’s a certain level of awkwardness when you play with people you don’t know that well, even if you like them and respect them ... you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” explains Leigh. “We don’t have toes when we're on stage together!” adds Sweeney.
Sweeney and Leigh complement one another like Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola — and the result is a night of honest, kick-ass country music peppered with some very funny banter. “We’re so different but we are so much alike, too, and I think that’s why our friendship blossomed. Out of that ... and our similar humor,” explains Sweeney.
The now good friends first crossed paths in 2004 when Leigh decided to go to the Carousel Lounge to check out Sweeney’s first band. Though she went in skeptical, hearing Sweeney sing classic country songs, Leigh left a fan. “I loved it. It was awesome.”
That same evening, Leigh had a pizza delivered to the bar. “I was hungry so I asked if I could have a piece,” recants Sweeney. “If she’d have said no it would have gone raunchy from there and we’d have never been friends!”
The two (who cite Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard as heroes) soon began to co-write and were bonded by their mutual affection for traditional country music. “That’s so deeply entrenched in what we do,” explains Leigh. “It’s just what we are really,” adds Sweeney.
They have co-written numerous songs and often collaborate on records. Sweeney, who admits no subject is off limits when she writes, says her style is complemented by Leigh’s subtlety. “Her songs are not like, 'Hi, this song is about a guy,’ which is what I do. She has the niceness factor where she can turn a song about a person into something completely different.”
“But you write the truth,” says Leigh. “You’re unfiltered — like Austin tap water. You’re not afraid to put anything in a song.” It's a comment that causes Sweeney to write the line down, thinking it may inspire their next collaboration.
Their most recent effort, "But You Like Country Music," which they debuted at the Saxon in July, plays off of the differences between liberals and conservatives and the result is a hilarious tongue-in-cheek song they are both very proud of. “It’s full of stereotypes. Neither of those characters are really either of us 100 percent, but we wanted to kind of have a light-hearted look at that topic,” explains Leigh.
Asked about the current state of country music, including the lack of women in the commercial spotlight, Leigh says she doesn’t think it’s so much a male-female issue. “I think there’s a quality problem, and I think the lack of women artists is a part of the quality problem, or maybe a result of it. ... It’s not even about classic versus new. It’s about good music versus bad.”
“Things evolve, too,” adds Sweeney. “It’s not Mama’s country music anymore. But I feel like there is room for everybody ... I just feel like if you are true to yourself the fans will follow. I really believe that.”
True to their fans and the music that inspires them, Leigh just wrapped up a Lefty Frizzell tribute album due to drop in October, and Sweeney is selecting tunes for her next record, which she says will be a broken-down effort focused on songs she’s recently co-written. She’s also recorded a song for a Ted Hawkins tribute album coming out in October.
You can catch the two country ladies live once a month at the Saxon now through December. “If it doesn’t suck and keeps going good through December, we’re gonna keep doing it,” says Sweeney.
Trust me, it definitely does not suck! Catch Sunny Sweeney and Brennen Leigh at the Saxon on August 26, September 15, October 20, November 17 and December 15.