Home Read Albums Of The Week: Sunny War | Anarchist Gospel

Albums Of The Week: Sunny War | Anarchist Gospel

Raised on rock and punk, and toughened by addiction and street life, the roots artist channels her life experience into the richly grounded songs of her breakthrough LP.


THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “I feel like there are two sides of me,” says singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso Sunny War. “One of them is very self-destructive, and the other is trying to work with that other half to keep things balanced.” That’s the central conflict on Anarchist Gospel, which documents a time when it looked like the self-destructive side might win out. “Everybody is a beast just trying their hardest to be good. That’s what it is to be human. You’re not really good or bad. You’re just trying to stay in the middle of those two things all the time, and you’re probably doing a shitty job of it. That’s ok, because we’re all just monsters.”

As a kid, Sunny War was obsessed with AC/DC and also loved ’80s guitar bands like Mötley Crüe. Later, she was obsessed with Bad Brains, Minutemen and X. She is the rare roots artist who covers Ween and can drop a Crass reference into a song. “I don’t really make music with a traditional roots audience in mind. I like weird music, outsider music, like Daniel Johnston and Roky Erickson,” she says.

Even as Sunny War was developing a guitar style that married acoustic punk to country blues, her two sides were already at odds. As a teenager, she began drinking heavily, which led to her dropping out of school, and quickly becoming addicted to heroin and meth. For money, she busked along the boardwalks of Venice Beach, recording an album to sell out of her guitar case and letting that self-destructive side win most of the battles.

A series of seizures landed her in a sober living facility in Compton, so emaciated that she could only wear children’s pajamas. Music remained a lifeline, and she fell in with a crew at Hen House Studios in Venice, where over the years she made a series of albums and EPs, including 2018’s With the Sun and 2021’s Simple Syrup.

Twelve years after she kicked meth and heroin, Anarchist Gospel documents a moment when Sunny War had finally gained the upper hand on her self-destructive side, only to watch that stability crumble.

After a difficult breakup and her lease in Los Angeles ended, Sunny moved to Nashville, where she was born and lived until she was 12 years old. Among the items she packed were demos for several new songs of heartache and hard-won hope. She booked sessions and captured a raw energy in Anarchist Gospel. As the recording wound down, Sunny received word that her father was in the hospital and wasn’t going to make it. She says, “This album represents such a crazy period in my life, between the breakup and the move to Nashville and my dad dying. But now I feel like the worst parts are over. What I learned, I think, is that the best thing to do is just to feel everything and deal with it. Just feel everything.”

Because it promises not healing but resilience and perseverance, because it doesn’t take anything for granted, Anarchist Gospel holds up under such intense emotional pressure, acknowledging the pain of living while searching for something that lies just beyond ourselves, some sense of balance between the bad and the good.”