Writing:RODICA DRAGHINCESCU, France
Translation:ENGLISH: HOWARD SCOTT, Montréal
DEUTSCH: JÖRG BECKEN, Berlin
RD: – Suzy K, artist, musician, folk singer with pop accents, with sprinklings of jazz, composer, stage performer, trilingual, born in Germany, you say in your biography: « I began singing at the age of 4 and I continued my journey with the study of song and classical guitar. »
We are happy to see that your childhood was very joyfully musical. How and in what language did you choose this game of sound among the other games enjoyed by small children?
SK: – Since my family was German, I learned that language first. But I was very early attracted by verbal and musical expression in all its forms. I loved the songs in English that were played on the radio and I imitated as best I could, dying to understand what they were saying.
I talked and sang a lot and whenever I saw a piano somewhere, I could spend hours tickling the ivories, searching for melodies, and every time I would beg my parents to buy me one. One Christmas — I must have been 5 or 6 — I found a little « Bontempi » organ under the tree. Hee, hee, I still remember well the wonderful mega- »rhythm box » with 4 built-in rhythms « waltz, rock, rumba, slow, » which sounded just like the gaudy background sounds of the first video games… Well, okay, it wasn’t a piano, but I was super happy and I had a lot of fun with it. As an only child, I spent quite a lot of time alone in my room and I enjoyed nothing more than sound games, recordings on cassette, and listing and learning the songs I loved.
In elementary school, I learn the scales and the recorder and I never passed up an opportunity to take part in school shows. My aunt would take me to the theatre sometimes and that is how I discovered the great operas, classical concerts, variety shows. I loved the unique atmosphere of concert halls. That impressed me and gave me « the bug. » I felt pleasantly restless and alive without being able to explain the why and the how of my excitement. That feeling hasn’t changed since and I would hardly be able to explain it today. One thing is certain, those first encounters with the world of music and live shows were decisive for me and called for encores, again, again and again.
After giving me a pile of cassettes with all the great works of classical music — audio cassettes, of course, this was in the seventies (!) — that same aunt, who was also my godmother, gave me a BEATLES cassette and a JOAN BAEZ cassette, I must have been 7 or 8; and that really triggered something… I listened to the tracks over and over again, I always had my English dictionary beside me and I began making myself guitars with anything I found around the house. Then, there was my grandfather who had spotted and followed my desperate passion for music, who gave me my first guitar, my first « real » musical instrument; I was 9 years old. What joy… I began to take classical guitar lessons at the conservatory and learn my folk songs alone in my bedroom; then the first composition, the first group, the first concert came….
To come back to trilinguism, the practice of English came later in my adolescence with encounters with anglophones, then in the early nineties, my life shifted completely to France. But, although I speak French every day, the English language, its sounds, its musicality remain inseparably linked to the music and artists I love….
RD: – Very quickly you collected and interpreted the titles of your many anglophone idols and you fell in love with the folk, pop and rock repertoire of the seventies. Pop music is connected to mysticism, the musicians were connected by a magic thread with the cosmos and the osmoses of human nature, the singers became carriers of messages, messages of peace and love: « And the time will come / When you see we’re all one / And life flows on within you and without you » sung by the Beatles (« Within You Without You » by George Harrison, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). The music of the seventies produced a « counterculture » movement, with Santana, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Doors, The Byrds, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and last but not least, Janis Joplin. This period also gave us, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, author/poets, in troubled times, who marked the artists and creators that followed. Are there any echoes or influences in your songs from that musical culture that nurtured you in childhood?
SK: – Yes, of course, I think that’s absolutely inevitable, and that’s a good thing!
As you say so well, there are still many « echoes » of what has gone before. We are all products of our past, of our experience, of our choices and of our affinities. « You are what you eat » and that isn’t limited to food for the body. Everything we do enters us in the course of our lives, through our mouths, our eyes, our ears, through all our senses, changes us, leaves traces and influences our journey and our future. And there is no point in trying to deny your past or your roots. It is true that, already when I was little, so-called « protest singers » always impressed me more than the Ken & Barbie style glamourous starlets who were also seen in the media of the seventies. War, for example, was for me a big subject when I was small; my grandparents talked to me often about it, I understood that they suffered a lot and I could see clearly that the violence was still present. On TV they were talking about assassinations by the RAF that was spreading its terror in Germany during that period. And it was Joan Baez who consoled me… and many others too. You actually cited most of them! They were the one whose depth of emotion in a sung story gave me shivers. The fact that I wanted at all cost to learn English very young was because that language was for me like a magic key, capable of opening for me the mysterious door to another world that was calling out to me, which had so many stories to tell me so many messages to deliver. I still remember today images, entire landscapes that songs such as « The Fool on the Hill » (BEATLES), « Boat on the River » (STYX), « Dust in the Wind » (KANSAS) « Where Have All the Flowers Gone » (J. BAEZ) created in my little head. It was like a parallel world in which it felt good to take refuge and feel less alone. Then with the conflicts of puberty, saturated guitars and rock music came into my childhood bedroom. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Yes, Janis Joplin, Thin Lizzy, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts… With them was born my love for rock, which guided me for a dozen years in my musical journey before I decided to devote myself once again more to acoustic, more intimate songs. My great goddess of that period was Tori Amos, a very beautiful artist, honest, genuine, sincere, a magnificent pianist and composer, for whom I feel infinite devotion.
But also Carole King, Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Noa and a lot of other singers (writers!) who have been with me and are still with me.
Finally, musical styles, « genres, » inspirations came one after the other. They follow each other naturally in the life of every musician, I believe. Jazz came into my life rather late, and once again, I fell in love with a sound, the beauty of the words and the melody of certain old themes, the more than difficult background of black musicians and women of that period and the density of the hidden messages. Billie, Ella, queens… For me, music has to be sincere, honest, authentic and not devoid of meaning. Whether it’s pop, rock, folk or jazz, there has to be heart and generosity, emotion, it has to be quite simply « real. »
I have no idea at what moment in which of my titles you could hear such and such an influence. At the moment of creation, I just tried to be as close as possible to my subject, to the message, to the emotion that I wanted to bring across and I let the music come to me. On the other hand, it is very exciting and at times also very surprising to learn the associations of people listening to the song after …
RD: – They say that musicians, like poets, almost never suffer a crisis of inspiration… Where do you get your inspiration, Suzy? From a certain melancholy? From a deep feeling of anger? From love? From our economic problems? Or simply from the need to sing?
SK: – Oh, yeah, is that what they say?
RD: – Symbolically, they are enveloped, permanently, in a poetic state, in a kind of « state of grace, » in short, in an inner music, which protects them, which makes them at any moment « able to…. »
SK: – I’m surprised. I don’t know many artists who are never afraid of or even suffer from a crisis of lack of inspiration. For me, it’s like a big, black monster hidden in the corner of a room that sometimes appears and inhibits me completely from creation. But I’m beginning to accept its presence, those empty moments, those hollow phases. Those are natural cycles between « what comes in » and « what goes out. » You eat, you swallow, you digest, you free. And between artistic inspiration and its expiration all kinds of things can happen and a lot of time can pass.
A song takes shape, is captured and « materializes » more or less easily, and then it is written, it comes out, it exists. But why it comes, where it comes from and when, how long it requires to « materialize »… who can say? Maybe there are certain states of mind and openings of the spirit that call it and capture it at the right time at the right frequency… a mystery that I wouldn’t know how to answer.
One thing for sure, it feels good! To express a feeling by living it completely in a song is a pleasure, a deliverance for the person who plays it and — at best — also for the one who listens to it. It can be anger, love, all the colours of the palette of our states of mind are sung, played and expressed. Oddly enough, it’s easier to write when you have the blues than when you’re happy… many songwriters say that. In fact, that’s the subject of my song « When Everything Is Fine. » Why is it harder to write a song in happiness and why do we really realize what is close and precious to us only when distance grows, when loss comes and when grief is unavoidable?
RD: – In your songs, do you ask yourself about what the world needs to listen to?
SK: – Certainly. There is another song in my album that talks about the writing process; in « One More Song » I ask (myself) the question, if this world really needs another song to get by, to get better and I come to the conclusion that any song, even though it exists only to please, relieve or console one, two or three individuals by connecting them with their deep feelings, is worthwhile.
RD: – Suzy, is music a man’s game? Is it simple or complicated, being a woman and a singer, to clear yourself a wide musical path?
SK: – The business of music has long been a man’s game, that’s true, and it still is a little too much in my opinion. Likewise for most positions of responsibility in the music business and in culture in general.
But in music, in art in general, everyone knows, we can’t do without women or men. It’s obvious that both are needed to make a whole.
Unlike the worlds of the music business, I have never felt misunderstood in the world of artists.
RD: – No differences…?
SK: – Man or woman, if you love artistic expression, there is no gender difference; if you do your work well and if you respect the work of others, you have your place. In fact, I know lots of women artists and also women stage technicians, producers, camera operators who work in a world of men but are completely integrated.
It’s clear that you have to like to work with men and perhaps, a little dose of « masculinity » doesn’t hurt in this profession. In any case, I’ve never had the impression of NOT being able to do something BECAUSE I was a woman.
RD: – There are perhaps inherent difficulties…
SK: – There is perhaps a difficulty that men don’t have — and it’s the same for any other profession — becoming a parent demands and will always demand (as liberated as we are) a greater physical and mental availability for women.
Going on stage evenings, nights, weekends, during the holidays… it’s hard to combine that with a quiet family life. You have to make choices that your male colleagues maybe don’t have to make in the same way, but as I said, that goes for a lot of other professions.
RD: – Women have been able to impose their boundless energy in the music of the world. Rock, pop or punk ladies have emancipated, liberated and transformed the musical tastes of women. Let’s not forget Janis Joplin, emblem of the hippie generation, then with more of a blues voice, Patti Smith who stirred together in the crucible of her creations, Beat poetry and garage rock. She is considered to be the godmother of the punk movement.
The British singer Marianne Faithfull, with her tradi songs, even collaborated with the Stones, who wrote « As Tears Go By » for her.
The beautiful American Deborah Harry who founded, in a more disco style, the group Blondie. In our Europe, the raspy-voiced Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler would sing in the eighties for whole generations… Annie Lennox, and the eclectic, idiosyncratic British singer Kate Bush, who recently returned to the stage.
Another more underground figure, the brunette Siouxsie, who looks like a sad androgyne, cofounded the alternative rock groups Siouxsie and the Banchees and The Creatures. She influenced the groups The Cure, Massive Attack and Garbage… The Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor revealed herself to the public as something between alternative rock and pop. The Icelandic revolutionary Björk goes on the big stage with underground pop, experimental pop and electro-pop-jazz.
The astonishing German singer and actress Nina Hagen made her mark on the punk and new wave stage, in the same period.
We should also remember Sheryl Crow, a rocker who swings between blues and folk, and the sensual Nigerian, a naturalized British citizen, Sade, as well as the American group The Breeders, which is almost exclusively made up of girls, the Canadian Alanis Morissette to whom, if you permit me to say, is like you in many respects, the French singer Catherine Ringer and Rita Mitsouko, the great Sophie, Mademoiselle K, etc., etc.
And we could go very, very far with this… Suzy, tell me, please, how can people still in the twenty-first century find their voices and their places as musicians, after such musical storms? Can we still work using the treble clef, the staff, to cultivate new heights, duration, degrees, frequencies, levels, scales?
SK: – A little philosophy in answer: We are all unique!
RD: – Oh!…, really?
SK: – Even twins are not 100% identical, nature really seems to want it that way.
Billions of snowflakes fall on the Earth and yet, each little crystal is different, unique in its construction. The basic material is the same for all of them: H2O.
It is indeed incredible what you can do with the 12 notes of a scale, all those billions of songs that have already been « composed » in billions of different ways, sung by the most beautiful voices, the most beautiful women…
Of course, if we consider music as the grand prix of inventions, we should indeed give up hope…
But it is not a question of trying to invent or to reinvent oneself, but to accept as best you can what you are and what you feel! It’s the only way you can be really « unique, » by expressing yourself honestly.
And that yearning to express oneself is and will remain an inner, primary need for humans.
As long as there are human beings, there will be music, there will be that need for physical and mental expression, for play and sound. And it’s because it’s a primary need for humans that we do it so well, that music continues to exist. Just like other pleasures of the body and soul without which humanity would have ceased to exist a long time ago…
RD: – You sing in several languages. Can a language bring success to a song, to a singer?
SK: – I’d like to answer your question by saying that I instead have the impression that a language can hinder the success of a singer according to where that singer is. Singing almost exclusively in English in France has certainly not made my career easier and has more often closed doors than the other way around, in particular in the business world and the media.
RD: – I can imagine … I’ve felt it on my own skin, my poet’s skin…
SK: – This restriction came first of all from the French, and now also comes from the Germans, who are proud (quite rightly!) of their new wave of German-language music. But that doesn’t affect me, I’m not going to change just for that. If one day a song comes to me in French or in German and I feel right with it, well, O.K., but I wouldn’t force myself just to satisfy a fashion or a trend.
So far, I’ve never felt good singing in French or German — for me, there isn’t the same intensity, the same pleasure, the same sound, the same love story, the same experience…
On the other hand, it’s really too bad if the content of my words doesn’t reach the listener directly and that’s also the reason why the Digipack of my album is accompanied by a 24-page booklet with the words in English as well as their translations in French and German.
But basically, to be frank, I find it really extremely regrettable to live in Europe and to feel such a linguistic restriction… We have been extremely lucky to be able to change countries, cultures, languages almost every 1000 km, we talk about an economic Europe and yet we’re not able to create a cultural Europe, not able to simply dialogue with our neighbours.
RD: – What is your public like? What does it expect from you?
SK: – Frankly? I don’t really know how to answer you …
RD: – Talk to us about the people who are listening to you and who support you, since they love your voice…
SK: – I can’t really define « my » public… there are young people, old people, old fans, new fans, people close to me and people unknown to me, women, men, children, fans of acoustic music, blues, folk, jazz, a little melancholy perhaps, sensitive certainly…
RD: – What do you expect from them?
SK: – I try to expect nothing from anyone — which is not easy — but I try.
Which does not prevent me from being very happy and grateful for any feedback that comes to me. I’m very interested in any reaction. I was talking with a musician friend the other day about the question of « gratitude » and « feedback » and he said to me, « When you play for people, it’s a gift you’re giving them. It’s normal that you want to know whether or not it gives them pleasure. »
RD: – You recently recorded a new album, Heavy Things & Peaceful Waters, and good things have been said about it. Tell us, please, something about the artistic laboratory from which those beautiful compositions came into the world, and in particular, enlighten us a bit on the meaning of the title.
SK: – I’ll begin with the title, which is also the title of the first song of the album. When I started writing it, there was the image of a stone that falls in the water, in still water, breaking its beautiful mirror, disturbing it, troubling it for a little moment before settling to the bottom, to stay there in the darkness. While above the stone, the surface of the water becomes smooth again and everything seems to be quiet, as before. Something very profound, however, has « fundamentally » changed…
For me, this phenomenon « reflects » very well what’s happening with us deep inside, in our sentimental water, in our « soul waves » that operate in the total darkness and that are so often hidden by the superficial image that we have of ourselves and which unfortunately is often only a mirror of the outside world and not of our true being.
I live close to the water and I’m always seeking its proximity. Whether rivers, ponds or sea, I love the mystery of the water and what is hidden beneath its surface, its softness, its noises, its intensity when it rages.
On the basis of these elements and my natural environment, my garden on the banks of the Sarre, another common thread that has slipped « naturally » into the picture: change.
RD: – The Metamorphoses…, as the Latin poet Ovid would have proposed.
SK: – The cyclical and perpetual changes of life, the passing seasons (PEACH TREE), the times that change and that change us (WILD HORSE, WHO’S WRONG), the experience of heavy, dark and painful things (COFFIN DRUMMIN’, TACKY OLD MAN), the comings and goings of souls on earth (RING RANG RUNG), then peaceful moments (SIT DOWN AND WAIT), luminous, light moments (RIGHT INTO MY EYES).
RD: – And how your CD developed, its creative stages?
SK: – In terms of the laboratory of the CD, I had first of all arranged my pieces alone and then demoed them on the computer.
I shut myself up for several weeks in my music room and I looked for the bass lines, the drum and percussion patterns, flute lines, string lines, I recorded sound effects, added choir voices and then I went to see my friend Jean-Pascal Boffo, guitarist, composer and sound engineer at Studio Amper in Clouange, to get his opinion.
RD: – Ah, the extraordinary Jean-Pascal Boffo.
SK: – He knew my pieces in the guitar/song versions because he had already done the sound for solo concerts and we’ve known each other (already) for about twenty years. When he heard my demos, he then proposed to me a collaboration for the production of an album and connected me with all kinds of musicians who he thought would be right in that musical context. My string arrangements, for example, were completely reworked by Romain Frati, a musician/composer from Metz who is now in Montreal.
We communicated and worked through the Internet on the arrangements of three songs and he did remarkable work. There are other musicians who Jean-Pascal recommended to me, such as Hervé Rouyer (drums) and Sarah Tanguy (cello), and with some of them, I met them in the studio only on the day of the recording; for example, Laurent Payfert (double bass), Pierre Cocq-Amann (saxophones/flutes), Romain Bour (electric bass) and Marie Charlotte Bruere (violin/viola).
The magic worked right away and today, Laurent and Pierre, for example, are also part of my live formula. There are also a few musicians who are close friends who took part in the recording, such as David Metzner (drums/percussion) and also a member of the live group, Joe Nicolaus (pianist from a previous shared project) and also my husband Marc Loescher (guitarist for Suzy & The Beavers).
Each one found his or her place and the corresponding piece, and in spite of the multitude of instrumentalists, the album remains homogeneous to the extent that none of my compositions was really changed but rather interpreted with care and « feeling » by experienced, talented and adorable musicians!
Jean-Pascal played the acoustic guitar parts and worked the console during the entire production.
We collaborated very harmoniously throughout the takes and mixing, and we entrusted the work of mastering in May 2014 to Raphael Jonin (Paris).
RD: – And the chronology of the adventure?
SK: – With respect to the chronology of the adventure, the recording sessions began with the reference tracks in September 2013 with Manu D’Andréa at the console for Jean-Pascal’s takes. The following months, we squeezed in the other sessions from time to time and in February 2014, when the album was quite well advanced, launched a funding appeal through the KISSKISSBANKBANK platform. I was able to collect a budget of 4650 €, and I received valuable support from Denis Meyer (DM Productions/MAYA Records) to finalize the production and the pressing of the album.
Fred Kempf (FK Webdesign) took care of the visual production of the Digipack and the booklet with a lot of taste and sensitivity, MUSEA Records came onboard our musical ship for distribution, and finally the album came out according to schedule in June 2014, followed by concerts in a quintet with Jean-Pascal, Laurent, Pierre and David.
Last edited: 10/03/2015