Sonny Winnebago is the stage name for a self-styled troubadour. He might not be an actual medieval French troubadour, but I could definitely imagine his new single, ‘Little Sun‘ (and first release with label, Phwoar & Peace) being performed by a roaming bard in a field somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It’s clever and delightful and cheerfully nihilistic—a perfectly constructed piece of indie folk.
Winnebago has a lovely voice, simultaneously ’60s bubblegum and contemporary indie folk. Also, he fingerpicks guitar, which both elevates his technical skill above generic singer-songwriter and recalls the fingerstyle folk music of yesteryear. Humming bass, tappy percussion, and warm winds round out the instrumentals on this track. The effect is just this side of spangly, not as painfully cheerful as ’60s sunshine pop, but full of genuine, well-rounded optimism.
In a live performance of ‘Little Sun’ from last year, he described it being about how “the grass isn’t always greener [on the other side].” The narrator tries to imagine different lives for himself, but always finds issues with them—the city has even bigger walls than the small town in which he’d lived, and he can’t be a gardener because he’s never planted seeds.
At first, the lyrics seem less superficially cheerful than the instrumentals, but bits like, “Though little fight is in my bones/ We should never have to stand alone/ Some people care and some people don’t,” create a dissonant optimism that’s in hope, if not in reality. We can see the potential for good, even when we can’t experience it, and that’s a good unto itself. Despite Winnebago’s cynical summary of the lyrics, and the cynicism of the lyrics themselves, there’s still hope that there’s a better world out there, and it’s worth living here and now for. The narrator is brutally honest, but that doesn’t mean he can’t love what’s worth loving.
As with the music of a troubadour, or even the broader historical tradition of oral poetry, the instrumentals and lyrics form a cohesive unit. Winnebago isn’t shy about displaying his skill, but it seems that to him the technical aspects are simply for conveying the mood and much less for showing off. The song is the real creation; Sonny Winnebago, the troubadour, just performs it.
‘Little Sun’ is out now on Phwoar & Peace – available to Stream/Purchase here.