Great to have you here in KellysCountry. I’ve been promoting your gigs for a few years but this is our first opportunity to visit. Thank you for joining me today!
1 - Before we talk about HARD STUFF, let’s back up a bit to your mega-hit, Wide Open Spaces. We all need that at some point in our life. What was the biggest door, physically or metaphorically, that song opened for you?
Thanks for asking! Of course, having a song that ‘performs’ like Wide Open Spaces did (Thank you, Dixie Chicks!!) opens a lot of doors. It’s really great to have a #1 song on your resume as a songwriter and it’s really fun cashing the checks. Having an income stream from the Chicks performance of WOS means that I can afford to go to places where I haven’t been and try to find my tribe. I think the biggest door, looking back, is hearing myself sing “She needs room to make her big mistakes” about 4 times a week. I make them all the time. I’m a little gentler on myself when I do. To me, that line is permission to try, to fail and to try again.
2 - Eight years is a stretch between projects. I also know great things come from small steps. Can you take us to the beginning of where this album originated?
Well, this album originated from the idea that I realized “Eight years!! I haven’t made a full length studio record in 8 years?!?!” I play live a lot and was getting that question more and more~’when are you going to make another record?” Even though I put out a Live record in 2014 and an EP in 2016, I guess those didn’t count :)
3 - I read that this album is not autobiographical. That said, isn’t there an undercurrent connecting events in your own life that sparked each of the tracks?
Well, it is and it isn’t. I can definitely see myself in all the songs~some more than others. Some of the songs came out of a writing group where we would get a prompt and have to turn in a song at the end of the week and the challenge was to figure out how to write that to that prompt in a way that I cared about it. “ Looking For a Fight” and “Diagnostic Heart” were like that. Then there are other songs that are more like what I have written in the past. The kind of, “OUCH! That hurts~ I better let the light shine on it so it can heal” approach. “Antiques” and “8x10” are more like that.
4 - While there’s an almost melancholy tone to the album, you’ve pulled in instruments/ tempos that create almost a 1920s vibe (I heard this especially prominent in The Big Game). Who were/ are your musical influences.
The biggest musical influence on this album is the producer, Andre Moran (also the clarinet player)~ I handed him the songs in their most raw form (iPhone recordings of me on my porch with guitar) and said “What do you hear on these?” He made all the good choices on instrumentation and arrangement.
5 - One of the things I look for in an artist is ‘their voice’. So many songs at the radio today are hard to differentiate one artist from another. For you, (and in my opinion Texas music in general) that isn’t the case. You don’t sound like Terri Hendrix and she doesn’t sound like you or Jana Pochop. Lloyd Mains termed your sound a ‘Susan Sound’. Where do you feel your ‘voice’ comes from and has it evolved through the course of your career?
Once, I was making excuses for my below average banjo playing and Mark Addison (great musician and producer who is on my list to work with) said our style is determined as much by our limitations as it is by our strengths. My singing style was forged in a 2 pack a day crucible and now that I don’t smoke anymore, my range is opened up a little, how long I can hold notes etc. But I feel like my songwriting style grew out of having a smoker’s voice. I don’t particularly have these real sweeping and dramatic melodies. I was writing for myself to sing~ I want it to be more conversational. So the notes are shorter~ more attached to the cadence of how you would just say it.
6 - Literally, for generations, Texas has produced some of the greatest songwriters of our time… and continues to do so. What do you feel is the key ingredient?
Just one key ingredient? I don’t know~ maybe the way Texans enjoy telling and hearing good stories. Music is totally part of the fabric of life in Texas. We get to see people play music a lot. People bring their kids out to shows. They might see someone who is great or even not great and think, “I could do that”. I also think that the independent scene in Texas makes a lot of space for people to do it. You don’t have to wait to get a deal to play. You get a little gig, a couple fans. You can build momentum. You are allowed to get better in public. The fans are supportive and forgiving. That’s way more than one ingredient. But still simple~ like a good guacamole.
7 - On your site, you mention about ‘The best you can do is take each hit as it comes, get back up again, and try to find your wits and center of gravity before the next wallop lands.’ You’ve taken some wallops. What gets you back up and on track again?
The fact that it hurts more to stay down than to get back up.
8- The Hard Stuff criss-crosses over a variety of experiences, all intersecting at crucial points. What is the one singular message you want listeners to come away with?
I guess I would say the main theme is kind of a familiar saying~ Life: Pain is mandatory, Suffering is optional. There is Hard Stuff running all through our human experiences. You can’t avoid it. You can experience it, learn from it, grow from it, let it change you or don’t let it change you and learn the same lesson over and over (I do that sometimes). Every Hard Stuff I’ve ever had has had a gift right in the middle of it.
You can catch up with Susan via the following links:
THE HARD STUFF releases October 4, 2019.
You can check out Susan's music at these locations: