Canadian singer-songwriter Suzie Ungerleider is delighted to be playing Brighton on her latest UK tour, taking in The Folklore Rooms, Brighton, on Wednesday, June 28 at 7.30pm (01273 733238).
Maybe 20 years or so ago she released a record on a Brighton label – and now she is with a Brighton label again: “I’m back connected with Brighton which is great! I first came to this country maybe 23-24 years ago, and sometimes in the music industry something really quite flukey happens. I was on a weird tour of the western US states in the late 90s and I went to an internet radio station, thinking to myself ‘What actually is an internet radio station?’” But one thing led to another, and someone suggested she get in contact with Bob Harris in the UK: “I told my manager. He was a young guy and he didn’t know anything about British celebrity DJs but he sent some music to Bob and Bob started playing my music and that’s how I got the first record deal in Brighton.” Suzie definitely has an affinity with this country: “I do have quite a lot of darkness especially in my earlier records and I think that has resonated in the UK where is there is a love of the darker side and also a darker sense of humour. I enjoy it. I got it from my father. But I’m also really into narrative songs and songs that have really vivid images and I think that harks back to the British/Irish/Scottish traditional balladry, and I think that’s another thing that connects me with the people in the UK.”
Inevitably, there will be plenty of people in the UK who still know Suzie under her old stage name which she started out with, Oh Susanna, alluding to the classic American folk song Oh! Susanna: “I changed the name a couple years ago and it was hard because logistically but I’m so glad that I did it. It really felt like it allowed me to merge my musical self with who I am off stage. At first one of the reasons I adopted the name was because I wanted to separate the two, and I just saw it as part of having maybe different selves and having a different self on stage. And the people that knew me as Suzie didn’t necessarily know that musical part of myself.”
But Suzie became aware of the racist context of the song: “And I just felt I was somehow perpetuating those ideas even if that was not remotely my intention. And when there was the George Floyd death. People were looking a lot more at people like myself, privileged white people that didn’t get the racist connotations and hadn’t suffered. I started looking at that myself and it felt like having that name, I was just perpetuating it. It was a very natural name change in an artistic sense. It was more difficult logistically but that was just the boring side of it, just trying to figure out how to do it. But it does feel really good for me on a really personal level because I get to feel more connected with my everyday self, and we’re all on this metaphorical journey about being OK with who you are, and on stage I am now actually singing as myself. I liked the idea originally of having this different persona, a wonderful shorthand for making things more theatrical and at that point my imagination was much more in an old Americana space but that has changed and I’m just more connected with myself.”