Backseat Mixtape Vol IV - Sensational Woman Suzy Jones!

Design by Jared Dobro

My older sister Molly and I grew up listening to the music that our parents played around the house. A steady stream of The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, various musical theater soundtracks, The Beach Boys, The Who, The Byrds, Aretha Franklin, Motown compilations, and an assortment of classical music always filled the speakers in our dining room.

As we got older, we developed our own tastes in music. Molly was initially drawn in by the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Eva Cassidy, and eventually found herself in love with bands like Lake Street Dive. Meanwhile, I listened to some pop punk bands like Mayday Parade, which led to other bands like The Script, before getting hooked on artists like Lil Wayne, Jay Z, and Eminem. Throughout it all, I had a soft spot for sweet, feel-good acoustic music. Though Molly and I listened to different artists for most of our adolescence, our tastes in music were more similar than either of us realized— it just took some time before we shared enough music with each other to become aware of it.

When I graduated from high school in 2017, I asked my parents to get Molly and I concert tickets as a graduation present. Lake Street Dive was opening for Jack Johnson, who had been one of my most consistently listened to artists since I was a kid and I would play his Curious George lullaby album to fall asleep to. Lake Street Dive was already Molly’s favorite band, and although I had only heard a handful of their songs, I was really excited to hear more.

We had the greatest time at this concert. It was an incredible bonding experience for us. For the first time, it felt like we were real adults, enjoying and experiencing life together as friends and not just siblings. That concert was really the spark that lit the flame of our exchanging of music.

In early 2019, Molly sent me a song called “6 AM” by Suzy Jones. Jones sings beautiful soulful melodies, which are carried forth by her powerful, raw emotive voice: a voice that carries feeling and holds weight. A voice that holds you on the edge of your seat, wherever you are, calling on you to listen. One year ago today (March 6th), I drove four hours home from Ithaca for Spring Break. I walked into the house that I had lived my whole life in, yet I suddenly felt out of place.

My mom had moved out a week before. My dad was in the kitchen with his old college roommate, who remains one of his closest friends, putting together a dinner table to replace the one my mom had taken to her new apartment. I gave them both hugs and journeyed upstairs to my room. I looked at the walls which had once been covered in pictures and artwork, now bare, revealing only cracked walls and the nails that had once held them in their place. I put my bags down on the floor of my bedroom, closed the door behind me, put on my headphones, and sat down on the edge of my bed. I opened Spotify, clicked on Suzy Jones’ artist page and clicked play. I texted Molly, who was living in her apartment in Brooklyn, and wrote “I’m literally just sitting in my room crying and listening to Suzy Jones and honestly that’s just what the move is right now.” She replied “Greatest thing I’ve ever read. She’d die if she heard that. That’s like every small-time artists’ dream.” That made me smile.

Suzy Jones’ music holds a special place in my heart. It represents a connection to my sister through music, our shared favorite thing in this world. It reminds me of one of the hardest times in my life, but in a cathartic way. Her song “Growin’ Pains – Live” didn’t make me cry, it allowed me to. It gave me the strength to. So rarely do I find an artist whose voice alone carries the strength to throw me overboard into an emotional world, while simultaneously providing me with the ability to get back to shore.

At the beginning of January, I was lucky enough to set up a Zoom interview with Suzy Jones and talk to her about her passion for music as well as her newest album “Sensational Woman, Suzy Jones!” I started the call with a really nice conversation with her manager, Jay, who was kind enough to help me set up the interview. He told me about some of his experiences in the music world, and he even shared a great anecdote about the time he met one of my favorite artists, Frank Ocean. When Suzy Jones joined in the call, It felt like a privilege to see the two of them interact for what was clearly the first time in a while. I just sat back on my bed and smiled as I watched the two of them catch up and tell each other how much they missed seeing each other’s faces. It was an interaction that all of us have surely missed in the past year, being so painfully far from those who we love.

I sat on my bed and Suzy walked around the block of her Atlanta suburb as we dove into our conversation.

Find the full interview here:

Aaron Bogin: So, I guess first off, how are you?

Suzy Jones: Um, you know, we’re living in a pandemic. I’m having tour withdraws, I’m missing my fans, I really miss the music scene a lot. I’m not trying to force it too much, but I am creating and hoping to put some stuff out soon. With touring not being a factor and everything, I’m trying to take it easy and not put too much pressure on myself and not force anything, but it’s also been a bit of… I guess an opportunity to…relax a little bit? I don’t know, very interesting times we’re living in.

Aaron Bogin: And getting more interesting by the day.

Suzy Jones: Yes, absolutely.

Aaron Bogin: I so appreciate all of your social media posts by the way. From the person side of course but also from the music side and the artist side. I think it’s really important. Obviously, you have music that reflects your beliefs but then to further that by backing it in real life I think is really important.

Suzy Jones: Thank you so much! It’s definitely keeping me ‘entertained’ in quarantine and what not and its always been very important to me to remain authentic even in times where being myself felt scary and made me feel unliked. I think that’s always key: to be yourself and not trying to force being anything else.

Aaron Bogin: Yeah, I totally agree and that really does come through in your music.

Suzy Jones: Thank you! I'm glad that that resonates. Very Glad.

Aaron Bogin: On that note, I was wondering if you could talk to me about your most recent album, “Sensational Woman, Suzy Jones!” and the process of creating it as well as the reception.

Suzy Jones: Yeah definitely! Wow, with the pandemic time feels like it’s moving so fast and so slow. The album just came out in May, yet it feels like it’s been two years in a way? It was a lovely experience. I made that album with Andy Rose, who’s an amazing producer based out of Santa Monica. He’s a great, great person. It was such a lovely situation meeting him for the first time; it was just a jam set up by a previous manager of mine and it clicked. In the first hour we wrote “Final Piece” and I was like, oh yeah this is a wonderful guy. And I wasn’t even shopping to make an album. Andy and I just had such a glorious musical chemistry that we just kept writing song after song and just kept hanging out. He was in LA for a week and I ended up with him every day in the studio.

It was awesome times. I’m just reflecting on it now; it was such a wonderful season of life. I also remember like… I couldn’t afford Ubers and I’d have to go from Hollywood where I was staying out to Santa Monica so I’d be on the train every day for an hour commuting just so I could write with Andy Rose every day. I did that every day for like a year. Eventually we came out with those songs. From those songs we decided, “let’s get some badass instrumentalists on these.” And we got a killer crew, just tons of killers in the LA industry…or I guess the scene, I don’t know. I got to work with some great writers too. I got to have a collab with Allen Stone, we had Donna Missal in one day, we wrote a song together, “Criminal.” A lovely experience. A learning experience too. Who knows what the future albums will hold, but that was so awesome. And the album took a while to come out too. Maybe like an extra year after it was all done cause…business is kind of difficult some time. I didn’t realize that. Especially being an independent artist. I was so happy when it finally came out because I could give it to my fans. I felt like it encapsulated a period of my life that I was growing beyond, so I was happy to finally give it out.

Aaron Bogin: That’s a really interesting point and I love that about songwriting. The music is a part of that time of your life. And when it’s been such a long time after that where it gets released, do you find yourself dipping back into that period of life or was it more your reflecting upon it, or what were those feelings?

Suzy Jones: You know, it’s really funny you ask. I was actually thinking about that today. I was thinking about lyrics I wrote. I’m in a whole new season of life now. Some of those songs I wrote three to five years ago. The most recent write on that album is now two years old, at least. No, three! It's 2021! Oh my gosh, time is passing that’s insane. Hahaha!

So yeah, today I was thinking about some of the lyrics I wrote. And where I stood with myself, where I stood with the world. My perspective three years ago was like, that’s fucked! Cause I was thinking about all the cynical thoughts I had in relationships and the things that I’d write down. I’d write down lyrics like “I don’t want you but I’ll stay” or like “am I good enough, did I mess up?” Truly in that part of my life, I realized I was not thinking that highly of myself, nor was I really respecting myself. And I’m happy I was honest with myself cause now I can look back and be thankful of the growth that took place and it’s the honor of my life that when I'm honest with myself and share that with others, they resonate with it. And maybe it can enable them to embark on the same growth that I ended up doing, but yeah, I had that thought today. Holy smokes I’m such a different person than when those songs were written. I wonder how the next batch of songs will be translated and received.

Aaron Bogin: And it must be so nice for you to know that you’re reflecting accurately and honestly on how you felt because you wrote about it accurately and honestly, and I think that’s a powerful part of songwriting in general. When you can write true to how you feel, people can tell, and your listeners can definitely tell.

Suzy Jones: Wow, thanks. I never thought about it that way. Yeah, thank you.

Aaron Bogin: You’re welcome!

Suzy Jones: I’m writing a lot of songs now and I do find myself tweaking lyrics and tweaking context to be authentic to me, so that’s a really good point. And I've been doing it unconsciously. Like, “that’s not honest, write what’s really happening. Stop flexing!”

Aaron Bogin: It can totally be both though! Sometimes what's really happening can still be a flex!

Suzy Jones: Sometimes it is difficult to write your authentic experience but in a way that plays well as a song. Sometimes there are things that have to go down. If it's an upbeat song that’s not necessarily lyrically forward, or not the most life changing lyrically, then yeah of course, we can do with that what we will. But for me, when I write my ballads where I really have something to say, I want to make sure I’m saying something potent.And intelligible. Not thoughtless.

Aaron Bogin: And you do. My favorite songs of yours are like “Tonight” and “Growing Pains.”

Suzy Jones: Oh man! “Growing Pains” was written in 2015! I like that one too!

Aaron Bogin: You just absolutely tear it up vocally on that one.

Suzy Jones: Fun Fact: that was cut live on the very first take with some kids from Belmont University. I ended up doing a few more takes but ended up using the first one. It gave me the lesson that if you’re doing something live, maybe just use the first take. Don’t think too much about it because when you’re performing, you’re not gonna sell a fake vocal performance live. I think a lot of artists tend to forget that when they pop the shit out of their vocals. You’ve gotta be able to pull it off live too, so that was also a learning experience for me. And that song was really a journaling session that I turned into a melody. That was super candid.

Aaron Bogin: And that comes through. I think the recording being a live cut adds to the rawness of it, but it’s very clear that it’s so meaningful to you. And you also have the kind of voice that can really convey emotion well.

Suzy Jones: Thank you. I mean that’s always been my way of releasing emotion, especially if those emotions require releasing. If im feeling super jazzed about life and I want to celebrate, ill sing. If I’m feeling super angry, or anguish, or sad, or depressed, I’ve figured out ways to release it by singing. Maybe kind of mindlessly but also mindfully because that’s been something I’ve been doing for 15 years now, figuring out ways to process my emotions through singing.

Aaron Bogin: Yeah, it’s a honed craft, right?

Suzy Jones:I suppose, yeah. It’s always helped me in life, it’s been my way of releasing, I guess. Some people do their yoga or some people meditate, some people pray, I sing. I sing through everything I go through.

Aaron Bogin: I love that. As far as musical inspirations from the past or present go, people you’re listening to, throw some names at me. Who do you like?

Suzy Jones: Oooooh influences?! Growing up I listened to a lot of Carole King, she was probably my first major influence. From there it was a lot of Aretha Franklin, then Janice Joplin. When I first started as an artist and was putting out my first project as Suzy Jones, I had Lianne La Havas on a consistent loop for like five straight months. Lake Street Dive, Racheal Price. “Bad Self Portraits” that album was on repeat. Allen Stone was an album I listened to on repeat, so it was a very full circle moment to have the honor of working with him and eventually becoming a friend of his and him becoming a friend of mine. Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, I love Brittany Howard. The women who just sing so well and tactfully. Another lesson I learned from other vocalists is you’re not always the best singer in the room because you sing the highest or the loudest. I think knowing how to control the voice, and when to sing the highest and the loudest, and when to just sing and not worry about it. So, I think of artists like Jazmine Sullivan, or H.E.R. or Summer Walker. Women who just sing in a way where they know they’re great singers and have nothing to prove, they just have something to say.

Aaron Bogin: Wow, that’s great. You’re throwing out some incredible names.

Suzy Jones: Haley Williams is another one I just thought of, she just put out a great solo album.

Aaron Bogin: Of course. Also, the second you said Janice Joplin, I mean first of all yes, but also wow, I need to hear you cover Piece of My Heart.

Suzy Jones: Reeeally?! Yeah!!

Aaron Bogin: Come on, its right in your wheelhouse.

Suzy Jones: You think so? I might have to get with Scary Pockets about that and see if we can crank out a new arrangement of it. I love working with those guys. They’re so sweet. LA can be a weird place sometimes because LA is where you go to advance in the industry. So, you can get a lot of inauthenticity and interactions with folks but I was so lucky to go to LA and find my place in a community of folks that’s so talented, so genuine, so down for the music, but also just well rounded, grounded wonderful people. They’re some of the greatest people. Such supreme people. And I can’t say that about a lot of the people in the industry if I’m being honest with you.

Aaron Bogin: Could you talk to me about your development as an artist through going to LA and getting into that scene and how you’ve found yourself and grounded yourself in that?

Suzy Jones: Yeah! I take a lot of pride in recognizing that I’m more of a DIY artist. By that I mean maybe I didn’t step into a corporate record label office and have a team of four dozen execs brand me and crank me out into the industry. Because that’s a thing. It’s a high-tech contrived thing that… is weird. I got started in 2015, I went to an audio engineering school in Nashville. I networked out there, I had a social media following…an accidental social media following on Vine because I’m a goofball and I love those apps, they’re fun. I was networking out there and taking people out to coffee. Doing a lot of internship at PR firms and studios and just learning from people. Sitting them down and just asking questions. Getting out and doing shows, working with bands, screwing up, trying again, eventually getting it right. I did that from age 19 to 21. My song “At All” did pretty well on Spotify and that was just by chance, there was no team. And that was just a song where I said I’ll try to make a song myself and see how it goes and it did alright and got some traction and that was how my first manager ever noticed me. That guy took me under his wing; he was well developed and well connected in the industry and made connections out for me in LA and more connections for me in Nashville. That connection bred other connections and that’s how it started for me. Eventually I had this whole community behind me and rooting for me. Beautiful relationships with mutual support.

I’ve been very lucky to, for the most part, encounter lovely people who want to help each other out and build each other up and be there for one another in the industry. Some people who have been great friends and great mentors are the people in Lawrence the Band, Allen Stone has always been so supportive. All of the experience and feedback, you develop and understand it’s just kind of a climb. I hate to sound like Miley Cyrus, but yeah! It’s definitely a journey. And it’s still a journey. Even with what perhaps people perceive as credentials of mine, I feel like I’m just getting started and I have such a long way to go and so much to learn still. So we’ll see how much it continues to grow!

Aaron Bogin: It sounds like you have the perfect mindset. Especially considering that it’s not like you’ve been without success. You have your successes and this great album that’s out as well as other great music out, and so to have the attitude that you’re not yet where you want to be is really impressive and inspirational to other artists.

Suzy Jones: Wow, thank you. If I’m being honest with you, I don’t always have that attitude. I think almost every artist experiences crippling imposter syndrome. Some days I wake up and I’m not feeling myself, I feel like a joke, and some days I wake up and I’m enriched and ready to hit it and feeling good about things. And that’s going to happen for everyone, especially getting started out because finding your footing is a challenge. There were so many times that I was shot down, rejected, given the cold shoulder by people at a different level in the industry and I got feelings of not being worthy of this industry. But it’s about powering through that. And doing it in spite of that, I’ve developed a kind of ‘fuck it’ mindset. So, when I’m plagued with imposter syndrome and those kinds of thoughts it’s like ‘oh well!’ You’re going to die anyways its fine.

Aaron Bogin: Obviously with the pandemic everything is up in the air, but what’re some of your plans and some of your goals? Where do you see yourself going?

Suzy Jones: For the first year of the pandemic I was not very inspired. I was just like, what’s happening in this world, everything is so tender right now, my art does not matter, I just need to sit down and shut up and let things be for a minute, and I did. It wasn’t until around November that I decided to start writing and getting creative again and connecting with friends. This year I’m hoping to record some new music and get some stuff out. I’m gonna get with some dope friends, who I’m gonna keep a secret right now, but we’re gonna do some cool stuff and I’m gonna release some collabs that I’m excited about. And I’m definitely gonna hit the road. I can’t just not tour the album; I love it so much and I miss my fans and I want to be back on stage with them. I can’t wait to see everyone’s faces again when the pandemic is over. But in the meantime, I’m just going to crank out some new music.

Aaron Bogin: What’s your favorite part of your touring and your performances? What do you love the most about it?

Suzy Jones: The reassurance about why I do it. There’s so much about being an artist that’s so hard. There are so many challenges and I could talk your ear off for like two hours and give you a whole TedTalk about complications and imposter syndrome and business dealings and people who fuck you over and all of the sour things about it. But when I’m done with a show and I’m meeting a fan and they’re telling me their story about how what I’m doing has helped them… seeing everyone’s face and being on a stage and just vibing with a crowd of people that is so loving…I know them on an emotional level because my songs and lyrics resonate with them. In that sense it feels like I’m with a family every night. There’s a real sense of community and love, and good vibrations happening. I always end a show and think “oh god. This is why I do this. This is why I’ve gambled my whole life on this.” My fans enrich the shit out of me.

Aaron Bogin: Well thank you so much for doing this, I really appreciate it.

Suzy Jones: Of course! It’s the honor of my life to meet fans and talk to fans and this has been such a pleasure. Thank you for thinking of me! I’m glad we got to reconnect!

Aaron Bogin: Last question just for fun. You’re getting called upon to sing a couple songs karaoke. Give me one fun one and one that you’re going to slay. Hit me with it.

Suzy Jones: Okay so one that I’m going to do three beers in is “I Want to Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston and I will be dancing and the other that I’ll do as a joke has to be a Britney Spears song and I’ll do my Britney Spears impression.