graceful human observations come together in new album
By Erin Ainsley Lough
For more than a decade, Oh Susanna (Suzie Ungerleider) has been gracing audiences with her softly sung narratives of love found, love lost and the hardships learned in between.
With her newest release, Soon the Birds, Ungerleider will be performing with well-known Canadian talents, such as Justin Rutledge and Matthew Barber. She and Barber have recently been in the studio rehearsing for their upcoming shows, with plans to intertwine their melodies together onstage.
“That’s going to be fun – I love singing harmony,” says Ungerleider. “Matthew really sings from the heart.”
When asked if the songwriting process has gotten any easier for her since releasing her first EP in 1997, Ungerleider admits to having high expectations of herself.
“Every time I come at writing a record or a new batch of songs, I think it’s going to be harder than it is… It’s good to aim high, but I think it’s a trap because I second guess what I’m doing.”
With songs that evoke such strong, raw emotions, one has to wonder where all that inspiration comes from.
“I eavesdrop a lot,” laughs Ungerleider. “It’s hard to write a purely joyful song without having it sound sappy or sentimental. I envied Smokey Robinson because he was able to write joyful tunes without sounding cheap – it’s real emotion.”
One particular track on her newest album that stands out is “Lucky Ones,” which she does with the accompaniment of the highly regarded Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo), who has served as a source of inspiration to Ungerleider over the years.
“Jim and I have sung a lot together on the stage and in the studio. He is able to get across what he wants but also have people feel like they want to receive it,” says Ungerleider.
As a little girl growing up in Vancouver, she reflects on her past and the dreams she had.
“A lot of people grow up singing in the church. I never really had participated in music in front of people, and I just was one of those kids who liked to sing into the hair brush in front of a mirror,” explains Ungerleider. “I wanted to be a singer, but I didn’t know if I was one – it was a secret desire.”
Now that Ungerleider is a wife, as well as a mother to her five-year-old son, it seems probable that her changed status has also changed her perspective towards the music industry and writing songs.
“It has, in not so obvious ways,” says Ungerleider, as she explains how being a mother has allowed her to creatively put herself in her son’s shoes by asking questions like, “What’s it like to be growing up? What’s it like to be a kid? Is it hard to be a kid?”
Through this exploration, the songwriter teaches her son about the positive and negatives that are attached to the music business.
“It’s a personal fulfillment and that’s what I want to emphasize to him, [and above all] it’s the passion that people have and the joys they get from pursuing something musical or artistic,” surmises Ungerleider about the intention of music.
A songstress always in search of a clearer path of understanding, Oh Susanna takes listeners on a refreshing journey of the human condition. Her intoxicating voice allows for a genuine level of connectivity between the performer and her respective audience.