Austin-based singer-songwriter Suzanna Choffel released her new album “Hello Goodbye” last Friday. You can read Part 1 of our two-part interview with Suzanna here.
Interview conducted by Jackie Ruth
You have performed with others in addition to being a solo artist, correct?
SC: I have a full band – at most of my shows. I’ve been playing a lot solo recently because I haven’t been wanting to have a lot of full band shows leading up to my release. There was a time when that was all I played with, a full band, and it was nice to be able to do a lot of solo gigs too, with just me and my guitar. I’m definitely bringing [the full band] out for the shows coming up for the album release.
So, do you like having creative control when you’re performing solo, versus the camaraderie of a band? I’m sure they both have their pros and cons.
SC: They do. The thing about solo is you can do whatever the heck you want, you know? I actually just came from this happy hour gig where I totally tried out a couple of brand new songs that my band would not have known, so there’s freedom. But I love collaborating with other people, and it’s nice to have the others’ energy to share onstage, and to play off of each other and just get different sounds and rhythms. Me and my band have been playing together for a long time, so it’s like we know each other really well and we can feed off of each other really nicely, so that aspect I definitely miss when I play solo.
You got to compete on “The Voice” – was your experience that a lot of the performers had the same kind of background experience as you, or a lot more newcomers who are just trying to get in?
SC: It was probably about half-and-half. They do seek out a lot of established singer-songwriters and artists who have been doing it for years, and have albums out, and are just kind of independent. But there were a lot of what I call “babies,” a lot of really young kids who you could tell, this was their first rodeo. It was a lot freakier to them than it was to us, to the older or just more seasoned musicians and singers. To us it kind of felt like one more show or one more opportunity or one more thing, and for them it was like their first and it felt like The One and they had to, you know, make it or break it.
Was the experience on the show pretty much what you expected it to be, or was it completely different?
SC: It was a little bit of both. Reality TV is never exactly what you expect it to be. I really did not even know much about the show before I went on – I kind of auditioned on a whim. I landed a private audition and I was like “Eh, what the heck.” I didn’t think they were going to pick me because they wanted more pop stuff or whatever. I kind of assumed it was more like “American Idol,” but then I did some research and called some friends who had done it, and they were like, “Actually it’s pretty cool. They like to lean towards artists a little bit more than just singers,” and they were actually amazing. The producers were really great; they loved me and they were very positive from the start and were very cool about the songs that I did. I got to pick ones that I really liked.
There were some weird things – I think the thing I didn’t expect them to do the most was, you know, everyone has to have a story. It’s like there’s the tragic stories of people who’ve lost their parents or overcome a disease or something like that. I was kind of one of the more positive ones. They focused on the fact that I teach – I teach music, you know. It was just funny because my music career has always been number one and teaching is just something I do on a part-time basis as a job to pay some bills. I think what they do, because it depends on who they pair you up with starting in the battle rounds, they put me up against another singer-songwriter girl who I actually became really good friends with, Lelia Broussard. She’s awesome, and she had kind of just been doing her music in New York so they painted her as the indie rockstar musician or whatever, and I kind of became the music teacher from Austin, Texas. In a way it felt kind of lame, but I tried to keep a very positive view of it because they really made a positive story out of it. They were like, “She’s touched so many people and she’s helped a lot of kids,” so I was like, “You know what? Whatever.” I kind of let my ego take the backseat on that one … it’s reality TV and it’s just to get people emotionally attached to you.
Other than that, it was kind of what I expected it to be. It was cool and I had a pretty good experience overall. Blake Shelton, my coach, was a super sweet, genuine dude. I’ve actually been able to get in touch with him since the show and he’s always willing to promote me on Twitter and all that good stuff. A lot of my friends who had been on the show told me going into it, “Choose Blake – he’s the one who will most invest in you after the show.” Not that I expect him to … I don’t even know how he keeps track of everybody.
You performed at the Women’s Rally this January at the Texas Capitol. How did you feel when you got to perform there, and had you done anything similar to that?
SC: It was amazing. To be honest, I was only singing backup with my friend Wendy Colonna, who’s another singer-songwriter. She asked me if I would sing with her on a few songs; I think she felt awkward being up there all alone, so she asked me and another singer, Noelle Hampton, to join her. She was really sweet and gave me a whole verse and chorus – we covered “True Colors.” So yeah, it was very cool and, as you can imagine, extremely powerful. I looked out at that crowd and obviously it was bigger than anyone thought it was going to be. I mean, I couldn’t see everyone because I could basically only see people on the Capitol grounds, I couldn’t see beyond that. It was really cool because I heard for several days after, friends would be like, “I heard your voice as I was marching and it was so cool!” Little things like that were really awesome, and just to be part of, you know … I was planning on going anyway, just to march, and when I got asked to sing it was just so amazing to be able to have my voice heard at such an incredible event.
Is there anything you want to tell us about your album, or anything else we didn’t cover?
SC: Yeah, we didn’t really touch on the name or the theme of the album. It’s called “Hello Goodbye,” I wrote it kind of half in Austin and half in New York, because I lived in New York for three years right before I started recording. I got pregnant before I started recording, so the whole time I was recording the album with my first child and it was a total accident, you know, a beautiful accident that came along. Now, my daughter is two and it’s incredible. But it was sort of interesting because “Hello Goodbye,” it is one of the songs on the album and I decided to name the album that because I feel like a lot of the songs embody this sort of drifting between two worlds and choosing between two worlds, and sort of having to let go of certain things. As your life changes, certain doors open, you know, others closing. That kind of became the journey of the album or the theme of the album, but I didn’t know it until I kind of came to the end of it. I was like, “Oh yeah, it kind of feels like a door opening and another closing.” I kind of became a mother as I was recording this album.
I’d also read that it’s sort of an accidental concept album as well.
SC: Yes, exactly! It’s like, the first part of the album – I’m doing vinyl for the first time on this one, so we were also thinking like A/B sequencing sort of stuff. And yeah, side A is a little bit softer and moodier, and side B becomes a little bit more upbeat, funky and dance-y, so it’s got that going too.
So, would you recommend, even if someone isn’t listening on vinyl, that they listen to it in order as more of an experience than just kind of shuffling through the songs?
SC: Yeah, absolutely. People don’t really do that often anymore unless they are really, truly listening to it as a CD driving in their car or on a record player, so yeah. I think it’s absolutely worth listening from the beginning to the end because you get more of the arc of the feel of the record.
Originally hailing from Pennsylvania, Jackie has called Austin home since choosing to attend the University of Texas, where she graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism. She loves spending time with her dog, writing about pop culture in all its forms and spending time with friends – eating, drinking and doing trivia. You can follow Jackie on Twitter and Instagram.