Eventually serving as an outlet for the less personal material of prolific Bay Area songwriter (author, filmmaker, and visual artist) Sonny Smith, Sonny & the Sunsets merge influences like early rock, psychedelic pop, country, and Jonathan Richman with an Internet-era D.I.Y.
aesthetic. Following several solo Smith releases throughout the 2000s, Sonny & the Sunsets made their full-length debut with 2009's Tomorrow Is Alright. The band continued to issue tuneful, freewheeling sets throughout the 2010s, sometimes alternating with Smith solo LPs. In a diversion that was still recognizably Sonny Smith, the Merrill Garbus-produced Moods Baby Moods from 2016 took inspiration from '80s new wave and funk.
Following a debut EP, Hypnotist, the band released its first long-player, Tomorrow Is Alright, both in 2010. That year, the Sunsets also participated in Smith's 100 Records show in San Francisco, where nearly 100 artists created jackets and labels for a series of fictional 7"s created by Smith. He then recorded songs to match their covers, presenting his recordings in the form of a working jukebox that included one credited to the Sunsets. By the time of their 2011 release of Hit After Hit, the group had solidified into a core of Smith on vocals and guitar, Stoltz on drums, Harbour on guitar and vocals, and Ryan Browne on bass.
Sonny & the Sunsets returned a year later with Longtime Companion, a country-styled record resulting from the breakup of Smith and his partner of ten years. Inspired by the murder of their Austin-based patron Esme Barrera and Smith's psychic contact with another dead friend, Antenna to the Afterworld was released by Polyvinyl in mid-2013 and represented a return to a more rock-based sound. Smith followed this album in early 2015 with Talent Night at the Ashram, a collection of songs centered around characters from screenplays and scripts he had written to various states of completion. Produced by tUnE-yArDs leader Merrill Garbus, Sonny & the Sunsets' sixth full-length, 2016's Moods Baby Moods, took sonic inspiration from the '80s. Following a pair of solo releases by Smith, the Sunsets returned with the more eclectic Hairdressers from Heaven in 2019. With production by the Shins' James Mercer, and a lineup that included Mercer, Stoltz, co-producer Yuuki Matthews, and contributions from several others, it was the first release on Smith's own Rocks in Your Head Records. ~ Jesse Jarnow & Marcy Donelson, Rovi