Multihyphenate singer-songwriter-playwright-writer Sonny Smith will soon be adding yet another role to his ever-expanding resume -- artist -- with the opening of “100 Records” at Gallery 16.
Most recently sighted at Noise Pop with his indie outfit Sonny and the Sunsets, the SF performer dreamed up histories for 100 fictional bands for this project and then gathered 100 artists to make artwork for records by the imaginary groups. Not content at stopping there, Smith then wrote and recorded 200 songs -- A and B sides, natch -- for each fictitious combo. The Gallery 16 show will give you a chance to get a good look at the 100 records’ artwork (created by current and onetime Bay Area artists such as Chris Johanson, Jo Jackson, Harrell Fletcher, Chris Duncan and Tucker Nichols), as well as hear the songs, the fruit of collaborations with still other guest artists, streaming from a jukebox.
Whew -- after such a daunting project, Smith must be beat. He's also recently caught his share of praise: Just the other week Sonny and the Sunsets -- a supergroup of sorts with members of the Fresh and Onlys, Skygreen Leopards and Kelley Stoltz -- scored a rave review from Pitchfork for its new Soft Abuse album, Tomorrow Is Alright. Nevertheless he found a bit of time to trade e-mails about his recent work before the “100 Records” opening on Friday, April 9.
Q: What's the genesis of the exhibit?
Sonny Smith: It came about by me writing a novel with fictitious singers in it, and wanting to make record covers and songs for the characters, and then getting a residency at the Headlands to make these fictional record covers and songs, and then scrapping the novel because making the record covers and songs was more fun.
Q: Sounds like it was a herculean task assembling these stories. Were you inspired by anything in particular? Did you "borrow" any real-life stories? How long did the entire process take?
SS: I borrowed lots of real stories from me, from friends, lots of the characters have little life details of real people I know.
Chris Johanson's "100 Records" artwork. (Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 16, San Francisco, CA)
Q: What sort of challenges did the project pose? Was it a struggle coming up with a variety of styles of music?
SS: I didn’t try to make overt cliches (i.e., I didn’t make a “country band” and a “reggae band” and a “metal band,” etc.). So all the music, with some exceptions, is a kind of gradation of what I make already. It was all pretty natural. Hopefully the music is less definable, more original, more interesting than just hearing someone try sing overt genres.
Q: Do you have any favorite real-life music histories?
SS: Sure. I read biographies of musicians here and there. I read Hank Williams last year, then Elvis, then Ronnie Spector. They are fun to read -- slightly pulp.
Q: Is it the first visual, or conceptual, art show you've done?
SS: I have been making some conceptual plays in the past that blended music with theater. And my records have sometimes fallen under “concept records” like Fruitvale or One Act Plays. So it’s been a kind of steady build to a show like this.
Q: You're kind of a multimedia triple- or quadruple-threat, what with your work in music, writing, theater and now art. Is there anything you're contemplating tackling next, like video game design perhaps?
SS: I hadn’t been thinking about it like that. In fact, I was always kinda skeptical of my wide array of interests -- they seem to kind of meander over the years. One year I’d try to write, one year I’m focusing on more music, then I get into plays for a bit, then comic books.
I’ve sat around and thought maybe if I’d just lock it in to one thing I’d get a little further, or maybe I’d be better, but you can’t force things. I have a meandering mind, I guess.
Sonny and the Sunsets.
Q: On another note, Sonny and the Sunsets seems to be going great. How did that project metamorphose? How collaborative is it?
SS: It’s still me writing the songs, I just have a more cohesive consistent band behind me -- the best band in the country. When I write a song, I show it to them, and snap, the song is there.
Q: What are you shooting for with Sonny and the Sunsets? Was it linked to your own move out to the Sunset District?
SS: I moved out to the Sunset after the Sunsets started. It was just coincidence. I think it was Shayde Sartin, who was in the band earlier on -- he coined the phrase, Sonny and the Sunsets. And we had an alter-ego band name for him, Danny Dusk and the Twilights. I used that name in the project, too.
sonny & the sunsets | MySpace Music Videos
Q What's next?
SS: A new art project, “Record Plant.” I’m gonna build a record plant in a gallery -- you can come in, place an order, and out will come a record.
“100 Records” runs, along with Thomas Heinser’s “Uberblick,” at Gallery 16 from April 9-May 28. Opening reception is Friday, April 9, 6-9 p.m., and includes live music by Sonny and the Sunsets and the Sandwitches. 501 Third St., SF. Free. 415-626-7495. gallery16.com, gallery16.blogspot.com