Intergalactic planetary rock

Sonny & the Sunsets' quirky mix of darkness and light rocks the universe

<p><b>This machine kills drudgery.</b></p>

This machine kills drudgery.

Photo courtesy of Polyvinyl Records

Catch Sonny & the Sunsets at the This block party in Midtown on Saturday, July 13; no cover. The festival starts at 4 p.m.; the band is scheduled to perform at 7 p.m. Visit for more information.

Sonny & the Sunsets’ songs are populated by aliens, threatening teenage thugs, two-headed women, and a mysterious “death cream” that is either sexual or deadly or possibly both. The songs are evocative and quirky, somehow both light and dark at the same time. If you’re not the type to pay attention to the lyrics, then you might experience the group as just a rockin’ good band. Which is good, because they will be playing outdoors on Saturday, July 13, in front of the MARRS building as part of the This block party series in Midtown, along with Kisses, Brown Shoe and Extra Classic.

Frontman Sonny Smith is the band’s only permanent member, although the lineup has been consistent recently. The San Francisco-based musician is also an artist, writer and playwright; on his 2010 100 Records project, he invited artists to create album covers for fictional bands and then wrote and recorded 100 songs to go along with the visual art. Sonny & the Sunsets are currently on tour in support of their fourth album, Antenna to the Afterworld. In a recent email interview with SN&R, Smith discussed fans, making art and the possibility of life on other planets.

What’s it like when you really feel a connection to an audience? When you don’t?

When you have a good night, you feel good about what you are doing with your life, and when you don’t, you wonder what you are doing with your life.

Do you ever find that you have sort of atypical fans, like maybe an older person or a really young person?

Yeah, I usually have a few people I meet that seem real connected to the songs and they stand out, and then there [are lots of] people that are kinda just passin’ through, like passing an interesting booth at a fair or something—which is fine. Then, once I was picking up my kid from camp and this other kid appeared to be a raging fan, somehow, which is weird, as I don’t think my music is out there so much as that. He was 7 or so, but he was treating me like, I don’t know, a huge star. And my own son was looking at him with this look on his face, like, “Why do you like my dad? He’s a total dork.”

I noticed Rusty Miller is on your record, and he’s in a Sacramento band, Jackpot. Is he going to be playing with you?

Not on this particular show, but he is a genius.

Do you make some kind of art every day?

Nah, I have lots of days I don’t do anything creative. I am slowly working on a movie idea. But who knows what it will be if it really grows.

You’re really into supernatural stuff, and you have a lot of alien themes. Ever experienced anything supernatural or seen a UFO?

I thought I saw a UFO once; me and my friend both saw it—an undulating triangle in the sky, phosphorescent. And we were pretty sure it was the real thing. We both fell asleep watching it. We were on Mount [Tamalpais] near Stinson Beach, far away from people, late at night, and we were pretty sure that when we got back to town there would be chaos in the streets. But when we did, nothing had changed. We’ll never know what we saw.

Would you rather see an alien or a ghost?