Though singer-songwriter Sunny Ozell was raised in Reno, Nevada, the 37-year-old vocalist (and Suzuki-trained violinist) has called New York City home for over a decade, grooming a soulful, urban sensibility (not to mention wardrobe) along the way to prove it.
Ozell’s style takes its cues from a range of influences—from the piano-driven, lounge ballads of Leon Russell, Tom Waits, and Randy Newman, to the dust-caked twang of Hank Williams—a sultry sound that culminates on her latest album, Take It With Me, due out April 1st.
In this combination Icebreaker interview and exclusive video premiere of “Number One,” we caught up with the artist (who also happens to be married to the actor Patrick Stewart) during a break in a hopefully-not-bedbug-infested hotel in San Francisco. Befitting her name, Sunny shared illuminating ideas about the new album, her childhood inspirations, and a very practical trench coat.
Hello! Please introduce yourself.
I am Sunny Ozell, a musician raised in the wilds of Nevada who has lived in NYC for over twelve years which officially allows me to call myself a “New Yorker.”
Where are you right now?
I’m in a rather skeevy but sufficiently clean hotel in the Union Square area of San Francisco. I know it’s sufficiently clean because I tore apart the bed to check for bed bugs because I’m a paranoid freak.
Please name your fellow band members and their roles. Oh, and who has the best dance moves?
Andy Hess: bassist; Ethan Eubanks: drummer; Andrew Sherman: keys; Rich Hinman: guitar. While I haven’t seen everyone genuinely dancing, I will say that Hess has this cute little happy dance he does when something is funny or funky. And it’s cute because he’s tall as f***.
How did you first meet, and where exactly did you become a band?
We’ve all known each other in all sorts of projects, but in actuality we’re all “solo artists” that have come together deliberately to make music together.
Tell us about your new project: Who did you work with? Where was it recorded? What’s it about? Is there candy?
There is no candy, because we’re all old and old people don’t get candy. That said, we’ve replaced candy with Jameson. So there. We recorded the album at the marvelous Grand Street Studio in Brooklyn, NY. The core group of players (Ethan Eubanks, Andy Hess, Andrew Sherman, and Aaron Lee Tasjan) all played a good deal of live shows together, and we wanted to capture that experience as authentically as possible on the recording.
How do you describe your music to new friends?
Americana Soul. Groove-based music with a touch of twang.
Other than being the “Biggest Little City,” what should Reno be known for?
The classic car show “Hot August Nights” is incredible, as is Golden Flower, a bangin’ Vietnamese restaurant. Reno also has remarkable lightning storms from time to time.
Please look around you right now and describe the first item or person you see that’s significant to you, and that your relationship with it/them.
My army green Burberry trench is lying on my bed-bug free hotel bed. I bought it about two years ago, and it’s indestructible and ever so reliably chic. I can layer underneath it, it’s relatively waterproof, and if I need to look pulled together in a pinch on the road, it totally does the job. It also folds up into a half-decent pillow on a plane. It was predictably expensive, but I have a dear, quite dapper friend who says “buy cheap, buy twice” and he’s absolutely right.
What first inspired you to pursue music? If it was a musician or a specific piece of music, please tell us all about why you find it so inspirational.
I got started in music at such a young age (violin, four years old) that I don’t really remember the “time before.” My parents always had music on at home, and I was always, always singing along. But the record that blew my mind, the one that did something NEW to me, was Paul Simon’s Rhythm Of The Saints. I bought that album, and poured over the liner notes,intent on learning all I could about the instruments, the personnel, the lyrics. That was the record that set me on my current path, whatever it is.
What’s the best advice anyone has given you about pursuing a life in music?
Do it for the love and nothing else.
Not including your current crew, who (alive or dead) would you love to have in your van for an all day drive from gig to gig?
To be perfectly honest, I can’t say there’s anything about our current “van experience” I’d like to change. We spend soooo much time laughing and s*** talking, and I can’t imagine it getting any better than it already is.
What song best sums up your life right now?
“Runnin’ On Empty.”
What is the best reaction to your music you have experienced so far?
I love it when people decide they have to dance.
Take a moment to dream. Where do hope to be a year from now?
Touring, just as we are now, but supporting our next record.
What’s your next step towards that dream?
We’ll be writing the new record this summer!