Brassy, sassy Bobcat: Sunny Sweeney goes from PR degree to country performer

Sunny Sweeney sitting outside
Sunny Sweeney earned her degree in public relations, but found her career as a singer/songwriter.

Brassy, sassy Bobcat

By John Goodspeed

Sunny Sweeney goes from PR degree to country performer

A public relations degree was Sunny Sweeney’s only goal at Texas State University, but a chance encounter there helped set the stage for becoming a country music star.

On one of the first days of school she was sitting with some other female students when a guy slid in beside them." He said his name was Randy Rogers and that he had a gig that night . He asked us to come," Sweeney recalls. "We were like, eww, no!

"But of course we went. We’ve been friends ever since."

Rogers, who like Sweeney graduated in 2001, went on to be one of the hottest stars on the Texas Music scene. Recently honored by the university as a Young Alumni Rising Star, Rogers tours coast to coast with his brand of rocking country. Sweeney eventually opened for Rogers’ gigs, and he introduced her not only to his audiences, but also to other popular artists such as Kevin Fowler.

"I never had a clue while at Texas State that I would go into music," says Sweeney, whose PR studies still enhances her career today. But did know I did not want to get a desk job because I’m too free-spirited."

A week after graduation, she began as an artist liaison at Lone Star Music, an online retailer, and began going to gigs as part of her duties. " Before that, I didn’t understand that you could do music for a living. Then it dawned on me — that guy on stage is getting paid to do this," Sweeney says. "I thought, I can totally do that. I challenged myself to do it and never looked back."

During her middle school years in Longview, Sweeney’s father offered to teach her how to play guitar. She declined, thinking it was boring. After graduating from Texas State, she surprised her father by taking him up on the lessons. She learned three chords and embarked on a career that began in small clubs around Austin, evolved into tours on the Texas Music circuit and beyond, and led to her a debut album in 2007 with Nashville’s Big Machine Records, Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame. Her brassy, sassy, no-holds-barred approach to her songs garnered a nomination that year for new and emerging artist at the Americana Music Awards.

Sweeney’s second album in 2011, Republic Nashville’s Concrete, featured the song “From a Table Away,” which hit No. 10 on Billboard’s country chart. The Academy of Country Music nominated her for top female artist in 2013.

Provoked, on the independent label ThirtyTigers, followed in 2014 along with the single “Bad Girl Phase,” which made Sweeney the first female artist in a decade to score a No. 1 on the Texas Music
Chart. Her next single, “My Bed,” also topped the chart.

Last spring she released Trophy, the first album where she tells her story in 10 songs that straddle hard country and Americana with lyrics that reveal whiskey-drenched, unapologetic honesty with a tender vulnerability. Trophy made a number of lists for best albums of 2017. “This record is focusing on the song more than my others, kind of telling the story of where I am in life,” she says. “Divorced and happily remarried, I don’t have anything to complain about. So what do I write about if I’m happy?

“I found quirky things that people can relate to.”

Sweeney took an indirect route before finding Texas State. After a year at The University of Texas at Austin and a stint in New York doing improv, she wanted to attend a smaller school. She picked Texas State because of its mass communication, journalism, and public relations program.

“I definitely used things I learned in college the first five or six years in the music business,” Sweeney says. “I did my own PR and press releases, my own booking, and everything.

“Now I have a booking agent and publicist, and I work closely with my publicist on ideas to make sure we cover all the bases.”

She also encourages potential students to check out Texas State and even talked one of her cousins into attending. “I loved going to school there because it has such a nice, family atmosphere. I was
so sad when I graduated and had to leave,” Sweeney says. “But I still  use what I learned getting my PR degree at Texas State.

“I publicly relate to people every night at my shows.”