Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed singer songwriter Susannah B about her music career, what inspires her songwriting, and her new album Deep House Sessions.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a creative person who does more than one thing – I’m a recording artist, song/film/TV writer, and actor – as well as a philanthropist, art collector, and mother of two college-age young adults and two dogs.
I’m also a native New Yorker, born and raised in Manhattan, who is a longtime devoted L.A. transplant.
When did you first WANT to write songs?
I was six when I wrote my first song. My mom was Carol Hall, a wonderfully talented and accomplished Broadway songwriter, and I spent a lot of time as a kid in recording studios and watching my mom write songs, so I guess I was just imitating her.
I still have the notebook page that I wrote the song on in my little-kid handwriting. The lyrics of the song were: “All the people/ in the city/big and little/ fat and skinny/ most of them I like”. Most of the people in the city…not all of them, but most of them, I like. That still makes me laugh.
When did you take a step to start writing songs?
I didn’t write songs for a long time because my mom was so successful, it was kind of hard to think about doing what she did because I would compare myself to her and I was worried other people would compare me to her, too. But I did sing and perform a lot growing up. Then in my 20s, I just started waking up in the middle of the night with melodies and songs in my head. I would literally hear the words in my head and write them down like I was taking dictation. Since then, it’s been a long journey of discovering my own voice and sound, which it turns out is quite different from my mom’s.
What was your first song released, and what was it about?
It was called “Brain Fever” – and it was about not being able to sleep after going on a first date because you can’t stop thinking about the person and lusting after them.
What was your latest song released, and what was it about?
My recent “Deep House Sessions” remix album has a song called “Far More” that’s a spiritual song about the idea that all of us are all more than just our personalities or our accomplishments or how much money we have – we are “far more” – and we have more power, creativity, and capabilities than what we think we have.
How many songs are you working on right now?
I’m doing a couple of different projects right now. I’m working on some demos for a TV show I’m developing and I’m also looking to record some new songs and an old one I just found in my files that I wrote years ago and never recorded.
Do you keep to a theme with your music, or just go where the mood strikes?
Most of my songs are what I would call philosophy songs … meaning a lot of them are about being happier or living in a way that feels better because it’s more self-aware. But I do respect my own creative muse and sometimes I write happy-in-love songs or songs about other people’s lives. Not a lot of heartbreak songs, though…I’ve been lucky that way.
What is your favorite song you’ve recorded, and what do you love about it?
It’s kind of hard to choose… but I would say one of my top favorites is “I Am Here” from my EP “Far More” – which I just recently re-recorded as a duet and which is going to be featured in a film that I am also acting in. I wrote the song with the idea that I wanted people to sing along with it, like a mantra or a chant. The idea behind it is that right where I am, right now, is the place I am supposed to be. It’s kind of similar to what you might learn from meditating – to accept the circumstances, no matter what, and know that you are okay. I think that can help us to feel more at peace.
Do you find other people’s music inspires you? Who do you listen to most?
Yes, absolutely! I’m inspired by so many artists in L.A. – I listen to the local radio station KCRW which streams online at kcrw.com – they have a fantastic roster of DJs and I am constantly finding new artists through them. One of my favorite artists right now is Billie Eilish – I’ve seen her live and she’s incredible. I also loved the Apple TV documentary about her – the cool thing is that it shows Billie and her brother Finneas writing and recording songs in the bedroom. I’ve never seen the recording process captured on film like that – you really get the intimacy and improvisational nature of writing and singing, of trying lots of different things until you find the one that feels the best.
Do you write your own music, or do you have musicians you work with?
I have a small group of musician-producers I’ve worked with for years. We have a lot of trust and mutual respect, which are ideal conditions for getting great performances to happen. We have a lot of fun together.
Sometimes I’ve co-written music, but I usually always write the lyrics on my own. It took me years to find the confidence to call myself a music producer, because I was not trained musically at all and I used to feel intimidated by trained musicians. But then I realized that I’m naturally musical, I have good ideas – and sometimes being untrained can be an advantage because I don’t get caught up thinking about the “rules” of music. Instead, I trust my musical instincts.
Do you play any instruments?
I like to say that I play the voice. That really is my main instrument, but I also play a little bit of piano and ukulele.
Do you like performing live, or does it scare you? Where can people watch you?
Yes, I like performing live! And yes, I always get a little nervous before I go onstage. But if I didn’t get nervous, I think I would worry because I think of the nervousness as excitement, too. I want that energy, it fuels me. It’s also what happens right before I do something really vulnerable, which is what performing is. Especially singing.
When I’ve taught singing to other people, especially in groups, almost everyone is so shy and scared – because singing feels like you’re baring your soul and standing naked in front of everybody at the same time. But that vulnerability is also why it’s so powerful and can have such a strong effect on people. I’m really hoping to get back to more live performances this year.
Is your music available online, and where can people listen to it?
Anyone can listen to my music on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, my website (Susannah B), and YouTube.
Are you able to make music full-time, or do you have a day job?
I’m really lucky to be able to alternate between making music full-time and working on the TV show I am developing which also has music in it. My “day job” for the last 20 years has been being a mom – but now my son and daughter are both college-age, so I think I’m going to be “unemployed” pretty soon!
Are your friends and family supportive of your music career?
Extremely supportive – I have a gang of friends who come every time I perform and cheer me on. I don’t know what I’d do without them!
What’s something you never expected about being a songwriter? What have you learned that surprised you?
I’ve had many experiences of being very surprised by how my music has affected people – sometimes in profound ways that I never could have imagined. For example, I once performed live at a spiritual center in L.A. called Agape and afterward, I really didn’t feel good about the performance, I was very down on myself about it.
Then a month later, this random woman who had been in the audience reached out to me and told me this story about how she was so touched by the song I sang that she’d bought a recording of the performance and had played the song for her father as he was dying in the hospital. They had been estranged for a long time and had reconnected when he got sick – and they had listened to my song together (which happened to be about forgiveness) and it became a really healing experience for them at the end of his life. When she reached out to me, she asked me to sing the song at his funeral, which I did.
So what I had judged as a less-than-great performance turned out to be a transformative experience for this woman and her dad, and it taught me that music touches people in ways that are very deep and powerful. I’m sometimes my own harshest critic but I’ve learned that my music has the potential to touch people more than I realized, in all sorts of ways.
Do you have any important events coming up we should know about?
I’m starring in a short film that also features two of my original songs and one of my jazz covers. It will be heading to film festivals and will be available for viewing soon. I also have a new single dropping in the next month or two – it’s a remix of a jazz cover – and I’m working on some new tunes as well that I hope to release in the next few months
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to write songs?
Don’t let the negative voices in your own head or other people’s opinions get in the way of you trying what you want to do. Record yourself, play around, and experiment! Do your best to let your creativity flow without getting ahead of yourself deciding whether it’s “commercial” or not. Playing an instrument is helpful, so that you can accompany yourself live. I’d say just go for it!
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, I’m proud of the albums I’ve released and the music I’ve made, especially some of my older albums that I think still hold up and sound good. But I think the nature of an artistic life is to be somewhat unsatisfied forever and to keep trying to do more and stretch and grow as much as possible.
Pop all your music, website, and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Susannah B website – http://www.susannahb.com/press/
Susannah Blinkoff on Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/artist/6lZuGCUc1dQpu2ggbK3fkQ
Susannah Blinkoff on Apple Music – https://music.apple.com/us/album/lets-pretend/283144344?uo=4&app=itunes
Susannah B on Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/artist/1CMiWstVqqDU4DAEmPpZVY
Susannah B Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/susannahbmusic/
Susannah B Instagram page – https://www.instagram.com/susannahbmusic/
Susannah B on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBKrqWacc73epsQSY862jZA
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