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Suzy Bogguss

A Conversation with Suzy Bogguss (continued)

PM: So for people who call you country or swing, instead of just a great singer, they might have to switch gears a little bit for Sweet Danger, but good for them. I mean, if some people don't have a gear like that, well, they can listen to "Letting Go" or whatever. But I think this is as good as anything you've ever done. I mean, you sound as at home here as in any of your records.

SB: Well, I think I am as at home as I could ever be. My first reference, as far as playing guitar and making music, was Carol King and James Taylor, and bits of John Denver thrown in there. So that was my here's-how-I-accompany-myself learning. And then my first band experiences were with country bands, because I was in Illinois, and there was not much else going on. And I certainly didn't have any kind of--at that point I didn't have any aspirations to sing Led Zeppelin. [laughs]

PM: Right.

SB: The mentors to us at that time were singer/songwriters like Elton John and James Taylor. And as far as the girl singers, there were a few that were rocking the world, like Bonnie Raitt and people like that. We had Linda Ronstadt and we had Emmy, and we had people who really had pretty diverse choices in songs. If you were into Linda Ronstadt back then, I mean, people called her a country singer, too. And she reached a point where she almost had to get mad about it and say, "I'm not a country singer!"

PM: I'm just a singer.

SB: "I'm a singer, and I choose these songs to sing for whatever reason."

And that's a really difficult thing for me. Like I kind of had one of those little revelations. I was sitting at a campfire with Robert Earl Keen, because our kids are real good friends, and they ski together. And we were sitting outside at his ranch just talking about stuff. And I was telling him about the swing album, because this was back when I was making the swing album. And I said, "I'm nervous about what my fans are going to say, because I care what they say. I care what they think, and I don't want to alienate them, and I don't want them to think I'm turning by back on my past and all the great things that have happened to me because of my major label deal, and things like that." And he just was so pooh-pooh on it, he was like, "Oh, my God, what in the world are you whining about? You're a great singer, you could sing whatever you want to sing. Just believe that that's enough thread for your fans. They love your voice, they love to hear you sing."

And it was like I took a breath of water, and I found out that I could actually get oxygen out of it when he said that. I just kind of went, "Oh, my God, really? So I'm the thread. I get it."

PM: Yeah, I'm my own thread.

SB: And it was just like one of those moments where you just go, "I get it." Just that voice that once in a while somebody actually gets through to your hard head, Suzy. And this one actually got through. And then it just didn't matter.

For this record, I chose material that really was something I could get behind, and that I felt I could be honest with, and knew it'd be okay, things would work their way out. And so far I have just been thrilled with the response. The live audiences have just been thrilling me to death with their response--because a lot of times in a live situation you have to warm people up to a new song that they haven't heard before, but I just get a feeling from them that there's warmth in it already for them. It's like they are already a little warm and fuzzy to the tunes before they've even heard them. And so they give a good response on the first listen, and that's just been the coolest feeling for me.

PM: How about radio? Will you guys work it in a jazz radio format, or a light rock radio format?

SB: Well, this is our own label thing. This is the first time we've done it completely ourselves. And we just figured, as far as the funding of these kinds of things, that it didn't really make much sense to us to try to be a big record label. My hope is that this can kind of grow virally, like person-to-person. And I've been really encouraging my fans to tell their friends and to let them hear things--not in a nuisance way, like, "Oh, my God, sit in my car and listen to this," or anything. But that it be something that naturally they can kind of advocate and say, "I heard something really great, you should hear it." And I'm just hoping that that will click somewhere, and I'll get that kind of encouragement that it would make sense to invest. But for me to just like coldly throw money at radio, it doesn't really make any sense to me.

PM: Yeah, I hear that. And I understand from our friend Kissy Black that you actually built up and maintained a good presence on the web and in cyberspace, and that there is an outreach, alternatively, in that direction.

SB: Yes, and I really see that helping. It's been kind of wild for me because I started out back in the day when we actually did mailing lists. And we had co-ops between performers, way back when I was following Nanci Griffith, and Michael Johnson, and people like this. And we had a little co-op up in the Midwest. And each performer had to put a little bit into the notebook. Okay? So you gave them like three places that you could play across the country, one of your favorite places, and all the details that went with it, like what kind of sound system do they have, how much do they charge at the door--just all the little deals. Do they feed you? All this stuff. Some of them were even house concerts. And then I would sit down and I would book myself out there. Then I would sit down and I'd write 200 postcards, "I'm going to be back in Yellowstone Park. I don't know if you're going to be there when I'm there, but it just so happens that I'll be playing at the same place that you saw me last time," and la, la, la.

PM: Wow.

SB: And now I can do that one time and send it to thousands of people! And that's just a fabulous concept to me, because I saw it work back when I was developing a following, when I was in my camper. So it's kind of cool to see the ultimate version of that, taking that idea to the nth degree.

PM: Right. Instead of writing 200 postcards, you're doing an e-mail blast to thousands of people. Yeah, technology has its upside, for sure.

SB: Exactly. I actually see it as such a positive thing for someone like myself who has had some--whatever the status is out there, but--some people to get a base following. So it's been hard for me because I let too much time pass. And that has been frustrating for me because I wish that I would've had the foresight to realize that I needed to jump into this a long time ago.

PM: Yeah. Who knew that big label business as we knew it would start to go away so fast and so suddenly.

SB: It went really quick. It went really quick. And I was very busy with raising a child, too. Plus a lot of crazy things like losing my fan club list in a dead computer--

PM: Ouch.

SB: --and things like that, little things that you just would see as monumental--but I've found some of those people again through the myspace pages, because they write actual messages and tell me where we saw each other, where did I meet you, and this kind of stuff. And again, having started out in the way where I sign autographs after shows, and I talk to my audience, and I have much more accessibility than I had during those real heyday years where I was on the bus and we had to throw everything on there and get to the next city--that was a hard time for me, because even though life was really good and things were flowing--it was a beautiful thing, but at the same time you end up losing a lot of the contact with your audience, as far as more of a personal kind of contact, because the big venues do that to you.

At one point I had these in-ear monitor things, and I needed them to save my voice because I was doing so many shows. But we had these big long microphones out into the audience so that I could hear what they were saying to me. And I couldn't tell if it was coming from the left or a right. Half the time I was looking at somebody who wasn't even the one who was talking to me. I felt removed, and I didn't get that same kind of communication thing out of it, the kind I had all those years when I was coming up through the ranks. And now I play smaller venues. I get much more of the banter back and forth. Every show is completely different because you don't know who's out there. You don't know who is going to be the star of the show that night. Sometimes it's not me. [laughs] And I love it. I totally get into it. And every single night is different to me that way. And so you don't get on the bus and feel like, okay, well that's over. It's not like that. You get on the bus and you go, "Did you see"--and "Did you have this"--you know, it's much more of a life and less of a job.

PM: You know what people say about you, several great and salty musician friends of mine, independently, this week said, "Frank, you'll never hear anybody say anything bad about Suzy Bogguss; she's just too fantastic a person."

SB: Well, that's nice to hear. I'm afraid that "fantastic a person" might not have been the exact words. Sometimes I worry that everybody thinks I'm like a little goody-two-shoes or something. Fortunately I have friends like Matraca Berg, who just thinks I'm rotten. She just thinks that I've got the whole world snowed. She's like, "Ah, the stuff that comes out of your mouth, you're such a sailor. I can't believe all these people think you're so sweet."

PM: Well, it's good PR, anyway, it's nice, because that's a good rep in a town like this, or any town.

SB: Well, I never did feel like there was any reason to ever attack somebody. But when I first came to town and I would hear some of the people that I was kind of competing with for the "new artist in town"--and I'd hear them maybe either on the radio or I'd hear them--this is back in the mid '80s, when I first moved here, but before I was on the radio. And I'd hear them and I'd think, "I think I could sing better than that. I think I could do this better." And I wasn't in town for a year before I realized, you know what, it's not just about how good you sing or how hard--you know, whatever--what the hard hits were that you came through, it is like you're a hard worker and you're a talent if you can get to that place. And so at that point I realized I need to just keep my mouth shut, because I don't know what all this person has done. I don't know their influences and their background, and what all they have gone through to learn how to play an instrument or whatever, because all I know is what I did, and it was hard. And so it was hard for them, too. So I don't have any right to just go and slay them for something--for one song I might hear that might not be my favorite song they ever sang, or this or that. So that's the thing I learned early on was, best to just keep your mouth shut. You don't know. They might have written the biggest song in the whole wide world, and it might be the second single, and the one you didn't care for that much, and all of a sudden you're saying they're not a great artist. But you don't know that.

PM: And in a town like this, you never know when the person at the next table in the luncheonette wrote your favorite song.

SB: Exactly. That is exactly true.

PM: And if you don't like her dress or his shirt, it's just like, yeah, just don't worry about it. [laughs]

SB: Yeah.    continue


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