Sunny War could easily have been one of those tragic stories that outnumber rags-to-riches tales in Los Angeles by 1,000 to 1: A teenage dropout whose drinking led to addiction to heroin and meth; an artist who’s squatted, lived out of her van and subsisted by busking in Venice Beach; a woman who ended up in a sober living facility after a bout of seizures.
An unyielding love of music — not to mention a fighting spirit that permeates her work — has brought War to where she is now, just signed to New West Records, with a new album, “Anarchist Gospel,” due on Feb. 3.
A gifted singer-songwriter and a formidable guitarist whose talents have been championed for more than a decade, War (born Sydney Lyndella Ward) has released four albums, a couple of EPs and some notable collaborations, including as one-half of Particle War (with Micah Nelson, aka Particle Kid) and War & Pierce (with Chris Pierce). From punk to blues to gospel to folk, War has always been a musical sponge, and her new album reflects that stylistic breadth.
“Anarchist Gospel” was made in Nashville, the city of her birth and also her new home, the songwriter having decamped there from L.A. after a breakup and the expiration of her lease. It was produced by Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff) and features appearances by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Allison Russell, David Rawlings, Jack Lawrence of the Raconteurs and Micah Nelson (Particle Kid), among others.
“No Reason” is the first single — a song that “is about the internal struggle that all people face just trying to be the best version of themselves. And the guilt that you feel when you’re not being the best version of yourself.” Joshua Britt and Neilson Hubbard directed the video.
“I feel like there are two sides of me,” War says of the album. “One of them is very self-destructive, and the other is trying to work with that other half to keep things balanced. … 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.”
||| Watch: The video for “No Reason”