Susannah B got carried away by acting and music due to the fact she grew up in an artistic environment. Nowadays, she’s promoting her new album called ‘Far More’, which I reviewed last month. Well, this interview not only provides information about her latest project. Beyond that, she expands on her beginnings and her identity as a singer/songwriter. Happy reading!
1 – Hey Susannah, thanks for taking time out to have a chat with us. What have you been up to in the first days of 2018?
Well, first I was on vacation with family & friends in Hawaii for New Year’s Eve & the first week of January — and that was just amazing, such a blessing. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to go there. My husband and son and I brought our godson and my son’s friend, and then we met up with some beloved friends who we don’t get to see too often. We were a group of 10 and we had a really relaxing, fun time in a beautiful setting. My favorite thing to do on vacation is playing tennis in the morning (I LOVE tennis!), then spend the rest of the day by the pool and the ocean, reading books on my Kindle and sipping on a Pina Colada. One day, everyone in our group went zip-lining while I spent the whole day alone just listening to music on my headphones and reading over my journal from 2017. It was so luxurious. I swam and lay around (always in the shade of an umbrella, I do not tan!) and thought a lot about what I want to create going forward in the new year. I’m really feeling excited about 2018.
Since I got back from vacation, I’ve been working to promote my EP “Far More” — doing some interviews and live podcasts on Facebook — as well as talking with a DJ about doing remixes of some of the songs on the album, which is a vision I’ve had from the start of the project two years ago. I’m also producing a new project with my husband. We’re planning a series of house concerts for charitable causes — I’ll be singing jazz with my amazing 4-piece band and my husband will cook and we’ll invite people to eat delicious food and sit in our living room and be surrounded by live music. In return, they’ll make a donation to a chosen charity. At the end of each evening concert, we hope to raise a few thousand dollars for a homeless shelter or a foster youth support organization or an environmental group. There are so many people who need our help in this city, in this country, and at this point in my life, I don’t feel the need to ask my friends to come out and hear me play at a club just for my ego. I want my musical talents to be used for a larger cause, to benefit others. And this house concert idea is the first step in my promotion of myself as the entertainment act for larger charity benefits and fundraisers. Do you have a charitable cause you want to raise money for? Do you need entertainment? I’ll pay my band, donate my musical services and come sing!
2 – What made you take a decision to get into the music scene?
I didn’t really choose it at first, it kind of chose me. I grew up in a very musical household, my mother Carol Hall had a recording deal with Elektra Records in the ’70’s, she toured with Don McLean and Kris Kristofferson, then she wrote songs for “Sesame Street”, “Free to Be You & Me”, and she wrote the score for the long-running Broadway hit “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” which was later made into a movie. She had a lot of success during my childhood, so I never even considered being a songwriter, I felt like music was her thing, not mine. I didn’t even sing for almost a decade after high school. I just wanted to be an actress. I was totally focused on acting from a very young age, I actually started performing off-off-Broadway when I was in seventh grade. But later, in my 20’s, I started hearing these melodies in my head late at night, and lyrics started pouring out…and it became something I couldn’t ignore. I began writing songs and recording them, and then I was on a musical path.
3 – How do you combine music with your acting career?
I haven’t really combined it yet as much as I’d like to. I have a project I’m working on now that I hope will allow me the chance to combine the two. I haven’t done a lot of musical theatre, but I’ve done cabaret where I’m “acting” certain songs, that comes pretty naturally to me. But I also like singing for the technical challenge of it, more like a jazz singer. I’ve actually combined music with my screenwriting more often — I wrote a script once that had a teen pop star character in it, so I wrote some songs for her. I also wrote the opening title song for the film I co-wrote called “Bellyfruit”. I worked on that with Stephen Bray, who wrote some gigantic hits with Madonna and also the Broadway musical “The Color Purple”. It was really fantastic to work with him because Stephen is not only an incredibly nice guy but someone I admire so much… it gave me confidence that he thought I was good enough to collaborate with.
4 – What makes your 5-track album ‘Far More’ so special?
For me, it’s special because it’s a bolder musical statement than I think I’ve made before. It’s less eclectic than my earlier albums, much more “all-one-vibe”. I love listening to music in the car (I live in L.A. after all) and one of my favorite stations is Sirius XM’s “Chill”, which is electronic, but not in a BPM kind of way, more relaxed and mellow. So I decided to do a whole collection of songs with that vibe.
I also think the album could be special for listeners because it was created to be uplifting and positive and even somewhat spiritual. Some people find it “soothing”, while others have said the grooves make them want to listen to it while doing Pilates or Kundalini yoga. So relaxing & energizing at the same time, which is cool. I like to think of myself as “Oprah-friendly”. I want to consciously offer up a positive, hopeful message. It seems to me that at this time in our evolution, with the world so chaotic and divided, so filled with violence and fear…we need music more than ever to help heal us. And these songs were written (or the covers were chosen) to remind us to accept where we are right now and to inspire us to be grateful.
5 – Tell us about your creative process and how the songs came together.
Well, it all came pretty effortlessly and magically. I was at a workshop with an old friend of mine named Paul Selig, who’s a world-renowned author, psychic and spiritual channeler. And he said some simple, but potent wisdom that just stuck in my brain and sprouted into songs. Then I made some really simple Garage Band versions of the songs, using loops and singing different instrumental parts or harmonies… then I took those to my longtime collaborator/bandmate/co- producer John Ballinger and we started working on them together. He’s got a home studio and we work in blocks of 3 or 4 hours because I’m a mom and I still have to drive my son around and school’s out at 2:30 PM… so we work pretty efficiently and quickly. And I adore being in the studio, recording tracks. I love percussion, I hear bass lines a lot. I don’t play anything really, John plays EVERYTHING, but I contribute by singing (“I play the voice”) and the studio is one of my favorite places to spend an afternoon. As a kid, my mom took me and my brother with her to work, so I took lots of naps on leather couches in recording studios. I love how comfy and private and sealed off from the world it feels. Like a musical cocoon.
6 – Are you planning to release a music video?
Yes! I have a video for the song “I Am Here” that will be released soon. It was made this past summer on location in Italy when I was traveling with my family (we prioritize travel over everything!) and it was shot by my stepmother Sharon Schuster, who’s an amazing photographer/video director. Her sister Arlene Schuster-Goss (a casting director in L.A.) became our producer and my stepsister Rachel Waldman who works at Vogue was my stylist. It was so fun. The four of us made it in one day — a very, very hot day — and we had a total blast! It was a really sisterly day, they were all cheering me on, and I felt very supported.
I also made a video for “Far More” last year that we’re still editing. It was a 2-day shoot and has a large cast, so it’s taking a bit longer to sort out. But we shot it at my house in Silver Lake in L.A. and I gathered a great group around me and we had a really good time and ate fresh tacos to celebrate at the end. I absolutely love creative collaboration. It’s my favorite kind of party.
7 – Who were your musical influences which have inspired you all your life?
Wow… there are SO many. This is gonna be a long answer, but it’s such a fun question to ponder, for any of us to ask ourselves, ”Whose music has moved me the most? Cheered me up? Made me want to get up and dance, or sing along at the top of my lungs in the car?” Which songs healed your heartbreak? Or made you want to fall in love again? If you ever feel blank trying to think of something you’re grateful for, just start making a list of all the music you’ve ever enjoyed in your life. There’s so much to appreciate! To me, that’s a great way to notice what I call The Divine Spirit. I consider music to be part of the Divine Presence of God — a healing energy uniquely expressed by artists all over the globe since the beginning of time. Music is infinite and eternal…and for me, it’s a combination of beauty and magic.
So back to my musical influences…well, certainly my mother, whose songs I listened to over and over, for years. She always played for everyone after a dinner party at our house, or at other peoples’ houses, at family gatherings, …so I watched her sit at the piano and play her songs probably hundreds of times. And I was raised on movie musicals from the ’30’s and ’40’s so I know lots of Irving Berlin songs. My favorite singers are Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, & Bonnie Raitt. I’ve memorized the scores of Broadway shows like “A Chorus Line”, “Pippin”, “Little Shop of Horrors”, “Spring Awakening”, “Next to Normal” and of course, “Hamilton”. I’ve listened nonstop to The Beatles. The first album I ever owned was Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life”. He was a huge musical influence — pop but a little jazzy too, chord-wise. I was blown away by Prince — especially his first album “Dirty Mind” because he made the entire thing himself, playing every instrument, which, at the time, was completely radical. I love Carole King, Al Green, Billy Joel, Madonna, The Police, Beastie Boys, Talking Heads, Beck… I’m also obsessed with those one-hit-wonder soul-funk-disco dance tunes from the ’70’s like K.C. & the Sunshine Band and Betty Wright. I used to DJ, playing all that stuff. And then Alanis Morrisette had a huge impact on me because her writing was so personal, almost like straight from her journals, and her singing is so amazing. I really admire offbeat artists who do their own unique thing, like India Arie, Aimee Mann, or Ben Harper. People who don’t sound like other people. That’s kinda how I am, too, I think…a little hard to categorize. After all, I’ve been called “chameleonic”! 😉
And yet, at heart, I’m very mainstream. I basically worship at the altar of pop music. I love the idea that I can hear a brand new song on the radio that I’ve never heard before and in less than two minutes, I’m singing along with the chorus. To me, that’s total musical success, writing a hooky pop song that gets people singing along. I almost always write songs by starting with a title (hook). I love that. So of course, I’m totally into classics like Earth, Wind, & Fire, and also Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift. I love Coldplay and Haim. And in the car, I listen to electronic music a lot. Oh my god, this is crazy, I could just go on & on! Okay, I’ll stop now.
8 – How would you describe your sound?
Soulful, soothing, spiritual groove. Meditative chill electronica. Sade + Madonna’s “Ray of Light” album, produced by Peter Gabriel. I wish I had a more “now” reference. You tell me!
9 – What has been your top career highlight so far?
Well, performing an autobiographical one-woman musical I wrote a few years ago called “Daughter Of…” was really empowering and important. But I’d say the top highlight might be singing in the orchestra pit of a Broadway musical written by my mother (“The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public”) while leggy chorus girls tap-danced above my head and the sound guy pushed their mics down and my mic up. This gig also included making the Broadway cast album recording, which was produced by Peter Matz who worked with Streisand. And I was dressed by Bob Mackie in a sequined outfit for a pre-show, faux-Vegas lounge act that I performed in the lobby of the Lunt-Fontanne theatre with my fellow pit singer Ryan Perry. I sang Frank Sinatra songs and created a character called Penny Nichols. Get it? Vegas lounge act, Penny…nickels. That was really fun, being on Broadway…and it made my voice a lot stronger.
10 – Finally, any shout outs or anything else you would like to add?
Thank you so much for being interested in my work & asking such good questions. Thanks for anyone who’s taken the time to read this far! Be grateful for music, enjoy music, use music to soothe your soul. And check out my music on Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud…or find me on Instagram . I’d love to hear what you think.