Thomas: I heard you are going on trips? Tell me about them.
Susan: There are six of us songwriters, have had a music festival. This is our 5th year to do it, so we leave in play in Lubbock tomorrow and play our way up. We will have three days or so before the festival starts so we’ll just kind of chill out. I’m going up to Colorado to do some recording I have a friend who owns a studio up there his name is Don, so I’m going to take some of my new songs to him. When you meet a lot of people, and I write a song I’m just like I should take that one to don. So I’m excited for this week its going to be a good week but a busy week.
Thomas: So tell me a little bit about your plans this year, what do you have planned for 2016?
Susan: This year is going to be different, I’m just going wherever the gig will be. I’ve been averaging between 50 to 60 thousand miles a year, I think that’s average. I think for people whose job is to travel and its incorporated into your job. We’re just trying to rain in the touring schedule a little bit, and it’s just getting so expensive to travel. Part of it is I also have 5 dogs and at least four of them are over the age of eight, and it’s important to me that I try to honor them. As they get older and I’m getting older and I’m not so enamored to sleeping in my car. This year I’m not playing any regular venue. It’s either going to be a concert series where it’s kind of a songwriter specific series, or its going to be a house concert in someone’s home and it’s listening venue for one night. You can you meet the nicest people at some of these house concerts. Touring in Texas is going to scale down quite a bit you know, I really got into doing songwriting workshop it started about 6 years ago. I got asked to be a mentor at a kids song writing camp in Houston and it was called the real life real music songwriters experience. It opened my eyes, I don’t mean to sound lost but I always thought that my legacy was going to be the songs that I write. I thought that was what I would leave behind, and not much else and then I got to work with these kids. I got to tap into something else that I never got to nurture before. They needed someone to kind of say yeah you could say that, is it true then yes you can say that. It was really eye opening to see one of the other powers of music. I feel like that’s why I got started trying to clarify a certain feeling about my current situation. Whatever I’m sitting down to write about it was such a blessing to sit down and work with these kids. How important it was for them there was some preteen kids from like 10 years old to high school age, it was really cool my perspective has shifted. I guess on what my work here is some of it is writing my own songs. Some of it is whatever I need to do to hold someone’s hand to get them through their own writing. That’s been a real gift to me, the 2016 is going to be a totally different year. Also in the summer from July maybe through October I plan on going up to Montana, my family has a place up there and I used to live up there. I’ve never really pounding the pavement over there, I have a great fan base there that’s kind of a reliable fan base. Even though I have a lot of history up there, I’m going to kind of move up there for the summer and get gigs up there. Just a lot of different stuff going on in 2016.
Thomas: Do you plan on doing more work with children?
Susan: You know what yes I do, through this real life real music camp. I hope I get to do two, I know I’m going to miss some of them this year. Some of the kids that we got just thought they were just going to do it for the summer. Some of those kids were trying it just to try it, but some of those kids really latched on to it. They kind of found a passion and a drive for it. So they developed a program that’s kind of more for the driven students. I’m just falling in love with it, so any chance I get to be a part of it i do. I meet these kids that are just starting their writing career or their writing passion it always improves me.
Thomas: What are three experiences that have really stood out to you working with these kids?
Susan: All of them for me have just made my heart expand and then collapse, and then expand. One of them was, there was this kid named Caleb and he was from North Carolina. He was visiting his grandparents for the summer and I thought maybe this would be good for him. He liked to go sing karaoke, so they thought this might be fun for him. He was like the only boy with about 14 preteen girls, how terrifying is that. He wrote this song, his mom is getting remarried and he just had a new baby sister. He wanted to write a song for his new baby sister and that sounded so very sweet. His song was wonderful, but the way this camp was is that we write for a couple of days. Then we work on performance, and they get you to record in the studio. It has a vocal and guitar or vocal and piano or whatever they wanted, and get a demo of their songs. They record them and they get to take it home. Then we book a gig for them, and they have to reform their song in front of an audience. Their family members or friends or whoever they invite. Working with this kid you know was amazing I would say what would you tell your sister. Then he was like you don’t slam the door, or they’ll take the door off the hinges. He was this big brother that was just trying to show his little sister the ropes of growing up in this family. I just don’t know if he ever had permission to say that stuff anywhere else. It was probably more like go along, you get along in situations like that. Kids don’t ever have a choice on who mom is going to marry, if the parents get divorced, or what the family is going to look like. So I think he really for that week at least he had permission to be as honest, as he could. It was just such a privilege to sit across the table from him, and I had a little conversation with him. The end result was that he was welcoming this baby girl into the family, and trying to give her advice to be in the family. It was kind of like my first summer there. Another time was there was a girl there and she was older probably about 16. She had a cousin that was kind of her person in the world. She had the thick black eyeliner, and this big black hair that kind of came down into her face. We started talking about her cousin who was the person that made her feel ok in the world had committed suicide earlier in the year. The two moms have not spoken since that happened, and she wrote this song to her cousin. It was happy and it was sad, and it was torturous and how much she missed him. She lost that person that gave her permission to be herself, I think it was God who did this. When the mom reserved tickets and the aunt was going to,
they come they got seated together. It was the first time they spoken since, because that girl had courage. She got up to sing her song, she couldn’t talk about it without crying. We kind of had a moment where, we were trying to decide if she should write about something that wouldn’t be so hard for her, or do we just let her work this out. The whole room was just resonating on that girls emotions, and it opened up a conversation between those two women. My first summer was kind of difficult, because I was scared of these kids I was scared of teenagers when I was a teenager. Here I am going in there as a 39 year old and I’m just terrified. There was a little girl named Hannah and she was just a odd little quirky girl. All the other girls were writing about hurry up and fall in love, or break my heart so I could write a great song. They were all kind of in to it at that age group. Hannah has just been to New York City and she was thrilled about that so she wanted to write a Broadway song, and none of us had experience in that. She knew just what she wanted to do, we didnt have to do a thing with her she already has her own thing. She knew exactly what she wanted and that was really cool to see. If they asked us who was the most confident in the room I wouldn’t have picked her, but she really was. There’s just a lot of really powerful things that happen when you do that kind of work, it was just really cool and I love it.
Thomas: What is the catalyst in art in general, to open up conversations about hard topics, and old wounds that maybe you can’t normally talk about?
Susan: What a wonderful question, and I have no idea. I wish I knew the answer to that, and I think some of it is writing. My medium was music although I think that translate through any kind of art. With songwriting it’s such a solitary thing, when I’m writing especially about the contents of those wounds. I retreat to that I go inward, and I get this song. Almost 100% of the time I can share it, I can’t say 100% of the time. You think you’re so solitaire and no one has hurt the way you hurt. When you get to share that emotion and it resonates with someone else, then that loneliness and isolation. The emotion and process of getting a piece of art done unites you with a group of people, that have common wounds and emotions. Maybe they have a gratitude because they couldn’t express it the way you did. I wrote a song about my mom passing away from cancer. Then I had been commissioned to write a song at a breast cancer benefit, and my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had passed away and I thought what in the world am I going to write about, I have nothing good to say about surviving cancer. That was not my experience with it, call it divine inspiration I didn’t come up with this song I received it and it’s beautiful. It’s inevitable when someone comes up to me after the show and says oh wow I felt that way in lost my mom, or I lost my sister or someone who just got diagnosed with breast cancer. Whatever the case may be it gives people excuse to talk about something that’s heavy on their heart, but no one gave them a safe place to open up with it.
Thomas: What is the difference between using music as a medium and using it as you call it divine inspiration. What’s the difference between those two creations?
Susan: I don’t think there’s a great difference is probably like two points on a circle. There right next to each other, and there close to each other or as far apart depending on which way you go around. I think inspiration is meant to bring me closer to a relationship with my fellow human beings. I think it would be egotistical and indulgent for me to carry on and on about my own emotions. I think the inspired part is for me to create a space in that song for a listener, or deliver it in a way that allows a listener to see themselves in some way. We do start at our emotions, that’s an easy entrance into our creativity. I feel that if something resonates at all, it’s like a tuning fork. If you hit a tuning fork and you hold that tuning fork up against something, that resonate at the same frequency. If there wasn’t a capacity for that emotion, the song wouldn’t touch you at all.
Thomas: If you were to give advice to a teenager that’s just starting, and songwriting what would that advice be?
Susan: Read a lot of fun things you enjoy reading. There is no wrong way of doing it, just find your way nobody knows the specific right way to do it. It’s up to you to write your own song, and there’s not a wrong way of doing it. If it works, it works and be fearless. It’s all a big what if, it’s a big experiment so play around with it. Nobody could write your own song, nobody can do it but you. That’s a pretty liberating thing, and it’s also a big responsibility.
Thomas: When it comes to educating kids, how do you show them the simple path to growth?
Susan: At the beginning of the summer they start with a blank notebook, and a pen. By the end of the week it’s not a blank notebook anymore, we’ve been writing and writing. They get a audio clip that didn’t exist two days ago, I went from saying I don’t know how to writing a song. To them having a song recorded in their hand, and it’s there song. It’s set up to have a little bit of progress in each section, and then they have a performance. It’s all about progress and giving the best you can at that present time.
Thomas: If you were to want these kids to have one thing to take away from their experience with you, what would that to be?
Susan: I would want them to honor themselves, in whatever capacity. I would want them to value themselves, and have self confidence. Apply that self confidence everywhere, that’s what I want for them. Whatever they find that their thing is, I think that we all have something that were meant to do. I think that part of my life’s work is to write songs, God has given me a skill set to do that. He’s given me enough good luck to keep me in the game to actually learn something. Stay true to yourself.