SXSW 2017
Keeping It Country

Austin's own Sunny Sweeney gets real on acclaimed new album, Trophy

Austin's own Sunny Sweeney gets real on acclaimed new album, Trophy

Sunny Sweeney
Sunny Sweeney's Trophy is out March 10. Photo courtesy of All Eyes Media

Country singer Sunny Sweeney wants people to like her. And if for some reason they don’t, there’s a chance they could end up the subject of the title track of her next record. Case in point? “Trophy.”  

The title track of her newest album was inspired by one of her husband’s exes. “I heard that she was talking shit, basically saying I’m his trophy wife,” Sweeney explains. “The songwriter in me kinda laughed and said, ‘well thank you!’” And then the self-admitted "smart ass" put her response in a song:

"I know what you call me/That word fits me to a T/You just think I’m pretty/And you’re just full of jealousy/I don’t make him play the fool/Put him on a pedestal/That’s something you would never do/Yeah he’s got a trophy now/For puttin’ up with you."

Sweeney’s hopes for her new album, Trophy, available Friday, March 10, are pretty simple. Besides wanting it to be well received (which by early reviews including Rolling Stone seems to be the case), the Texas native, who calls Austin home, hopes people find something in the broad subject matter they can relate to. “And I want people to feel something. I’m not setting out to try to make people cry or anything like that, but sometimes we just need to feel something.”

One song that stirs a lot of emotion in both Sweeney and her fans is “Bottle by My Bed,” which was inspired by Sweeney’s challenges to have a child of her own. She wrote it with Grammy Award-winning songwriter Lori McKenna (“Girl Crush,” “Humble and Kind”). “I honestly didn’t know when we wrote it that it would ever be played anywhere, much less recorded.”

She openly admits to having fertility issues and a miscarriage, and through writing and singing about her unrealized desire to be a mother, it’s become clear to her just how many people have been in her shoes. “There are so many people that have gone through this, and just nobody wants to talk about it,” she explains. “I feel like it’s maybe cathartic for people to hear and know that they are not alone.”

“Unsaid” is another tear-jerker, co-written with up-and-coming country singer-songwriter Caitlin Smith (who also co-wrote "Like I’m Going to Lose You," sung by Meghan Trainor and John Legend). “'Unsaid' is just about making sure that you say the things to people in your life that you need to say, 'cause you just never know,” says Sweeney.

True to her country roots and her musical heroes, which include Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline, Sweeney also sings about addiction, drinking, and living life to the fullest in songs like “Pills” (written by good buddy Brennen Leigh and her husband Noel McKay), “Pass the Pain,” and “Better Bad Idea.”

In that spirit, I asked Sweeney to tell me about the worst idea she’s ever had, to which, after laughing a few seconds, she responded, “Ugh, pass ... just pass. I don’t need to put that in writing!” 

Sweeney definitely had the right idea when she selected the songs for Trophy. The final track list (she co-wrote eight of the 10 songs), which she says she agonized over, is a great mix of the emotional and the fun, that, while contemporary, pays tribute to the traditional country music she greatly respects.

She says every good country record has a waltz, and her choice for Trophy pays homage to country music while giving a nod to its writer and another of her heroes, Chris Wall. Sweeney says she’s wanted to record Wall’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” since her first record. “I’ve always thought that was a consummate country song, and Chris is a great songwriter,” says Sweeney. “I wanted the world to know him if they don’t already and know his songs.”

Sweeney knows the value of a good song, and Trophy is full of them. She hopes her fourth studio album gives her more opportunities to do what she loves most: play live. Judging by the record’s reception so far and her busy schedule, it seems she's getting her wish.

Sunny Sweeney has three shows in Austin during SXSW, including an official showcase on Friday, March 17. To find out where you can see the "trophy wife" live, check out her tour schedule