Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing the wonderful singer/songwriter Sunny Ozell. Touching down in London from New York, highly caffeianted and severely jet-lagged, the super trouper still look time out of her busy schedule to talk about debut album ‘Take It With Me’ and up-coming tour with Teddy Thompson.
In part one of this interview, Sunny talks about the songs she chose for her debut album, which ones are her favourites and why.
MV: ‘Take it With Me’ features songs from the Great American Songbook, but with so many songs within it, how did you come to choose the ones you did?
SO: “It’s just my taste I guess. I really like material that is open ended, where as a listener I can come to my own conclusions and decisions about it. I also love great song writing and songs where the lyrical content matches up with what’s happening with the chord structure, for instance the T Bone Burnett song ‘Kill Zone’, I feel like the form and the content are married – something lyrically is happening as well as musically.”
MV: Talking about ‘Kill Zone’, you chose a couple of dark tracks on the album (Kill Zone and Number 1) what made you choose those songs in particular?
SO: “Kill Zone I think is just a masterwork! T Bone Burnett, Roy Orbison and Bob Neuwirth – monsters in their own way you know. I hear in the chord changes Roy Orbison‘s stamp all over ‘Kill Zone’! I just love the emotional swells of the tune, it’s about a break-up I assume, in this vivid kind of dreamscape imagery, it’s dark and it’s beautiful. When I first got that T Bone Burnett piece some time around 2008, I had it on repeat for something like 6 months – I kid you not! Now fast forward to 2016 it means something completely different to me but it’s no less important, no less valid but it means something different because it’s open ended, it’s not fixed and it’s as though I can grow with a song like that, a song of that caliber and quality.”
MV: Well for me just to read ‘Kill Zone’ I think it’s a beautiful piece of prose
SO: “You know right! ‘How much is not enough, how much is through? How long will I be getting over you?’ I’m glad I don’t feel that way anymore but I certainly have!”
MV: So the song really had a special meaning to you because of what you were going through at the time?
SO: “Yeah and it has universal themes in there too, it’s not just about me but in the moment it was.”
MV: Choosing the songs for the album, was that a long process?
SO: “You know, it happened over the course of years. I was just playing live shows with original material I had recorded and was also peppering the set was these unearthed gems, like the Leon Russell tune (Manhattan Island Serenade). One day my producer Ethan Eubanks who is also my drummer, said ‘Listen we should document this.’ We already had all the tunes to make a record but also wanted a few originals so we approached Aaron Lee Tasjan who wrote ‘Number One’ and ‘Git Gone’ he also worked with David Mead for ‘Only in the Movies’ and Julian Verland for ‘Family Tree’ so tunes that nobody had really heard before. I tell you, it was the easiest, dreamiest, most highly creative process. We banged most of it out in 4 days and did it in kind of a live fashion. I was singing with the band at the same time and I think that comes across on the album, you can hear little minutia’s where someone is reacting to me or I’m reacting to someone else – I know I personally like records that are made in that fashion, so I hope that others feel that way too.”
MV: So going onto ‘Manhattan Island Serenade’ you made it quite jazzy and groovy, what was your reasoning behind changing it from the original?
SO: “Well the original has Leon Russell‘s piano and his swampy kind of groove. It’s very spacious but there’s still that thump to it. I think that while my version doesn’t sounds like the original in terms of the feel, I think it is keeping in with the original in its general approach and to me the groove we settled upon was determined by Leon’s piano playing. I’d like to think he likes my version.”
MV: What would be your favourite song on ‘Take It With Me’?
SO: “You know I would have to say it’s ‘Kill Zone’, it’s as perfect as it is unusual. I feel that that tune is written within an inch of its life. We barely, barely changed anything. I find the song really challenging as the vocal range is pretty wide and there’s some weird structural things happening to the musicians like entire measures dropping out – it’s just a cool tune.”
In part 2 of the interview tomorrow, Sunny and I talk about more about her album, the up-coming UK Tour with Teddy Thompson, Sunny’s next musical and film project as well as the good old British weather.