Review Fix chats with singer/songwriter Oh Susanna, who discusses her new album, “Sleepy Little Sailor.”
Review Fix: How did you first get involved in music?
Oh Susanna: The first time I ever sang onstage was when I was 22 years old at coffee house type show that my college hosted in the early 90s. It was a night kind of like at summer camp where people did skits, told jokes or showed off their hidden talent of playing the autoharp. I had wanted to be a rock singer from a young age but had buried that dream when I went to high school due to cowardice and lack of confidence. I had only really started playing guitar and singing after I had left home to go to school in Montreal. When I heard that my little liberal arts college was hosting this night of fun, I knew this was a chance to sing in front of people. So I recruited a friend of mine to play lead guitar and I played rhythm, I donned a cowboy hat and a fake southern accent and said my name was Suzie Cowpie and that I was on tour, passing through on my way to Thunder Bay, Ontario. I sang “Dead Flowers” by the Rolling Stones, “In Care of the Blues” by Patsy Cline and “Smoked Meat Blues” an original song I wrote about the need for the Montreal delicacy of smoked meat in the middle of the night (of course full of double entendres). I was so scared but managed to pull it off and everyone freaked out about it. So I finally felt like a Rockstar even though there were only about 30 people there. After that it still took me several years to perform in a serious way with no hat or fake southern accent.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
Oh Susanna: My creative process is usually pretty solitary and it requires going to a very internal almost silent place. Then I can write lyrics or pick out melodies on the guitar. I start listening closely to what I hear in the melody and images emerge. I also sometimes have a story that is gnawing at me to be in a song and that can sit there for many months or years and then finally I might try to match it to some music. If I write with other people it usually is separately, where they send me something and then I work on it and send it back. I like to do a lot of visualization when it comes to lyrics and also play with language. The act of writing usually brings up phrases or images that would not always emerge unless I start to write. I also come from a family that loves stories and prizes the art of telling a good story. So storytelling is something I have been listening to my whole life. It also helps to be curious about people and their stories and to be able to listen and understand how people think and feel.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
Oh Susanna: I love understanding how something came to be or where someone began and how they got somewhere, the steps that led someone to be where they are in life. Nature also is a big inspiration as well, landscapes imagined or witnessed. Smells. Photographs. Films.
Review Fix: What does music mean to you?
Oh Susanna: Music can mean so many things to me at different times. However one constant thing about music is that it conjures up feelings and stories and this helps me to live life either by deriving joy, reflection, excitement, introspection or movement. It is an auditory form that creates such powerful feelings and moods and pictures in our minds.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
Oh Susanna: Dreamy, contemplative and introspective. Emotional.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
Oh Susanna: I tell a lot of stories at my live shows which give people more insight into the songs and into my personality. On an album, I wish someone to get lost in the songs and not really think about me performing. I just want them to absorb the feelings and the landscape that is created. At a live show there is more of a conversation where I am sharing my thoughts and stories in between the stories told by the songs. Also when I play live, I am often playing as a duo or solo so my voice is the central feature with barebones accompaniment.
Review Fix: What are your goals for the rest of 2020?
Oh Susanna: I am just finishing up a new album with Jim Bryson as producer. I also wrote a rough draft of a script based on my A Girl in Teen City album and I might revisit that and polish it up a bit. I also want to keep writing and playing of course. The new record should be out next Spring 2021.
Review Fix: What’s next for you?
Oh Susanna: I am doing a monthly Campfire & Cocktails show livestreamed to facebook from my garden. My bandmates and I play together outside, trading songs, mix up drinks and roast marshmallows. I really want folks watching to feel like they are hanging out at a little party with us. We feature a cocktail and want people to make it and drink it while they are watching. The next one is Sept 19th.
I am also going to be doing a live podcast on YouTube focussed on the making of Sleepy Little Sailor. I will have a conversation with each of the band members who made the album with me. So I will get to talk to Colin Cripps (producer), Luke Doucet (guitar), Bazil Donovan (bass), Joel Anderson (drums) and Bob Packwood (keys). I really want to ask them about the making of the album, what they remember, what was it like from their perspective, what was unique about it. These will be weekly on Wednesdays starting Sept 23.