Susan is Jessica Owen (guitar, vocals), Beth Borwell (bass, backing vocals) and Katie Fern (drums, backing vocals) and together they’re a testament to how creativity, compassion and friendship help manage the unpredictability of life. With music split between depicting promise and disappointment, Susan has found a way to communicate the struggle and hope in being a human being in the world today. Susan's new "TV Girls" EP is out on Volar on Fri., Dec. 8, and they perform with Dimber, Peach Kelli Pop and more at a record release show on Fri., Dec. 8, as well. This interview by Nathan Martel." /> L.A. Record


December 7th, 2017 | Interviews

photography by alex the brown

KF: You know what I mean? It like, ‘Oh, yeah—I went to practice last night. Whatever!’ Like, ‘I drank some beers with my friends, and played guitar.’ Whereas people here are all, ‘Yeah, I went to rehearsal. I have rehearsal every Tuesday and Thursday for four hours.’ It’s a different atmosphere. Just in general.
I like how you said people here are ‘purposeful’ when you probably just could have said ‘pretentious’.
All: [laughs]
KF: But I don’t think it’s pretension. I don’t think it is, really. It can be, sure. There are people who could be considered pretentious. But not everybody. There’s just more intention with people in LA … I keep going back to that. But it’s true. Not pretension—just more intention. It’s harder to see people. Everybody works a lot. It’s more expensive to live here. It just leads to people being more intentional in everything that you do here. We’re not teenagers anymore.
But we live like them.
KF: We try to! We try to live like teenagers! [laughs]
Is it essential that an artist go through the experiences that they address in their art? I haven’t met any artists yet that are well adjusted.
JO: [laughs] I never thought about it that way!
KF: It’s really easy to draw inspiration from bad experiences. And on the other hand, it’s really hard to make something instantaneously when in a better mood. When you’re upset about something, it just comes pouring out. You just write.
JO: You need a therapeutic outlet, and creativity is perfect for that. Whereas when you’re in a really good mood, there isn’t that inclination to get it out.
KF: You’re just happy! And not thinking about it so much.
BB: But I also think when you’re an artist, there’s this idea of being more honest. And then transcribing those feelings. Where a quote ‘well-adjusted person’ quote will have those feelings but won’t be channeling them through different mediums. They’ll have their own shit, but they are dealing with by having a martini with a girlfriend and talking about it and then forgetting about it. Where we are going to go drink Modelos and write a pop song about it.
And really focus on the shitty stuff!
JO: [laughs] And focus on it for a really long time!
BB: Right! And now it’s forever in the world on a record!
KF: Yeah! It never gets lost! It doesn’t leave your mouth and disappear. It goes out of your mouth and becomes a song that you play in front of other people.
JO: Yeah! Totally! Remember that really bad week you had four and a half years ago? Let’s talk about it!
KF: Over and over and over! And then we are going to record it!
BB: And it will never go away!
On the way to this interview I was listening to your song ‘Never Enough,’ and I couldn’t help but think, ‘This is their Wedding Present song.’
JO: Yeah! I wanted to have some Wedding Present jangle on a song so bad! [laughs] That makes me so happy that you noticed. I really, really love how they play guitar in the Wedding Present.
I was thinking, ‘This is Gedge if he were a three-piece pop band of women in L.A.’
All: [laughs]
BB: Thanks for noticing, so much! [laughs]
The recording techniques that Susan uses seems to put a distance between the material and the artists. The effects you use on the vocals almost create a new character in a way.
JO: I feel like that every time I’m on stage because I feel uncomfortable when a lot people are looking at me. So to me it feels good to have the music feel and be big around me, instead of being way out in front. Also, I like singing, but I’m in no way a ‘pro singer,’ so the vocal manipulation helps me feel confident singing. I just like how it sounds when the music is big around the vocal.
It’s a technique that seems to filter the content in a way. Kind of along the lines of what Kanye West utilized on 808s & Heartbreak. When the subject matter is difficult, it sometimes encourages an artist to address topics from a certain distance.
JO: That’s interesting. I’ve never thought about that. Because ‘Never Enough’ is one of the most vulnerable songs I’ve ever written. The lyrics were tough to write, and the song was difficult to sing.
KF: That’s true. And the vocals do sound different on that song.
The layered vocal textures lend themselves to an emotional depth that suggests that perhaps one vocal track isn’t enough to convey what is going on internally. As though there is a need to be heard.
KF: Yeah. Ok … right! And we just love harmonies!
JO: Yeah—we love the fact that we are all part of a song. All of our voices matter equally in the band.
KF: We’re all encouraging each other as well.
BB: Yeah. It’s almost like in the vulnerable times, I’m not by myself. We have each other … even in the back-up vocals, like literally.
JO: I gotcha girl! I’m backing you!
BB: [laughs] I mean, I’m exposing myself and my feelings and my lyrics, but I’m not alone when I’m singing. Anytime I’ve sung alone, I keep thinking, ‘This is weird and scary.’ But with Susan, I’m singing these songs and I never feel weird and alone. Because I’m singing with these two—together.
KF: We’re a good togetherness band!
The content and form of a Susan song is a push and pull between the pop structures and the topics you’re addressing. Your music has the niceties of pop but comes with an extremely acerbic tone and delivery.
JO: I like the balance of it.
BB: That is completely intentional. I want to make pleasing, sweet music, but not candy-saccharine pop music. I want to make something rawer in a way.
JO: More realness to it.
KF: Beth and I come from more punk backgrounds …
JO: And I do too. Punk is an undercurrent of feeling in Susan, even though it’s dressed in pop music.
KF: There is a level of directness to the way we write.
JO: And we don’t strive or want to be a sweet, sugary band all the time.
BB: When we are writing, we’re aware that the music is for other people. We write what we feel, yes, and since we are feeling this way, maybe a teenager will listen to Susan and identify with what we are addressing. ‘I understand that. I’m not alone.’
KF: We are writing to future teenagers! [laughs] We don’t care what our peers think about us—only the future teenagers!
BB: All the music I listened to as a teen was written before I was even born. But I was like, ‘I can relate to this so much. I’m not alone. I love this person, who I don’t know and is either dead or in their sixties.’
KF: To bring up the Wedding Present again … what I always liked about them was that it seemed like you’re listening to somebody’s really long diary entry. All the lyrics are like, ‘I’m feeling all these feelings and I’m just throwing them out.’ It’s cool … it’s …
JO: It’s universal.
KF: And everybody has that somewhere in them. If we can capture any emotion, that’s cool!
Do you as an individual have to go through the things you do on a record in order to create the songs?
KF: To me, what’s interesting is when someone doesn’t go through the experience. It’s easier to cull from your own life and experiences—way easier—but I don’t think it necessarily has to be that way.
BB: Some people go through the visceral event, make art out of it, and share it so someone else doesn’t have to. So they can relate to it and find some kind of therapeutic process through another’s art.
KF: You don’t have to suffer through something in order to write about it or whatever. It does make it easier, though. I’ve always felt it’s way harder to write a happy song instead of a sad song. When you’re happy, what are you going to write about? ‘Today was great. The sun was shining.’ I guess what I’m saying is … Susan future goals: let’s write a happy song!
JO: [laughs] But make it sound sad.
KF: Yes! Write a happy song and make it sound sad!


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