I first met Sue Newberry a couple of years ago when we played a show together at the Spill in Peterborough Ontario (back then she was going by the moniker “Sioux Newberry”.) We spent a bunch of time together last summer – and dare I say we even became friends – when we were both participants in a four-day songwriting workshop at Island Mountain Arts in Wells, British Columbia. Dave Bidini led the workshop, and I forgot to ask but I bet Sue would agree with me that it was an awesome and fruitful experience. (An aside: Dave Bidini is facilitating it again this summer. For all you inspiring/aspiring songwriters, I highly recommend that you check out the IMA 2012 Songwriting Workshop.)
To describe Sue Newberry’s music, I love this quote that her brother David Newberry – a kick ass singer-songwriter himself – writes:
“I want to say that you sing pretty and powerfully, have a killer pop band that can rock, and are smart and poetic. I think thats a good set of messages to try and get across. Is ‘funrock’ a word? I hope so. It’s literate funrock. That’s what you do. Well.”
K: Let’s talk about your name for a second here. What’s the story behind ‘Sioux’?
S: It was a nickname from a schoolmate many (15?) years ago. She spelled my name “Sioux” on letters we passed back and forth during class. It just stuck, and pretty soon my peers and teachers were using the spelling. When I was pursuing my university degree in theatre I found that the spelling of the name helped distinguish me in auditions, etc. After so many years I became really attached to the spelling and identifying myself with the pattern and the shape of the letters. It just made sense.
K: I see you are shifting over to Sue Newberry. How’s that going?
S: It’s such a small thing, but a big shift to make. I’m still transitioning all my online sites. I’ve never loved “______ and the ______” band names, but here we are. It seems to make sense for now.
K: Canada seems to have two distinct indie modes of music. Solo verses Band projects. Where do you sit in that dichotomy?
S: I sit in both seats! In the past I’ve played mostly solo, duets, in small projects. The last 3 years or so I’ve been fronting larger bands – our current band has 6 members. It’s super, and so interesting to me right now. I don’t write songs anymore for myself and my guitar, and instead start to conceive and write songs with a 6-person rock band in mind. Playing with a full band for the first time was like grasping the edges of my song and pulling it open, making room for so many sounds. For me, the band enables the expression of the idea and emotion of the song in ways that can’t exist when I’m playing solo. Lots of new challenges, but I’m loving the results.
K: What’s it been like working with a band? Have they been part of the writing process too?
S: We don’t have any set rules about how songs come about. Most often I approach a member of the band, or the band as a whole with a song I have written beginning to end, and we play it out, making changes as suggestions arise. We have tried writing or re-writing together as a group, but find it not as effective. I’m looking forward to continued experimentation.
K: We’re doing this social media blogging challenge together: a challenge that asks musicians to pull out their bullhorns and spend some (a lot?) of time digging into the marketing side of music. How do you keep yourself creatively engaged with your music while at the same time promoting it?
S: Deadlines! I find it essential that my creative time be structured in a way that has actual results in mind. Most of my songs come from a strong lyrical or melodic idea, and those will often come out of unstructured thinking or playing times, but the idea will wither out if I don’t eventually lock myself in a room and put the hard and frustrating work in of finishing the song. Deadlines are essential motivators for me, and for my creative engagement. That might sound backwards, but putting up structures helps me to immerse myself fully in a creative work time – or else the day-to-day will take over.
For example, I’m currently in-studio recording the last few songs of an EP that I started a while back. At the same time I’m working with a publicist, graphic designer, booking gigs, updating social media sites… it’s a very exciting but overwhelming time. I can honestly say that without set deadlines (such as a planned CD release) I would not have put in as much time as I have on my own and with the band over the last month doing the really important work at this time: getting the tunes together for this weekend’s studio session! (P.S. – I’m writing this after day one of recording — bed tracks are sounding great!)
K: Can’t wait to hear it, Sue! So, you are smack in the middle of recording your album… that’s no light feat. Long days / nights that absorb most if not all of a person’s creative energy and care. And here you are doing this blog interview! Do you think self-promotion is a necessary evil of being an independent musician these days?
S: *laughs* I think it’s important for the artist have a handle on social media, and be up to date with how social media is connected to exposure, publicity, sales, ‘buzz’, etc — regardless of if the artist is at the helm of promotion or not. An unexpected result that I started to find about halfway through this challenge is this: I’ve been spending so much time with the ‘other side’ of the music, which is the product that is being marketed (as opposed to the creative process). Somewhere amidst all the thoughts, research and action regarding self-promotion that has been dominating the last 6 weeks I’ve discovered and started to truly believe that the ‘product’ I have is actually something that is worth promoting. So in that way, it’s not an ‘evil’ at all – it’s a pretty great motivator.
K: If you could delegate away one job as a musician, what would it be?
S: It can be really hard to let go of the reins when it comes to your own craft, and self-promoting that craft! I’ve been working at it, though, and seeing the benefits. Things like mailing out CDs and press kits is an extremely time-consuming job that is better left to someone who has more professional contacts anyway, to yield the best results!
K: You mentioned you were in the studio this past weekend… you’ve got a new project on the horizon! Your album is coming out! Tell me a little more about it. What’s it called? Where and with whom are you recording it? How do we get our hands on it?
S: I independently released a solo CD in 2008, as well as a duet CD with my brother David Newberry (2008). Both albums were toured from Ontario to PEI a few times. You can get a copy of the duets CD here:
My upcoming 6-song EP is my first full-band project. It’s under the band name “Sue Newberry & The Law” and is a far step away from the folk/country/roots sound of my first two albums. It’s taken me a long time of playing, writing and touring to start to hone in on my specific strengths as a songwriter and performer. This new turn toward an more indie-rock-pop sound is feeling good with my writing style and voice. I’m really excited to be a part of a team project and we’re really looking forward to the release and tour. CDs will be available online this spring. Our website is currently under re-design and will be launched shortly before the CD release. “Like” our bandpage and you’ll be sure to hear about how to get your hands on a new CD!
K: You’re doing some tour dates around Ontario this spring with your brother who’s also a musician. Sibling rivalry or revelry?
S: Revelry, in accordance with the specific definition:
rev·el/ˈrevəl/ [verb] Engage in lively and noisy festivities, esp. those that involve drinking and dancing.
K: Awesome ~ a dictionary definition! You’re a gal after my own heart, Sue. And now a few random questions: what’s your favourite mode of travel? (Bus, train, car, plane, boat, bicycle, skateboard, luck dragon?)
S: I’ve been taking the MegaBus lately from Toronto to Kingston for TEN DOLLARS. Double decker! That’s been pretty sweet. I do enjoy (non hwy 401) driving. But all that is behind me now, since I’ve switched to travelling via Luck Dragon. It’s kinda like, our band’s “thing”.
K: What are two lines from the cheesiest song you have ever written?
S: This question is awesome.
this glass won’t see me turn to stone
this face i see just can not be my own
this world around me can’t revolve
until all my problems have been soooolllllllllvvvveeedd (courtney love growl-out ending)
K: Yeah!! What are two lines from the song you are most proud of?
S: Our song “The Law” on our new EP is a mysterious story about a hero running from the law… but why is she running? Lyrics are pithy and fun to sing. It starts:
If you believe what you read than I’m a
but don’t be deceived, believe me,
I’m just going through some hard times
and don’t we all go through
hard times ?
K: Nice! You’re awesome, Sue. Thanks so much for talking with me. Good luck with finishing up and launching your EP!
LISTEN to the song: The Law
From Sue Newberry & The Law’s upcoming album.