Talking New Music, Grief, and Queer Identity: A Conversation with Susie Blue.

Artwork by Audrey Gillespie

Indie pop rock musician and Derry native Susie Blue is back after a year long hiatus with the long awaited EP ‘Boys Boys Boys’. Susie sat down for a (virtual) chat with Sam from The Jumble to talk new music, local artists she has been loving, and incorporating themes like grief and her own queer identity into songwriting.

Hi Susie! So, just to get things rolling- can you introduce yourself to the readers? 

My name is Susie Blue and I am a Queer Indie Pop artist. I sing, write, and produce songs myself and then play live with a four piece band. 

‘Boys Boys Boys’ has just been released (Note- this interview will be published just after the release of the EP) can you explain some of the thought processes and influences that led to this EP? 

Well it’s the first EP that I’ve produced myself with the help of Jonny Woods from Wynona Bleach. He let me use his studio and guided me through the process, contributing instrumentally and creatively. It’s the first time I’ve been totally myself with my music. I’ve had comments from people saying that it’s the first time they have ever ‘heard Susie Blue’ metaphorically speaking. It was nice to hear that, it is so scary doing it all by yourself, I kept worrying that I’d fucked it up but apparently I didn’t. I guess that’s’ good. 

Your queer identity is an important part of your music, and rightfully so- what does it mean to you to be an artist who is so open and honest with their music? 

If you’re doing it right, I think identity is key to music. I’m not naive, and I know that in the North being queer is a political situation, and because of that my music has been politicised. Which is weird because it’s mostly just me singing about the fact that I love women, but I do also sing about this country’s stance on queer people, and how it is against us in so many ways, even now after marriage equality has been achieved.

“There was a point in time when I decided that I was no longer going to write ambiguous, gender neutral love songs…”

I get why other queer artists may do that- to protect themselves and have that ambiguity, but I had a specific turning point where I said to myself “When I was a little queer kid, I would lose my mind hearing a song that represented me, hearing a woman use female pronouns in a romantic way, and I only heard that happen once or twice. I have to change how I sing my songs, I have to be honest like that. I have to make it clear that I’m singing about women”. I think love songs portraying queer relationships are so important, in my case, I was writing these songs and making it clear that women can have these romantic songs and situations- even if the media constantly seems to portray lesbianism in an exclusively fetishised or sexual light. It’s so much more than that. 

That reminds me of when big pop artists cover songs, say for example a straight male pop artist covers something written by a straight female pop artist, and they’ll change the pronouns in the song as if to clarify that they are still singing about a woman, even if the song was initially written about a man. They’ll change the pronouns to keep the song ‘straight sounding’…

Oh my God that’s one of my biggest pet peeves! I remember one time I noticed when Kings of Leon covered Robyn’s hit song ‘Dancing on my own’, and they just left the line the same. They sang ‘I’m in the corner watching you kiss her’ and that’s not even that big of a deal, but it insinuated that in this fictional scenario the song was describing, the person he was longing after (presumably a woman) was kissing a woman, and that blew my mind. 

Photograph by Megan Doherty

‘May God Forgive You’ is a biting track that sounds pretty raw, what jumps to mind when you think back on the songwriting process for this song? 

So when I write songs that are that emotionally charged – and most of the songs on this EP are – I’m in a headspace where I’m so far gone. I’m so immersed in something that’s come back to me that I write the lyrics as they come out of my brain. With ‘May God Forgive You’ it’s about something that happened so long ago, that I’m clearly still struggling with the idea of trust being broken and being lied to. That has come back to me nearly seven years later, and that build up of time is what makes it so emotionally charged. 

Grief and love are running themes on the ‘Boys Boys Boys’ EP. I myself lost my mum at a young age, and I really appreciate more open dialogue and representation of grief in all types of media, especially music. I understand how hard it can be to be so open about a topic like that, how did you find incorporating it into your song writing? 

I don’t even think I knew I was writing about Grief until it was out of me. ‘Pretender’ on the EP was a reflection on how often people were telling me ‘“Oh you’re doing so well!” in the past two years since my mummy died. Months after it happened people were praising how well I was supposedly doing, even though I wanted to say “I’m not! I’m losing my mind!”. I think when it comes to losing a parent especially, people just don’t want to mention it, as if mentioning it to you will open the floodgates. No-one wants to imagine losing a parent. I found as well that losing your mum is something you’ll have to keep telling people about for years. People ask about parents, or they ask if you’re free to hang out without knowing it’s her birthday or anniversary or mother’s day and you’ll have to tell them “Oh, actually, I can’t- I have to cry all day”. One thing I heard recently is that when you do tell people about it, they always say “I’m so sorry”, rather than saying they would love to hear a story about the person you lost if you’re feeling up to it. All I want to do is talk about my mum! But no one wants to ask because they’re scared to bring it up. ‘Daughter’ is a song about her reaction to me coming out, she was very much like “Who gives a fuck if you’re gay?! You should be proud!” and that’s in the song. That’s a song celebrating her while ‘Pretender’ is about putting that mask on, pretending I was fine, while everyone around me was commenting on how fine I appeared to them. I’m still pretending, it may sound depressing, but my mum’s never coming back-and that’s the hardest part- it’s only been 2 years and I have to do another 60-ish. This sense of pretending is part of grief. 

It’s hard to avoid the lock down topic- but what’s one album (by any artist) you’ve fallen in love with over the past year and why?

I’ve been loving Taylor Swift’s new albums. I’ve always loved her music but these two most recent albums and the whole story of her getting messed around by her record label makes me really respect her as an artist. It’s a story you hear over and over of women getting taken advantage of in the music industry, and she seems to have come back even more authentic as a response. Alanis Morissette came out with a whole new album too! Hearing her write about her life now and her family is really inspiring. Tegan and Sara’s ‘Hey I’m Just Like You’ is one I got for Christmas that I’ve been listening to flat out as well. 

We will finish off with another music question, but this time we will scale it back to local stuff- who are you listening to at the minute? 

I’m loving Without Willow, they’re a duo from Donegal, and Blackbird and Crow– who are the best live act I’ve ever seen. I’ve been listening to Roe, Cherym, Wynona Bleach, Problem Patterns and Gender Chores a lot too, they’re staples in the NI scene.

Interview by Sam Dineen

You can listen to ‘May God Forgive You’ and ‘Daughter’ on The Jumble Magazine Local Music Playlist by clicking here.

Susie Blue has big things coming up in the next year, you can keep up to date with Susie Blue on Instagram, and check out her discography of music on Soundcloud and Spotify.

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