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Suzen JueL
Suzen JueL

Suzen JueL – acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter

Interview with Suzen JueL
by Sarah Powell

Suzen JueL with her royal blue acoustic guitar creates a folk, blues sound that surrounds her listeners in a passionate presence as she expresses her passion for art, love, and music through her lyrics. Poetic acoustic is how she describes her music and lyrical style. Suzen shares that “Singing, I enjoy doing. I enjoy playing guitar. I enjoy singing the words but really my main focus is on lyrics. I want people to hear what I’m saying and I think it’s important that I sing it in a way that makes people understand.”

Suzen’s passion for music began early in her life. She shares how her family influenced her love for music and how she discovered her gift. “I grew up in a very musical family. Everybody had a talent... My grandpa played the accordion, the harmonica, the guitar. His brother, my uncle, made violins by hand. My grandpa made me my guitar by hand. I didn’t even care as a kid. It [Music] was just always around me... I took an interest in it really when I was about five or six when my grandma got an organ – so awful – I had an organ. I would sit on it and watch my mom play it. My mom had these sheets of music in front of her and she was reading the music and playing along. I couldn’t figure that out to save my life. She would get off the piano bench and I would sit down and I would play whatever I heard on the radio. It was automatic. If I heard it on the radio, I’d start playing it on the piano. I don’t know how to read music – never did -and that’s when everybody came around me and said ‘oh my gosh, she plays by ear.’ I was like ‘I do NOT play with my ear’. I was real upset that they said this to me because I thought that it meant I used my ear to play. I said ‘No, I use my fingers.’” Suzan laughed as she recalled her experience. “I lost interest in music until I got to be about thirteen - eleven or thirteen - when I found the guitar in my grandpa’s attic. It was the one that he had made actually the year I was born. I was not a popular kid. I was a very reclusive artist. I always tend to be shy. I was the little one in school. I was freckle faced and I had an overbite so I got teased all the time. I wanted to be popular so I wanted to play the guitar because that’s what the popular girl does. So I took lessons for a couple months. When my instructor asked me to sing, I picked up my guitar and packed it back in its little case and I walked home and never went back. I thought, ‘You are NOT gonna get me to sing. There is no way. I’m way too shy.’ I turned about forty shades of purple. I couldn’t breathe. I’m like ‘Sing and play at the same time?!’ so I went home and I taught myself the guitar after that. That’s what I’ve been doing since. I never put it down.”

After teaching herself how to play guitar, she began to write her own music. She tells how she began writing and eventually got over her stage fright so she could personally share her stories and passions. “I started writing music right away. I would make up these chords; I didn’t really know what they were. It’s almost as if music has a word to it. When I hear music, it has words to it so that’s how I write my songs. I play the chords and eventually the hmm hmm hmm turns into a la la la which evolves into a word and the next thing you know, you have one line. When I started doing that I was like ‘oh my God, I can write. I can write music. I can play music.’ No body knew about it though. I was a closet singer. I sang in my bedroom by myself. I think I was about twenty something – way later when I played with a group but I never sang. They could not get me to sing. I would just watch them play guitar or watch them sing. If they ever caught me singing, I would shut up. That would be it. This girl sang with me once. She started doing harmony and she did it loud and it bothered me. So I tried to overpower her voice. I didn’t realize what I was doing but the whole band stopped and said ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ I was like ‘Oooh, wow.’ It was like this big, black woman lived inside of me, and she just came out that day.  That’s when I started singing. Terrible, terrible stage fright, it took me another ten years to really get over the whole stage fright thing. I knew I could and I knew I had to but it scared the living hell out of me because the total fear of being in front of people. Everybody’s looking at you and you’re playing your own songs. It’s really frightening. It’s like exposing yourself naked. In fact, it would be more comfortable to be naked in front of all these people than it would be to sing something that I wrote in my diary.” Suzen laughed. “You know, I am singing it out loud to all these people. My gift was writing. The singing part I enjoy doing. I enjoy playing guitar. I enjoy singing the words but really my main focus is on lyrics. I want people to hear what I’m saying and I think it’s important that I sing it in a way that makes people understand and not just sing… When you put the emotion of the words behind in your voice that’s when you get people’s attention. That’s when people stop and go ‘I hear. I hear what you’re saying’. That’s taken years. It’s like most people don’t find their voice until they’re in their forties. At least, that’s what the music instructors say. You mature. I found as a younger kid, I sang very quiet. I got loud as I got older.”

Suzen recalled when she found her voice and lost her inhibition in her singing. “That really came with Second Life because no body can see me. It gave me the freedom to not be so self-aware of what I looked like when I sing in front of people when I’m behind the computer. I started out very quiet like always and got very bold and confident. I guess as people started to like what I did. I could feel my face getting into my sound. I could feel the expression, and I could read the audience. Certain things that they said made me very aware that they were catching onto exactly what I was talking about, what I was singing or how I was presenting the words in the song. That was only maybe five years ago or less that I realized that your voice is an instrument that you don’t have to just sing, you can take some risk and really do some crazy stuff with your voice. You don’t have to sing pretty. You don’t have to be pretty like everybody thinks you’re supposed to be. You can scream, you can hit a high note, or make a mistake. You can bend your voice. You can make it whisper. You can make it howl and don’t be afraid of those things. The scary part was when I did my first live performance in eleven years and just let it go. I thought, ‘You know, I don’t care anymore. I don’t care how I look or what I sound like. People like what I do, and this is how I do it.’ So I just got over it basically.”

Suzen shares her experience at her first live performance in eleven years. “It was in Georgia at Mahoneyfest with Cylindrian, Grace [Buford].  It was a great response. I sang a song that I wrote that morning called ‘Dirty Water’, which two other artists now cover. A lot of artists ask to cover my songs which, like I said, it’s all in the words. They find the words to be fitting for them. It was a good response; a really good response.  I didn’t look at anybody. I don’t look at anybody when I sing. I keep my eyes closed and my head down.” Suzen laughed. “I’m finally getting over that where I can actually make eye contact. It’s really not as scary as I thought it would be. All that worrying I did for nothing.”

Throughout her music career, Suzen has written thousands of songs. Some of which were covered by other artists. She shares the meanings behind of these songs as well as their influences. “Truly it’s the ones that other musicians come up to me and ask if they can do that are actually the ones most favored by me as well. I’ve had three songs make it onto Radio Paradise, an internet radio station.  I just took a shot in the dark and I thought, ‘They will never accept these but you know it doesn’t hurt for me to try.’ They accepted the first one which is called ‘Flowers Against My Dress’. It is about a loss of innocence. Other male musicians have covered that song and say ‘Flowers against her dress’ and just change that part around a little bit. It’s about being vulnerable and exposed… It’s kind of about challenging the universe because you get stuck with the loss of your own innocence. I’m forty-two, I’m hardly innocent, but it was an era of my life that I was going through when I was really questioning everything around me - questioning my marriage, questioning my friendships, questioning my identity, and my career choices.  The other one, ‘Dirty Water’, kind of falls along the same line as the loss of innocence, but that one is about forgiveness and redemption. And that one is probably the most powerful one… I always want to write blues songs, but I don’t get to choose how the song comes out. It’s kind of like you don’t choose who you fall in love with, you just do. You either accept it or you walk away. ‘Lover’ just came to me… It was not bluesy at all and it came out as ‘Lord, let me down easy tonight’… I ran it by a friend of mine who is also a singer-songwriter. He listened to it and he said try lover instead of Lord because I was trying to get all bluesy on myself, but it didn’t work out that way at all. So I put lover in there and ‘let me down easy tonight’. It’s about being forgiven. Most of my songs have big religious undertones because I was raised hardcore Catholic. I’m pretty agnostic at this point in my life… So that’s what ‘Lover’ is about. ‘Let me down easy. I have lost my light. I have lost the urge to fight. I have given up.’ Surrender. It’s about surrender and it’s about redemption. It also has to do with some things that were going on in my life – very symbolic. ‘I knocked him off his throne, laid him down in his blame’ is about somebody that I knew at that time that I gave a good kick in the ego because I felt that he needed it. He’s not my friend anymore. In his world, he was king of his domain so to say. So that’s what that line is about. I knocked him off his throne, laid him down in his blame. Faced him with some hard truths that I figured if you’re gonna keep a friendship, be honest. If you lose them by being honest, then they’re not really your friend to begin with. The lyrics ‘putting myself in the darkness, paint of scarlet flames’ is kind of like going through your sin in a way. Back in the day when I was very religious, they always had that story of when you die, you go through the flames of hell before you get to heaven. I guess that kind of came out that way in the song. The whole thing is just about forgiveness and what I have gone through put in a symbolic way. Most of my songs are like trying to decipher a dream. Everything is symbolic. They are hard to talk about sometimes… Like art is to the eyes of the beholder, I believe music is to what you hear – to the ear of the listener. All the songs that I write, I think probably everyone has at least one line that’s twisted, religious, perverted meaning in there somewhere. I don’t mean perverted necessarily in a sexual way, I mean how we pervert religion. A lot of us have throughout our lives been raised one way and turned out a whole different way. We get perverted in the way that we think sometimes because things get distorted and we see that ‘wow, not everybody believes what I was raised to believe when I was six.’ Because you think the whole world is Catholic when you’re Catholic and they’re not… Everything that I write has something about forgiveness or sin or redemption or hope.”

Suzen describes what moves her to express herself in her music so passionately. “There’s a saying that we’ve kind of all heard, I heard it when I was young and realized that it applies to everything in life. ‘It’s not what you say but how you say it.’  It’s not what you do, but how you do it. It’s not how you feel, but how you are feeling it and how you present it to others. That’s so key to me. There’s so many good songwriters out there that cannot figure out how to make their words go with the music to go with their own voice not any voice but their voice or they try to sound like somebody else. It comes through their songs because you don’t feel them. Some people, I cannot feel for the life of me what they are trying to do. Then there will be somebody with a dirty, raspy voice, who can hardly play guitar. They’re singing a simple song, and they’re bringing me to tears because they are so passionate about what they’re singing that I become wrapped up like a good movie. I’m just sucked right into their song. To me, that’s the whole power behind songwriting right there. That’s everything.”

As Suzen has recorded a number of CDs throughout her life, only two “Certain Kind of Mad” and “Without My Wings”, which are available on iTunes, were produced in a professional studio. Suzen shares the story behind the making of her CD ‘Certain Kind of Mad’. “‘Certain Kind of Mad’ is really a lot about bipolar. I’m bipolar. Well, that obviously comes out in my songwriting, you know, the madness which is why it was called ‘Certain Kind of Mad’ but I think I am” Suzen laughed. “Certainly not sane. You have to be mad to be able to create. You’re certainly not going to follow the normal herd in life when you’re a creative person. You’re taking your own path at that point. There’s no money in it… There’s two kinds of performers in musicians or writers: there’s those that want to and those that have to. I don’t want to do this, I have to do it. I have to. If I don’t, it swells up in me. It has to come out, and that’s how it comes out. If I don’t write, I get sick literally. I get sick - like mentally sick and physically sick. So I have to do this. To me, it’s the key to survival. Sounds crazy, but that’s the truth.  I put it off for ten years and I was not ok during those ten years” Thanks to Second Life, Suzen was able to come back to her first love, music. Suzen continues, “That was my second time performing. The first time was live… I had a huge following in Minneapolis back in the day and then I got married and raised four step-boys and my music went on hold. The next thing you know I’m medicated by doctors giving me different drugs for depression and mania and you can’t sleep and you can’t think. And they have to stop you from thinking because you think too much and it’s like ‘What’s wrong with thinking too much? Isn’t that what Einstein did? Isn’t that a good thing?’ After I stopped taking all of those medicines, which was about eight or nine years ago, the songwriting slowly started to come back and I started to feel like myself again. I thought, ‘I have to do this. I have to do this. Until I am given something else to do, this is what I have to do.’ Life hands you things, and that’s what you do”

Suzen is not only a singer-songwriter, but also enjoys painting and photography. She shares more about her gifts. “I have three cycles going on right now. One is trying to work on another CD, another one is refurbishing old guitars and getting artwork on them, and another one is doing paintings. I go in between these cycles. When I’m not writing music, I’m painting. When I’m not painting, I’m drawing. When I’m not drawing, I’m picking apart my guitar and I’m sanding it down and painting it…I also do my own photographs. I don’t come off as shy, but I am. I love it when people have cameras at events. I’ll go right in front of the camera and smile and be goofy, but as a photographer, I have a friend that is a photographer that wants to take pictures of me. That’s just nerve racking to me. That’s so unnatural to pose for things. So I set up my camera on my tripod and I think of certain things that will somehow have me to feel whatever emotion it is I want to work on. It’s a challenge for me to capture an emotion in a photograph whether it be of me or my dog or my ferret or kids whatever I might take pictures of. I love photography so since no body else is going to pose for me, or bare a little skin every now and then, I feel comfortable doing it all by myself. I do it all alone when everybody’s gone from the house - do my own promotional type photographs or go outside and take pictures of birds, bugs, and things like that… My mom and dad bought me this beautiful camera for Christmas and my life long goal here is to take the perfect picture, to get a hummingbird at a perfect angle. I’m so crazy about this camera. Everywhere I go, it’s with me. It’s that and a songbook.”
 
A message to Suzen JueL’s fans…

“I have books full of thoughts. Buy the book when it comes out” Suzen laughed.

“If you have to do it, then do it. Don’t worry about what other people tell you because you have a given gift whatever it may be. I always hear people going ‘well, you know, I’ve got bills to pay and I’ve got my kids, and I’ve got this and I’ve got responsibilities and then die never doing what they wanted to do. They never wrote that book that they always wanted to write. They’re afraid to take a risk. That’s one thing that bipolars are famous for, we take risks and we don’t think about the consequences. Of course, we fall flat on our ass.” Suzen laughed. “Then there are other times that we soar higher than anyone else because we took that risk. I think it’s really important for people to make time for that thing that eats at them every night going ‘Now why didn’t I take that picture?’ ‘Why didn’t I write that letter to that person?’ ‘Why didn’t I say ‘hi’ to that person?’ and ‘Why didn’t I record that song or paint that picture or write that children’s book?’ - whatever it might be. When I die, I want to be able to say ‘I did it’ instead of say ‘I wish I would have.’ That to me is the most important thing in the whole world to everybody. I think everybody should take a risk. It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it.”

 

 

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