Creatively illustrating heartbreak and other crucial, even if paralyzing, human emotions is the sign of a masterful musician. And there’s no way to fabricate any level of that understanding — only persevering through hardships can empower someone with such an apprised view of this world.
Sunny War, a 30-year-old rising star out of Los Angeles, casually strolled into City Winery DC the night of Sept. 9 to deliver an inspirative and inventive set of music crafted from sounds of blues, folk and punk and built from the challenges she’s overcome along her path.
Using her intricate playing style and her voice that whispers with doleful elegance, Sunny has after just handful of albums made a name for herself as a majestically skilled singer-songwriter-guitar picker, earning praise in music media and the respect of notable musicians and producers far and wide.
“How would you know you had a heart if it wasn’t broken?” Sunny asked by way of her opening song “If It Wasn’t Broken,” just one of the powerful pieces she shared throughout the evening for the audience on hand. Seated at dinner tables, tucked up in The Loft at the Winery, those in attendance were treated to a truly intimate evening, and the first night of this most recent tour for Sunny, who began playing guitar at the age of 7.
Watch the official music video for “Age of a Man” by Sunny War on YouTube:
Struggling with alcohol and dropping out of school in just the tenth grade, Sunny honed her guitar skills busking and picking guitar on sands of Venice Beach, an area where she would eventually meet important friends and fellow musicians who would help her evolve to a better, healthier lifestyle and ultimately share her incredible music with the world.
Though her first influences — she loved bands like Bad Brains and other hardcore legends — led her to form a punk band with a name that would turn anyone’s head, Anus Kings, Sunny’s unique playing style — what’s considered the “claw technique,” with no pick and the use only of her thumb and forefinger — helped her shine and attract other talented musicians who’ve wanted to create songs with her.
One of her longtime friends, bass player Ayron Davis, was at her side at City Winery, as he has been since they were little kids, and then, later on, at influential punk shows during their teen years. From his first note, Ayron injected a range of sounds, from funky to soothing, all seemingly in perfect brace of Sunny, the timing exact and with thrust—demonstrative of a rock-solid, rewarding relationship built around and within music.
Ayron’s fluid nature, almost in dance as he played, was the perfect complement to Sunny, who was subtle in her mannerisms, though she began warming up via playful conversation with her bandmate.
Throughout the evening she and Ayron made public their ongoing struggle to create meaningful, engaging conversation with audiences, especially in seated settings.
So, they focused on the rats of the nation’s capital.
“We saw a rat,” laughed Ayron, throwing his shoulders up in a shrug.
“The rats here — they just kind of sit there and look at you,” Sunny pondered. “The rats in LA, they’re, like, more high strung.”
Their hysterically dry banter, which in its authenticity revealed some of their magnetizing individual personalities, loosened up the small room and made the night that much more memorable.
Additionally, Sunny provided insight into some of the pieces she played, explaining their origins. Her words, coming out quick and almost as if she was talking to herself, made her songs that much more gripping, as they were clearly channeled from a human who has overcome not only a wretched battle with alcohol, but also being homeless, having nothing. (Sunny eventually established a Los Angeles chapter of Food Not Bombs, an organization she credits for helping save her live by providing her food when she was at her worst.)
Watch Sunny War’s NPR Tiny Desk performance on YouTube:
“By the time you realize you were wrong, you’ll find the girl you knew is gone,” she sang in the song “Shell” from the 2019 album “Shell of a Girl.” “Now she can no longer feel sorry for you … she’s just a shell of a girl.
Introducing songs throughout the set, Sunny shed light on her influences that ranged from country music to Seu Jorge from Brazil. The gifted punk musician turned folk/blues star went on to play a host of heart-wrenching songs, including her early 2021 single “Age of a Man,” and she closed her set with “Lucid Lucy,” the hoveringly gorgeous single from this year’s album, Simple Syrup.
Added as Sunny’s touring partner over the past few weeks, David Sickmen, the leader of the Hackensaw Boys out of Virginia, performed prior to Sunny taking the stage in what was a rare solo appearance for the roots music veteran. Sharing songs from the band’s 20-year catalogue, David’s presence was an added bonus for those there as he played songs from the band’s catalogue of albums, including the 2016 release Charismo and the 2019 EP A Fireproof House of Sunshine.
Sunny War Setlist:
If It Wasn’t Broken
No Time Soon
All Life’s Worth
She Just Don’t Care
Can I Sit With You
Age Of A Man
He Is My Cell
Got No Ride
Have Another Pill
Here are some pictures of Sunny War and David Sickmen performing at City Winery DC on Sept. 9, 2021. All images courtesy of and copyright Casey Vock.