Nashville’s Suzie Brown is a name you’re most likely at least a bit familiar with. She’s a singer, songwriter, Harvard-educated cardiologist, mother, and, until recently, a fellow-215er… I think she also fights crime at night… actually, I don’t think I’m supposed to mention that… In just over half a decade of writing music she has achieved a large handful of accolades, including “Artist of the Month” on myruralradio.com (July of 2012), being Regional Finalist in the Mountain Stage NewSong contest (2013), and even the winner of “Best Female Singer-Songwriter,” during my own tenure at Origivation Magazine in 2010. While she adores her medical position, where she has her formal training, allowing her to dedicate herself to others, she’s delighted to be able to express herself and her own thoughts through her music. This Tuesday, May 6th, will see the release of Brown’s fan-funded sophomore effort, Almost There, an album that continues her exploration of popularly accessible Americana (and includes my favorite country song of 2014), in addition to pop, soul, and rock’n’roll. Suzie Brown took some time a few weeks ago to tell me about her double/triple/quadruple life, her time in Philly and transition to Nashville, and the current state of her career as a musician.
Izzy Cihak: You’ve only been doing music for a little more than half a decade, yet you’ve had some pretty noteworthy achievements. What have been the highlights of your career for you, personally?
Suzie Brown: The biggest highlight so far was making my latest album with Oliver Wood. I had admired from afar for many years because of the amazing music he makes with his band The Wood Brothers. In a moment of insanity, I Emailed him cold and asked him if he would produce my upcoming album. He said, “yes,” and off I went to Nashville to live a dream!!! Oliver put together a wonderful group of musicians, including Jano Rix (drummer for the Wood Brothers) and James ‘Hags’ Haggerty (on bass). Oliver and my husband, Scot Sax, each played guitar. It was some of the purest music making I’ve ever been a part of. Everyone left their egos at the door and we just had fun. All the songs were recorded live, as a band, including vocals – we finished all 11 songs in just seven days. Oliver is the consummate professional – he is kind, focused, attentive, thoughtful – it was a true honor to work with him.
Izzy: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication and you were based out of Philly until recently, I have to ask: What are your favorite (and possibly least favorite) things about the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection?
Suzie: Philly was very kind to me. When I took the plunge and started playing music outside my bedroom five years ago, there was a really special local music scene happening. It was mostly centered around a venue called the Blinkin Lincoln, which has since closed. People were so generous in giving me a helping hand – asking me to open for them, suggesting my name for gigs. Having a community to share the experience with made it so much richer, so much more fun. I also met my husband in Philly- major brownie points for that! Other favorite things: BYOs, Kelly Drive running trail. Least favorite – the drivers!!!!
Izzy: What is it, exactly, that inspired the move out to Nashville?
Suzie: I have a dual career, and Nashville was the best place I could think of make the most of each of them. From the medical standpoint, I am now working at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which is an outstanding academic medical center with a southern feel (i.e., really nice people!) My schedule is two weeks on, two weeks off, which allows me to have a continuous presence at the hospital and to have a solid amount of uninterrupted creative time as well. Since I knew we wanted to have a family and wouldn’t be able to tour quite as much, I also wanted to be in a place where I could grow as a musician, while staying close to home. Nashville has a rich community of songwriters who I can learn from when I’m not on the road.
Izzy: You’re about to release your sophomore effort, Almost There. How do you feel the album compares to your debut, Heartstrings, both in terms of its sound and the process of writing and recording it?
Suzie: In terms of writing: I think my songwriting has become a little more focused, stylistically – it wasn’t an intentional thing, but I think I’m finally settling in to my groove, my sound. In terms of the subject matter: there are a lot fewer heartache songs, I’m happy to say. In terms of the recording process: I did a lot of musical soul searching before making this album, and came to the conclusion that the music that moves me most is the raw, unpolished, live sounding type, a la Patty Griffin, Wood Brothers, Gillian Welch. The ultimate success for me would be if people would feel things when they heard my songs, the way I felt them when I wrote the songs. So I sought out a producer who I felt could help me capture that feel (Oliver Wood) and we recorded the whole album live as a band, including vocals. We didn’t hide behind digital perfection – we left the warts on. It’s the imperfections that make a recording feel alive and inspired.
Izzy: Does the album have any especially significant or profound influences, whether musical or otherwise?
Suzie: Musical influences: The Wood Brothers, Patty Griffin, old Bonnie Raitt recordings from the ‘70s. Other influences: Navigating meeting and falling in love with my husband.
Izzy: Do you have a particular favorite track, whether one you’re most proud of or one that you think signifies what direction you may be headed in in the future? I’m really into “Our Own Little Show.” I think it’s probably my favorite country song of the year so far.
Suzie: Oh, I love that song too. That was one of those ones that came out in one fell swoop – I think I wrote the whole thing in 15 minutes. The truth always makes for the best songs – I wrote it about hanging out in the back yard with my husband. We had just recently fixed it up – planted flowers and put in a bench – and spent many a lovely evening there, just the two of us. My other favorites are “Almost There” and “28 Days.” Those are about as personal and real as songs can get. I feel proud when I’m able to capture how I’m really feeling into a song.
Izzy: I understand you just had a baby. How’s motherhood treating you?
Suzie: So far, so good! Our daughter is two weeks old today. Normally I run on all cylinders all the time – I’m always trying to get things done, whether it’s for my medical career, my musical career, or stuff around the house. But since our daughter was born nothing seems so important anymore. It’s an amazing feeling of perspective. And luckily I have a lot of practice being sleep deprived (from my medical training).
Izzy: And, finally, when might we be able to experience your music live next? I’m guessing you’re going to be taking at least a bit of a break?
Suzie: Yep, taking a bit of a break. I’m planning a Northeast tour with Jesse Terry in November, and I’m sure I will fill in dates between now and then, probably starting this June or July.