I’m a big Suzy Bogguss fan. Have been for a long time. What with her beautiful, pitch-perfect voice, great musicianship, wide variety of songs, and warm, friendly, and funny stage presence, what’s not to like?
When Suzy came to Duluth, Georgia to play at the Red Clay Music Foundry, she was nice enough to take some time to talk with me about her latest album Lucky, the changes she’s seen in the music industry, and her prolific touring schedule.
I am very excited to have Suzy as the first guest at Sitting Down With.
SDW: You funded the promotional cost for Lucky via a Kickstarter program. You exceeded the financial goal you set, so it was clearly a success there. How do you feel using Kickstarter worked for you on this album?
Suzy: It was a big help. It really helped my confidence. You’re actually getting somebody to say, “I trust that you’re going to make a product that I’m going to want.” We had almost a thousand people contribute in thirty days to help us out. I thought it was pretty amazing, and it just made me feel appreciated. Like they wanted me to keep working on stuff. That was awesome.
SDW: Your first albums were released on vinyl. Later albums were primarily CDs and cassettes. You were with Capitol back then so I’m assuming you recorded those albums in a studio and they had their marketing people behind you. Fast-forwarding to Lucky, you and Doug produced it in your own studio. You did the marketing. You did the fundraising. Now downloads are a big part of how it’s being distributed. As a recording artist, what are the advantages and disadvantages of this new music business model?
Suzy: A lot of it is just change. Obviously, when I had a big machine behind me at Capitol Records, it took a lot of hats away from me that I didn’t have to wear. I didn’t have to make all of the decisions. Now we have to make all of the decisions. And we’re also the bank. So that part is harder in some ways because we don’t have the deep well to go that a record company has. So we have to be frugal and mindful of what we’re spending our money on. Sometimes it inhibits the creative process. It can get in the way of time that you would like to be spending being more productive as a creator.
As far as the process for me, I’ve always been a hands-on micro-manager type. I used go in and talk to the art department about what pictures we were using and what the lettering was going to look like, and all those kinds things. So, a lot of that stuff hasn’t changed for me.
Other than maybe two albums that I made, I was really allowed to have carte blanche as far as what songs I wanted to record. I always had the ability to tell them anything I didn’t want to record. There were a couple of records that I did with outside producers that I was more amenable to doing something that they might think would be good for me to do. So now I have, again, full control over anything I do creatively. I really treasure that.
SDW: So you’ve always had a lot of control over which songs you did and did not record?
Suzy: I did. Even what instrumentation was involved in the production, especially when Jimmy Bowen was there and I was doing the albums in the early nineties. He pretty much gave me the reins as far as I wanted to do production-wise.
SDW: I heard you say in another interview that you researched the Merle Haggard songs you used on Lucky. What were you looking for when you did the research and what did you find?
Suzy: Mostly I was trying to sing songs that I felt a connection to. That I was going to be convincing singing. Me singing “Branded Man” or “Mama Tried” would be kind of unbelievable. But then I did try to push it. I wanted to do a little bit more fun and dangerous songs, getting down into the real feelings of the song.
That’s one of things I loved the most about Merle is that he seems to get all the nonsense out of the way and get right down to the nut of what he’s trying to say. The best, purest work he can do and a melody that matches it perfectly. I was just trying to make sure that whatever I was singing I was really conveying it as a story that was coming from me.
SDW: You did an interview with Acoustic Cafe and you said that when you were in high school driving around listening to your Dad’s 8-tracks with your friends that those Merle Haggard songs – and probably some other artists as well – were “a glimpse into the adult life”. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? Did you sit with your friends and say, “Oh my gosh, when we’re adults we’re going to sit in a bar and drink?”
Suzy: When you think about it, when I was young, he was young too. He was a young man who probably had three kids already. At a very young age he was already saddled with a lot of stuff. His songs were a lot of times about hard stuff. It was “is work going okay” so he could pay for shoes and all that stuff. Going to the bar because he’s got a lot of troubles. Usually when you’re in high school, you don’t pick songs about your troubles to listen to. You pick songs about bonfires and typical “bro-country”. So for me that’s what I was thinking about, “Adulthood is going to be hell!”
SDW: That’s an interesting perspective. Like you just mentioned, I was listening to the other end – the songs my parent’s didn’t listen to. I didn’t want to grow up.
Suzy: I think that’s really part of the attitude right now. None of us do. None of us want to have to be in the responsible side of things. It’s more fun to try to remember what it was like to be carefree. It’s hard, what Merle was going through. What he was writing about was what he knew – his family and the hard stuff he had gone through. In my family it was relatable because my dad worked at International Harvester. We had strikes and we had time periods that were kind of lean. He had four kids. We had a small house. They made it all work.
SDW: You’ve been touring a long time. You’ve not only been touring a long time but you tour a lot. Obviously at the start you were trying to have people hear your music. And of course, you’re trying to sell your music. But is there more to it than that? Are there other reasons why it’s so important to you to be in front of live audiences?
Suzy: Definitely. It really does keep me healthy. I think I’m just a ham. It really makes me happy. It’s the thing that I love to do the most – I get a lot out of it. I like the sharing of the material. The travel can be grueling sometimes but the benefits outweigh it. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t making music out live. I like to make music at home but it’s nothing like the way I feel alive when I’m out on the road.
SDW: What is it that you try to accomplish with your music? Is there something you want to do more than just provide entertainment? Do you have other goals in mind?
Suzy: It’s different for different projects. When I did the Swing album with Ray Benson my sole reason was I wanted to sing that music. I wanted it to be happy. There’s not a sad song on there. The only one that even smacks of being sad is very tongue in cheek. I wanted to spend a couple of years going out there and promoting that and making people smile with these songs.
Then I’ve had other times when I felt like I had stuff to say – what I was going through. I would choose material and write material that was more topical, more connected to what was actually going on with me in my evolution
My thanks again to Suzy for talking with me. For more information about Suzy, her tour dates, and her music, go to SuzyBogguss.com.