On Thursday, December 9, 2010, 8pm (21+) at RUMBA
Address: 351 W. Hubbard St, Chicago, IL | Cost: Only $5 in advance and $10 at the door. | More information »

“When I was a kid, I stared into the sun a lot…. and now, I use the sun as my higher power”. Sunny War is explaining to me how her mom gave her the nickname, “Sunny”. And so began a fascinating conversation with War, speaking from her Los Angeles home, coincidentally on the day of her 20th birthday.

Born Sydney Lyndella Ward in Nashville, Tennessee, War spent much of her early life living back and forth mostly between her mother’s home in Nashville and her grandparents’ in Detroit, Michigan, finally moving with mom and her wannabe actor boyfriend to California at age 13. Basically a self-taught guitarist, War began playing the instrument when she was 7, and invented her own style of finger picking, basically because she didn’t want to use a pick. War’s original compositions as well as masterful covers of songs by artists as varied as Reagan Youth and Johnny Cash, are delivered in a wounded voice carried by textured phrasing, in an awe-inspiring channeling of the finest blues artistry from the thirties, embedded in totally twenty-first century lyrical sensibility.

So how did a self-denominated punk songstress develop a totally credible Mississipi Delta blues style? War explains that her grandparents’ love for blues as well as being in the bluesy gospel choir of her grandmother’s church in Detroit started her walking down that particular musical path. She loves the blues as the truest of folk music, and describes folk music as “the original punk rock…completely ‘for the people’, and just as political as punk.” Hand-in-hand with her punk sensibility, says War, is her anarchism, which gives rise to the edgy political sense of the songs she writes as well as a somewhat chaotic lifestyle, including a period of Venice Beach Boardwalk busking and living out of her van. The inspiration for “Police State”, which she wrote while she was still homeless, came when the police harassed her just for sitting on a bench and playing her guitar. “I don’t think they realize”, she comments, “how much artists rely on our art to survive.” Nevertheless that time, she feels, was a happy time – no school, no job, no material things. “So many people”, she adds with a shrug in her voice, “have everything, but are sadder people. And they are not free”.

Many of her songs, says War, are indeed about freedom and tearing down self-imposed barriers, lest we become like the sheep in her signature song:

“those sheep are unhappy because they’re all fenced in
living the same old day over and over again
I burn my fence down with a fist up in the air
There are no fences and only the sheep are unaware”

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