Sunny War Reconnects with Blues Roots on Latest LP Simple Syrup

In her young life, Sunny War has been through more than most—homelessness, drug addiction, even making her first album in a sober living home as a teen. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, forcing much of the world into sudden, extended isolation—physically, socially, and emotionally—War, like a butterfly, began shrugging off her cocoon in unexpected ways.

“The only good thing I learned from last year is how to love and value my friends and family,” War tells Audiofemme from her home in Los Angeles, weeks before the release of her new album Simple Syrup. “My family started a group chat, and we talk more now than we ever did. I have also reconnected with old friends and talked with them for hours, like we were kids again. I’ve got a new roller-skating crew I meet up with at the park now. Before COVID I really hated people. Now I am more aware of how precious and fragile life is and I feel more connected to everyone [because] we are all trying to overcome this whole thing together.”

War has also been busy founding an L.A. chapter of the non-profit organization Food Not Bombs, which provides vegan meals to community members living on the streets through volunteer-driven services.

Aside from activism, re-connecting and roller skating, War also found a new passion for programming beats. After her tour was cancelled, War initially decided to wait out the pandemic before releasing new music. But the prolific poet and lyricist realized that she needed to translate this moment in history into song.

Simple Syrup was originally intended for release last year, a companion to the EP War released in March entitled Can I Sit With You? The EP centered on those who go unnoticed and uncared for, those lost and without a net when things go awry. An heir to Nina Simone’s legacy of unvarnished, hard-earned truth-telling through elegant, raw music, War brought those quiet emotional battles to the fore by cutting straight to the heart of trauma to speak for the disregarded and unseen.

Now she’s back with Simple Syrup, recorded at Venice Beach hangout Hen House Studios, with producer Harlan Steinberger at the helm. “Some songs were written before COVID and some during COVID. Making the album was a lot of fun because a few tracks we recorded live as a band. I had actually never recorded live with a band before then,” she says. The album includes contributions from War’s live band (bassist Ayron Davis and drummer Paul Allen) as well as guest appearances by several friends, like Fishbone’s Angelo Moore and fellow Venice Beach busker Milo Gonzalez. “The song ‘Like Nina’ is a live duet with me and Milo and we took like a million takes,” War says. “I feel like there were maybe more chances taken with this record. It strays from my typical Americana stuff a bit.”

Simple Syrup captivates from the beginning. War’s voice, lyrics and delivery are packed with wisdom and astute observations, but tracks like “Eyes” hold even greater significance—War wrote the song while “processing a lot of death and mourning,” having lost numerous friends to drug addiction and street life. “‘Eyes’ is about my ancestors and my dead friends. I am very certain they reach out to me and warn me about shady people and situations regularly. I am pretty sure I’d be dead without them. They are the eyes in the back of my head,” War explains. “A friend of mine died and I was up all night, drinking and crying, and then he came and visited me. I don’t know if he was really there or not, but I saw and felt him and I’ve felt him ever since. Then I realized I feel my grandparents and all my loved ones on the other side as well. I have an army and I will see them all again.”

Delving deeper into the spiritual has not only sparked healing, but revealed new musical paths as well. “I feel like I kinda reconnected with my roots on this album,” War says. “Blues and jazz are definitely back in my music and not as subtle as before.” Featuring her folk palette with shades of lush jazz, War was inspired by the works of Joan Armatrading and Nick Drake, as well as the saxophone. And while 2020 saw her less focused on her once ubiquitous guitar, the instrument remains a deep extension of her as a woman and artist. “I turn to the guitar for meditation,” she says. “I like to play trancey repetitive loops. I haven’t found my voice as a guitarist yet, but I think I’m getting closer.”

As vaccinations become more readily available and a summer of love seems possible, Sunny War hopes to return to touring and the people who keep her inspired to make music and tell stories. “I hope [Simple Syrup] can give someone a brief break from our current reality. I hope it can be a relaxing album for folks when they want to listen to something soft and emo,” says War. “I am just honored that anyone would even give me their ears and be interested in checking it out.”

Follow Sunny War on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

RSVP HERE: Mamalarky Play Bootleg Theater + MORE

Welcome to our weekly show recommendation column RSVP HERE: LA Edition– your source for the best shows and interviews with some of our favorite local live bands. For the month of February we will be featuring LA shows!

Mamalarky are fuzzy jazzy indie darlings who relocated from Austin to Los Angeles a few years ago. The nostalgic feelings their psych pop evokes can be attributed to how far back their band roots stem. Singer/guitarist Livvy Bennet met drummer Dylan Hill on the first day of middle school and soon became musical soul mates. Their keyboardist, Michael Hunter, was only a grade older than them, and found his way into the project after reconnecting with Livvy and having her play bass in his band Hip Modus. After relocating to LA, their lineup was rounded out by bassist Noor Kahn. Last month they released a new music video for their song “Fury” and will be making the rounds in their hometown of Austin for this year’s SXSW festival in March. Your next chance to catch them in LA will be at The Bootleg Theater on 2/23 with Girl Friday and Eyeshadow! We chatted with them about what they were listening to in Middle School, how SXSW has changed over the years, and their band B.O.

AF: What were your favorite records in middle school?

I really liked The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone, Proof Of Youth by The Go! Team, and Hello Avalanche by The Octopus Project! Big mix of loud jangly guitars and distorted highly compressed synth hooks!

AF: What’s the story behind your latest music video for “Fury?”

The story is it’s the quickest we’ve ever written, recorded, and filmed a video song haha. It felt like an exercise in spontaneity really. It’s pretty funny watching back and remembering how sweltering it was this summer bouncing on the trampoline!

AF: Why did you relocate from Austin to LA? What are your favorite venues and bands to play with in Austin and in LA?

I got a job at a now defunct record label right out of college, and wanted to try a new place after growing up in Austin. The weather was a big pull too, the beach…it’s a very busy place which I appreciate! In Austin, we love playing Cheer Up Charlies, Barracuda, and Mohawk, ideally with bands like Being Dead, Smiile, or Hey Cowboy!
As far as LA goes I feel like we’re still learning the scene here but we love playing The Bootleg! Local bands we really love are Guppy, Healing Gems, Rosie Tucker, and Jerry Paper! There’s a billion bands here, we’re always discovering more.

AF: If your live set was a perfume, what would it be?

No perfume, no deodorant, straight B.O. <3

AF: Are you going to SXSW this year? What’s been your most interesting time at SXSW and how do you think it’s changed over the years?

Yes! We are SXSW veterans and we’re really excited to be going back again this year. SXSW has changed a lot… the whole interactive/film side grew a lot which has been pretty hectic. The city has grown, so there’s lime scooters everywhere which is a blessing and a curse for South by haha. I think in general it’s a cool place for new artists to play a million shows in front of different audiences for a week. I’m really hoping we never grow out of it. Probably some of our most ‘interesting’ SXs were in the first year or two of us being a band, playing a bunch of house shows. That’s where the true fans are born :)

RSVP HERE for Mamalarky with Girl Friday and Eyeshadow on 2/23 at Bootleg Theatre. 21+ / $10

More great shows this week:

2/21 NO AGE, Wurm 2020, Milo Gonzalez @ The Smell. All Ages RSVP HERE

2/22 Metronomy, BODEGA, Faux Real @ Fonda Theatre. $32.50 RSVP HERE

2/23 Zig Zags, The Well @ Permanent Records Roadhouse. RSVP HERE

2/24 Hnry Flwr, Cardioid, Chazzy L. @ Moroccan Lounge. 21+ / $12 RSVP HERE

 2/24 Hit Bargain, A Deer A Horse, Enemy @ Permanent Records Roadhouse. 21+ / RSVP HERE

 2/26 Soccer Mommy @ Amoeba Records. Free RSVP HERE

2/26 Neil Hamburger, Special Guests @ The Satellite. 21+ / $8 RSVP HERE

2/27 Flor de Toloache @ Lodge Room Highland Park. 21+ RSVP HERE

2/27 Bundy, Bloody Death Skull, Fellow Robot @ The Hi Hat. 21+ / $12-15 RSVP HERE