(Photo courtesy © Kelly Ann Shuler Photography)
Central PA Musician Plays a Pretty Mean Guitar
Written by Gina Tutko
PA Music Scene.com
At the age of five, Suzi Brown’s parents started her with piano lessons. She remembers constantly hearing contemporary classical music piping out of her grandfather’s truck. Growing up she recalls listening to Gershwin and the complexity of the song “Rhapsody in Blue” which always kept Suzi on her toes, enticing her to explore music beyond basic chords.
Although she has played piano for 17 years, this 22-year-old singer/songwriter also plays the guitar, mandolin, bass, auxiliary percussion, pipe organ, ukulele, and didgeridoo. Suzi is really attached to her guitar. She has been playing for 9 years simply because she feels she gets the most texture/sound out of the instrument and she can take her guitar just about anywhere. Her music is a mix of acoustic, melodic, alternative goodness – slap happy guitar music! When it comes to her writing, Suzi tells me, “Melodies come instantly, but lyrics not so much, I was once told to write what you know and for being 22 years-old, I can say that I know a great deal. However, there is a great deal I don’t know as well. I am waiting for the material to come from experiences I have yet to encounter, I suppose.”
Suzi has a dream of becoming a full-time musician, whether that is a studio performer recording sessions for other artists, accompanying others, or just taking her own act on the road. She started playing a lot of open mic nights and has started to get recognized, slowly building a pretty good fan base around Central PA. She is now headlining shows and opening for other acts. Her rhythmic percussive beats and two-finger tapping style is reminiscent of Andy McKee, Ani DiFranco, and Trace Bundy. In July 2010, Rumspringa was recorded with a producer (in Boulder, Colorado) that was recommended by her good friend Stacey Dee. The album is a concept album of make believe, hitting reality and finding hope. Maybe you can say a classic “coming of age story” narrated through lyrical and instrumental pieces.
Still playing the open mic circuit and staying loyal to those who helped get her to where she is at, I wondered if being a female guitar player was hard in an area dominated with male guitar players; Suzi responded, “Yes and no, to be honest, where I excel (on the guitar) tends to be a male dominated. Sometimes is feels glorious to whip men into their place, other times I feel like I should play dumb on my level of skill. In the long run, it’s not about gender but recognition.” Like many other musicians, Suzi feels that music truly has become a DIY business. “It can be a bit daunting in terms of getting paid to perform, booking, promotion and set-up/tear down. I wish venues would notice all the hard work that goes on beyond simply promoting their venue for the show. I also want to mention Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center (Stage on Herr)… they personally have helped me grow and develop as a musician. They have given me great exposure to successful acts and even national touring acts!”
While going to music school in Australia, it was impressed upon Suzi to always be courteous to your soundman and to know the difference between a line/soundcheck… to allow them to be able to be most successful by not being arrogant or foolish while running soundcheck. “Communications and manners to the sound man go along way because they can make or break the performance through sound balance and EQ,” she says.
So how does Suzi get ready for a night of making music? “I pump some iron! You know, blast some “Eye of the Tiger.” Ha! Really, it’s promotion, Promotion, PROMOTION! Whether it’s jumping on a local radio station, posters, plug-ins at open mics, word of mouth… I take care of all the marketing aspects. I usually go out a few days before to a live local show, open mic night and listen to live music while crafting my set list for the show. The set list depends on my accompanists for my next show as to how I will craft the show and promote it as well. So each show is a little different,” she said.
Outside of her own music, Suzi likes to listen to other local musicians… Indian Summer Jars, Camela Widad Kraemer, Kevin Neidig, Stacey Dee, and Creekside Soul but her absolute love is The Indigo Girls, Brandi Carlile, and Katie Herzig. Suzi’s biggest musical inspiration has been Emily Sailers from the Indigo Girls stating, “There is just something about her lyrical content that is so honest and her chord structures are always so fitting to what she writes. That girl can rip some sick melodic lead lines on the guitar! The Indigo Girls have been in the field professionally for as long as I‘ve been alive. Their deep meaningful lyrics, complexity of open tuning chord structures and the cleverness has been successful to spite the fact that they‘re very outside the box, due to their level of depth.”
Her true quest for greatness is for her gift of music to make a difference. While going to school in Australia, Suzi also had the opportunity to go to Thailand as part of her academic studies surrounding music and social justice. Teaching women the English language along with having had the privilege of using music to help women who were being rescued and rehabilitated from prostitution in the bars/brothels of Thailand was so fulfilling to Suzi. “If I could be living back there doing that full time, I think that would have ultimately achieved my quest for greatness. To put myself lower than the greater good, while allowing my gifts to be useful to reach other’s needs is my goal.”
Suzi has no limits as to bookings. She will play weddings, private house parties, bars, coffeehouses, bar mitzvahs, restaurants, churches, you name it! I actually first heard Suzi performing with Stacey Dee at The River WRVV 97.3 - 2010 Annual Toys for Tots Benefit Concert at the Abbey Bar inside the Appalachian Brewing Company. You can email her at Suzi.Brown.Music@Gmail.com to book directly through her and check out the new website www.suzibrownmusic.com.
Upcoming performances are:
Chaplin’s Music Café – Spring City, PA – January 21st teamed with Sarah B. Deardorff from Indian Summer Jars and fiddle virtuoso Joseph L. Cheng.
Messiah College – Grantham, PA – February 4th at 8:00PM