Suzie Brown / Blog

New album update - all about the band - Part 2

These are the remaining cast of characters:

3. Jano Rix: Jano is a percussion wizard. He eats well, exercises, dresses really sharply, and has high cheekbones, blue eyes, and neat curly brown hair. His dad is also a drummer. He has a crazy bag of percussion tricks - including at least 10 shakers he made from empty pill bottles, cans, and other stuff. His drums are mismatched. He has a cool washboard attachment for his snare. All to create unique and cool sounds. During the course of recording a song, he'll try all sorts of combinations of snare, high hat, cymbals. Some of his cymbals are all warped and bent out of shape (on purpose). I assure you he did NOT buy his drum kit at guitar center last week from a guy in a bad suit. Oh, and did I mention he's a KILLER piano player? It's INSANE!!!!! Piano, wurlitzer piano, melodica, and even the Hammond B3. He actually didn't even know how to turn the organ on (he googled it on his phone) and proceeded to KILL the part. Sent chills up my spine.

4. James 'Hags' Haggerty: Hags is the greatest! He's a jovial, red cheeked, good natured, eeeeaaassssy going, music lovin, bass player. He plays both the upright and a crazy cool vintage electric bass. He's always groovin - i.e., he's super into playing a funky cool groove (when appropriate), and also laying out when the song needs space. As jovial as he is, he's very serious about his playing. He listens back to every single note, seeing if there's anything he could have done better. Love him!

5. Jim Hoke: Oh my goodness, this guy is a musical freak (in the best possible way!!) - he's literally a genius. He plays a zillion different instruments, and not just plays them, SMOKES them!! We brought him in for a night to play pedal steel and horns on a couple songs. He had never heard any of the music. We had him do several takes of the pedal steel song (since he had never heard it) and for the most part, we ended up liking his first pass the best!! I.e., the one he played when he was just hearing the song for the first time and used his gut instincts. Then we wanted him to play horns. We played the song for him - he made a full chart by ear as he listened. He picked up his alto sax and started playing - we thought he was just practicing but recorded it anyway - and at the end he said 'Ok, gimme another track'. He then proceeded to pick up his baritone sax, and play the PERFECT part with the take he just did. In other words, he knew the part he was going to play from just hearing the song once, and executed it without a hitch. To give you some perspective, with normal humans this could have been a 3 hour ordeal with 3 horn players - with them all deciding on the parts they want to play and trying to get it right. Instead this guy banged it out in 20 minutes. It was quite a phenomenon.

That's the cast of characters!! I'm so grateful to each and every one of them. The rough tracks are sounding really incredible. I can't wait to share the music with you all!!!

To preorder your copy of the album (and lots of other goodies - t-shirts, posters, your name in the liner notes, hand written lyric sheets), click here or go to: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/suziebrownismakinganewalbum/. We're at 70% of our goal with 20 days left!

New album update - all about the band - Part 1

It's so hard, when you're experiencing something AMAZING, to convey it to people far away. But I wanna try, because this has been one of the best weeks of my life. I'll start by telling you about all the players I've been around:

1. Scot Sax: I'm biased of course (he's my husband) but Scot is one of the most creative people I know. He thinks so outside the box - which is great when you're making an album, because the world is all stocked up on girls with guitars, and I want this album to NOT sound like everyone else's. He comes up with these zany ideas for parts/instruments to use which end up being PERFECT! And he is an absolutely beautiful guitar player. He never plays the same thing twice - everything he plays is off the cuff, spontaneous - it's pure creativity. You can tell (subliminally) the difference between a stock guitar lick and one that was just born - it makes things more exciting, more live, more sincere. Not to mention Scot is soooo funny!!!! He's the king of puns (yes, I married the king of puns). He keeps the mood light, makes everyone laugh, makes sure we goof off just enough to not get fried.

2. Oliver Wood: Oliver is tall and thin with shoulder length straight blond hair and a Colorado disposition. He's our papa bear. He's patient, kind, thorough, thoughtful, organized, and completely free of ego. I cannot imagine a better producer. Anytime someone has an idea, he's willing to try it, even if it seems completely zany. He's kept careful notes on every song about his production plan, and listens so carefully, scrutinizing every song line by line. He's been very nurturing to me - he always checks in to make sure I agree with where things are going. His style is to keep things just a little porch-y, live, spontaneous, organic, rootsy, not-from-a-can. We're leaving in little imperfections that are inevitable when you record an album truly live - it's those little things that keep it from being boring! The idea is not to get to 'perfect' but to get to 'I feel it in the guts good'.

To preorder your copy of the album (and lots of other goodies - t-shirts, posters, your name in the liner notes, hand written lyric sheets), click here or go to: http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/suziebrownismakinganewalbum/. We're at 70% of our goal with 20 days left!

More to come....

Pre-production rehearsals with Oliver Wood

Friends, Scot and I had a day of absolute musical magic with Oliver and the boys - the boys being Jano Rix (drums - he's the Wood Brothers drummer) and Jim 'Hags' Haggerty. We ran through the first half of the songs and they just came alive. Jano was rocking the drums, shutar, and melodica, Jim on upright and electric bass, and Oliver was running the show and playing guitar. I should also add that Oliver was singing harmonies with me on a couple songs & I thought I might pee myself!!!! And the best part is, in addition to being just amazing musicians, everyone is so darn nice and easy to be around. It makes everything a million times better.

We emerged from our bliss and were just gutted to hear the news about the Boston Marathon. My friends and family are all ok, thank goodness (and thank you to everyone for their concern). I don't really know what to say about it. I have walked down that block hundreds of times. And my dad and I just ran a marathon ourselves - the joy you feel when you cross the finish line is so special and I just can't imagine anyone doing something like that. It's unthinkable.

Stay safe everyone. Today we run through the rest of the songs, and tomorrow is our first day in the studio.

Love to you all, Suzie

Thank you for your support over the last few days! We're now at 63% of our goal with 28 days left. To preorder your copy of the new album (or any other number of goodies - tshirts, posters, hand written lyrics, get your name in the liner notes) - go to www.pledgemusic.com/projects/suziebrownismakinganewalbum

Awards, new record, and more updates!

Wow, I didn't realize how long since it's been since I posted one of these. 4 months! I guess time flies when you're making a record....

So much to fill you in on since we last 'talked'. I've narrowed it down to a 'top 10' of sorts...

#1) I guess most important is, we finished the record!!! (I think....) Meaning, we had what was supposed to be our final mixing session last Friday, but are letting it simmer for a few days before taking the plunge and sending it to be mastered. I've listened to it so many times that I think I need to clear my ears for a few days before having a final listen...it's like when you write a term paper and you've read it so many times you have no idea what it says anymore. Though even with fatigued ears, it sounds AMAZING!!!!!!!!! I'm honestly so excited to share it with everyone. It is beyond my wildest dreams to have made a record like this. My Dad cried when he heard it :). There are strings, horns, lots of harmonies, Wurlitzer & organ, and more.

The album will be released nationally May 24th. We'll be pre-releasing a free, downloadable single from it in the next month or so. Keep your ears peeled!

#2) I booked CD release shows in NYC (May 25th), Portland Maine (June 2nd), Boston MA (June 3rd), and Philly PA (June 10th). More to come....send requests if you got em!

#3) I made a music video! That was a first, for sure. I enlisted the help of my friend and professional filmmaker Alison Crouse as well as Scot Sax, who is a seasoned Grammy-award winning musician with lots of experience with videos. I tried my best not to feel like a total dork during the filming. I have to admit it was kind of fun to pretend to be a movie/rock star for a few minutes. We'll also be posting that in the next couple months.

#4) I just found out that I was a semi-finalist in the 2010 International Songwriting Competition for 'I'll Be Gone', which will be on the new record. Yippeee!!!!

#5) We are in the process of putting together a documentary of the making of my record. We being Alison Crouse and me. Alison and my intern Felix Ramirez came into the studio a whole bunch of times to film the process at different stages. We have footage of all the players, Barrie Maguire (my producer), the horns etc etc along with interviews with me along the way. It's soooooo cool.

#6) Between March and April, I will have opened for Josh Ritter, Sonny Landreth, Lucy Kaplansky, and Peter Case. Not bad for 2 months!!!

#7) Making progress on album art. Dwayne Booth and Kendra Lebo are my artistic brains for this. And Andrew Wallach took some really amazing shots while I was in Boston. We actually took the pictures at my sister's house in Newton, where I enlisted the help of my niece (3) and nephew (5) to make me laugh during the shoot so I wouldn't have 'fake smiles'. Worked like a charm! Oh and we're designing CDs of course, but also records, yup. Vinyl baby. Side 1 & Side 2. Gonna be so cool.

#8) Oh my goodness, I am signing with the most ridiculous publicity company. Like, ridiculous.

#9) A new website is also in the works.

#10) Yes, I'm still working as a doctor!

That's all I got for now. Love to you all. I'll leave you with a home-grown iPhone video I made the other day...finally learned a song on my uke!


Ashbury  (about 5 years ago)

You are an amazing person Suzie! Just spent the last 2 hours on your site here, listening to songs, watching all the videos and reading your Bio and blogs....can't help having true admiration for you. I'm awe-struck!! Rob D. ~Ashbury

Almost done (with phase one)

We're really getting there....man making a record is such a huge project! We're recording 10 songs total....I now have only one song to sing, and have finished all of my guitar tracks. We've had a slew of people in to do their thaaang....of course the basic drums bass, electric guitar, but also piano, organ, Wurly (Wurlitzer), horns. We've done some clapping and stomping - that was a fun night! Snaps are still on the agenda for one song. Still to be done: we're assembling a string section to play on a few tracks, and my friend and amazing musician Becky Bliss (from Barnaby Bright) is going to come from New York to play the harmonium on a couple songs, and to sing some harmonies. And all of the other vocal harmonies. I'll probably do some of them, and have other people come in to do others.

After the recording part is done, we'll have to mix it. That basically means: taking each instrument on the song and putting it in balance with the other. It also means optimizing the EQ of each track to make it sound the best it can. It's both technical - because you have to know so much about sound - and extremely artistic - because you have to have a vision of what's possible to know what tools to choose. It's amazing how the song comes alive during the mixing process.

I worked full time this past week, and am playing a whole bunch of shows this month (upstate NY at the NERFA conference, Fairfield CT, Chicago, Philly, and Brooklyn), so it's a good time for Barrie (Maguire-my producer) to spend some time making rough mixes of all the songs that we can work from to write the string parts and the harmonies. When I get back from my travellin', we're going to hit it hard again and hopefully have the whole thing done by end of December.

I'm continuing to plan the CD release show details....it's going to be Friday, April 8th at World Cafe Live (downstairs!!). I've asked Jake Snider to be one of the openers, which I'm so excited about. I met him at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, where he played on the XPN local stage this year. We were both hanging in the campground at one of the musicians' tents and started chatting. He's from this area, is living in NYC now going to Columbia, and has been kicking major musical ass everywhere. You should definitely check him out. And he's an amazingly nice and sincere guy. It's going to be great!

And the album cover....I'm planning on pressing some vinyl in addition to CDs, so I have some thinking to do about what I want. I've found a graphic designer and am in the process of booking a photographer. And what other merch should I make? T-shirts? Hats? Tote bags? Whaddya think?

More to come...

CD release show booked 4/8/11, documentary & more

Haven't checked in in a while....only because I haven't sat down long enough to write something!! We've taken a little breather on recording this week to give us a chance to put everything together, listen carefully, and decide what still needs to be done. I've used the time to get started on all of the post production stuff that needs to be done. Most important: I booked my CD release show!!! It's going to be Friday, April 8th, downstairs at World Cafe Live. Mark your calendars, tell everyone you know!! Also been thinking about album art....this time I'm going to be pressing some records, so there will be two sets of packaging to figure out. Open to suggestions of photographers/designers, if you have em. And who knows, I may even bust out and make some other types of merch, like tshirts, tote bags, etc. In general, we've been really cooking with gas...everything came along so quickly. Jaron Olevsky (from Amos Lee's band) came and played piano and organ on a bunch of songs last week. We had a full horn section in (Jay Davidson, Jared Melson, Adam Flicker) to play on What You Do To Me (soooo cool). And I've now sung and played guitar on the majority of songs. A string section is still in the works for a few songs, my good friend Becky Bliss (from Barnaby Bright) is going to come and play harmonium and sing harmonies when she's back from her European tour, and we're gonna have a whole bunch of Philly locals come in to sing harmonies as well. The best part is.....I have all of this on video! My amazing music intern Felix, and my good friend Alison Crouse have been filming a documentary. Alison is a filmaker who I met at a coffeeshop several years ago (we bonded because we were both knitting). She made an amazing short film last year called 'Song of Fishes', (distributed on Lazy Eye Pictures - see it online here: http://lazyeyepictures.com/work/films/a-song-of-fishes/...my song 'Side Streets' is featured in the score). The footage they've been getting is really amazing. I can't wait until we edit it all so I can show you. ----------------------------------------------------- CD Release show: Friday, April 8th @ World Cafe Live (downstairs)

Back to work/real life

Well, my week 'off' ended, and I had to go back to work yesterday. I'll be honest, I was dreading it. It's been such a dream making this record, and we have such momentum right now. Not to mention that my sleep schedule is completely whacked (from staying up till 2 or 3 every night in the studio). Monday night I had to leave early (10PM) from our recording session so that I could get a half decent night of sleep before my 7:30 AM start.

I got to work to find that 17 patients were scheduled in my morning clinic alone (that's a LOT), and as usual I get 15 minutes to see each. Not nearly enough time, so I frantically run from room to room doing the best I can. The pickle is: if I spend enough time with each I run late and everyone's mad, and if I keep it to 15 minutes I deprive my patients of attention they need and I feel terrible. Then there are the 17 notes to write after, which take at least 10 minutes each (meaning 2+ hours of my own time after work). In case anyone wonders why it's hard to work full time as a doctor in this health care environment, that's a little window.

But you know, as hard as it was to get there and get going, and despite the challenges inherent in our health-care system, I still really like my job. I finished my day with a sense of accomplishment, feeling completely satisfied. I'm grateful to still feel that way, in spite of how much I love making music, and in spite of the fact that my job takes me away from music to a certain extent.

After work Tuesday I went to my voice lesson, came home and did some booking/computer stuff, slept not enough, and worked today again. Tomorrow I'm at the hospital again in the morning, and then going straight to the airport to fly to Boston for a gig tomorrow night. Friday morning I'm flying back first thing and going right to the studio. Crazy. I bailed on my plans tonight so that I could exercise, pack, and stare at the wall for a little while before the onslaught.

As for the record.....Monday I cut my guitar part for 'Song for Amy', which is a song I wrote for my friend who died from lung cancer in June. It's amazing how music brings feelings rushing back. I kept tearing up during the song, kept remembering how I felt when I wrote it. Made me pretty blue, but grateful that I have this way to remember her.

After that I cut my first vocal track. I did 'Nice Girl', because I needed a pick-me-up. I was so nervous!! I mean, I know I can sing these songs, but the studio is so different. And this record means so much to me. I want it to sound AMAZING!!!! In recording it's easy to fall victim to 'paralysis by analysis'-- you think so hard about making it sound good that you completely take the life out of your performance, sound perfectly dull and lifeless. It has to be a PERFORMANCE, with energy and life. Which is harder than it seems in a recording booth with headphones, peeking out the window at your producer and engineer.

This weekend we're having a horn section come in....so excited for that! String section is in the works as well. And probably will cut more of my guitar and vocals. My voice teacher Kayle Brecher is coming for a session or two to give me some coaching on the harder songs. It'll be great to have her there.

More to come!

Day 6 in the studio

Today's day 6 in the studio (6 of the last 7 days). I'm so glad I worked extra this month to get this week off. I think it's been important to have concentrated time at the beginning to get things going.

What a whirlwind! I feel like I'm in a time capsule, like this is my new alter-universe :). I've gotten home between 2 and 3 in the morning most nights, tried to calm myself down enough to fall sleep, and woken up to start all over. It reminds me of residency a little. After being on call all night and working through the next day on a few hours of sleep at best, I would get home completely exhausted, but totally amped at the same time & found it so hard to go straight to bed even though that's what I should've done. Same feeling this week. I rarely turn on my TV, but it's been so nice to have to calm me down late at night.

Our one day off was Friday, and it was serendipitous that we chose that day, because the studio flooded!!!!! I left around 10 PM on Thursday night to pick up a friend from the airport, but Barrie and the other guys stayed to work on some edits/rough mixing, and by 1 or 2 AM the sky had completely opened and water started coming in the front door of the studio. A couple inches of rain ended up accumulating in the front hallway. Luckily no gear was damaged, and all the computers were safe etc etc. When we came in on Saturday there were huge dehumidifiers in the hall and that unmistakable smell of soaked carpet + a little mold covered in carpet cleaner.

Now that we're done with basic tracks it's time to start building the songs up. And cutting my final guitar and vocals. Yesterday was a little bit of a tough day for me. We decided to do some of my guitar tracks because we had no other musicians in. Man. I'm relatively new to the guitar, and doing this makes you realize how much you get away with during a performance that you can't in a recording session. We started with You Can Lie, which is the first song I ever wrote, thinking it would be easy and fast (since I've played it more than any other song I have). Wrong!!! Every little tiny thing shows up...muting strings a little early, slightly unsmooth transitions between chords, plucking with the wrong touch. And even though they're little things, they really affect the feel of the song. But Barrie and Tim were so patient with me, gave me all the takes I needed to get it right, and I learned so much in the process. We did Nice Girl next, and it was the same thing. I felt almost like a different guitar player between the first and very last takes. I'm so lucky that everyone involved with this wants to work as hard on it as I do!!!

Today Ross is back in to cut extra guitar parts. He's ridiculous. Like, ridiculous. He just absolutely KILLED it on What You Do To Me. With every step, the songs sound even richer, even more evolved, even more what I imagined for them when I wrote them.

This process is making me fall in love with my songs all over again.....but as a listener rather than the writer. Feels pretty amazing.

Basic Tracks

4 days down....

It's been kind of a blur! There are no windows in here so it's easy to lose track of time...and we've been here till 1-ish every night. I keep getting home at 2, exhausted, but also totally amped. Somehow it's hard to come home after a long day and go straight to bed. So I've plopped on the couch and turned on the tube for a while (Oprah's on at 1, who knew?). Last night I fell asleep on the couch till 4 and then moved to bed, realizing I missed a huge torrential downpour with my windows and sliding door open. Woops.

So this week we've been doing basic tracks. Basic tracks are the skeleton of the song, the core of the song. In most cases it consists of guitar, bass and drums all playing together as a band (yesterday we had piano as well). The instruments are isolated from each other as much as possible so that if someone makes one tiny mistake in an otherwise great take, that person can redo just that small part. But it's important to record as a band to capture the energy of playing together. Getting good basic tracks is harder than it seems! It's such an artificial environment compared to a live performance with an audience...so it takes sumtin special to get a good, spontaneous, natural sound. It's easy to get too technical and forget to emote.

Once the skeleton of the song is done, then you add on whatever other instrumentation the song needs, layer by layer. And I'll have to recut my guitar and vocals separately, since what I'm doing now is just a place holder for the other musicians.

The producer pretty much runs the show. Both big picture and small picture stuff. He listens and makes suggestions....different feel in this place, don't pause in that place, use the snare instead of the tom in that other place, need more dynamics here, etc etc. Trying to make the song sound the way it was intended to. Later he'll also help me figure out what other instrumentation we need for the songs (gonna have horns and strings, among other things!), and what the parts should sound like.

He is sooooooooo experienced, so great. His disposition is just perfect for this....totally matter of fact when something sounds like sh*t (which I appreciate--I'm used to frank feedback from my 'other life'), gets excited when things sound good, and he's a total work horse. He's just as efficient at 1AM as at 1PM.

We've had a couple moments of tension when I've wanted something different from what he wants and vice-versa. For me, I have to walk the line between defending what I want for a song and trusting people who are a zillion times more experienced than me. A moving target. Like, this sounds small but there's a part of the chorus of 'I'll Be Gone' that he things should have a different chord....and I totally see what he means and why he's saying that....but it bugs me every time when I hear it his way. There have been so few things that he insists on, that I'm reserving judgement until I've heard it a bunch and have a chance to get used to it. I can always veto later.

But overall things have been great....and it's actually amazing how much we all agree: musicians, producer, engineer, everyone. It's such an incredible thrill to start hearing your songs fully 'realized'....after practicing and thinking through exactly what every little part should sound like, and played by incredible musicians.

We're off tomorrow, and then back for the weekend. More to come!

Day One

Day one.

We decided to start a little early today (10AM - that's like the middle of the night in music time) since there's a lot of set up that has to be done, and one of the musicians has to leave early for a gig. I of course got here right at 10 (old habits die hard - I can't help be on time to important things!). The engineer and a few other people who work here were here, but no other musicians. So I went and got a soy latte and figured I'd write a bit while everyone arrives.

It's funny how you remember a place after only having been there once. All wrong! To be honest, I was a little intimidated by this studio when I first came. It's soooo much bigger than where I recorded last time, has super fancy gear, has a humongous mixing board with 8 million dials, there are video games, big leather couches. And the day I visited there was a hip hop project going on with a fancy LA producer. I still feel so green, and this place felt so legit. But I knew it was the best choice overall, and my producer really liked it, and I figured I get comfortable once it was my project with my people.

But here I am, and I realize that my memory was playing tricks on me! I think it was: nervousness + true memory = something completely warped. The rooms are good size, but much smaller than I remember, and I love the comfy leather couches, and everyone is so nice and welcoming.

Am I nervous? Kind of, but nervous isn't really the right word....I'm definitely excited, have high hopes, there's been so much anticipation, and it means so much to me for this to turn out 'good', for it to be something I'm really proud of. But I think about the musicians who are playing, and how amazing my producer is, and how much I love the songs we chose, and I honestly can't imagine how things aren't going to be great. I have so much faith in our little team. And I don't want to waste this experience worrying....because it really would be a waste. Going to have as much fun as possible, enjoy this unique time, and whatever comes out in the end, I'll be thankful to have had the chance document this time in my life in this way. What a trip it will be to play it in 50 years.