Interview with Susana about her latest album Brave on Armada Music. Susana is synonymous with the highest quality in vocal trance. She has an enviable back-catalogue of truly great chart topping collaborations including #1 DJ Armin van Buuren (Desiderium 207, Shivers, If You Should Go), Ernesto vs Bastian (Dark Side of the Moon), Omnia & The Blizzard (Closer) & Rex Mundi (Nothing at All) to name a few. After the success of these releases it was inevitable that “Armin Only” wanted to use her incredible vocal talents on no less than two separate tours in 2009 and 2011. Many other global tours including Holland, Poland, Romania, Russia, Australia, the US, Lebanon and Jordan have followed and have established Susana at the pinnacle of vocalists in the genre.
Susana’s debut album, Closer, was released in 2010 on Armada Music and received wide critical acclaim. ‘Closer’ and a Josh Gabriel collaboration ‘Frozen’ had huge success after their release, hogging the top spots in all download charts for many weeks. A State of Trance (ASOT) voted ‘Closer’ as the top 6 track in its poll ‘Trance 2010 Track of the Year’. The album was of such stature that it was given the remix touch in ‘Closer – The Remixes’ released in 2011. Not resting on her success, her follow-up album Brave is released in 2012 with positive reviews all over the digital and real world, and many vocal trance anthems are coming and will be released because every track on Brave is simply magnificent
It’s a big pleasure and honour for me that Susana, despite being very busy with her performances, managed to answer all my questions in such a wonderful, honest and truthful way. I believe that you will enjoy the answers as I do.
Press play on her album ‘Brave’ and start reading her answers. It’s always a big plus to listen to the artist while you read her answers, as will put everything you read into context.
Dimitri: First of all many thanks for accepting to do this interview with me after our interview about your Closer remixes album. Congratulations for your fantastic album Brave. Firstly I would like to ask if someone should be very brave to pursue a career in the music business particularly if she is a woman.
Susana: Thank you! I am very proud and excited to finally, after all the hard work; share the new tracks with people around the world! As far as the album title goes; I named the album after one of the tracks. I wrote Brave about how it takes courage sometimes to let your guard down, show your vulnerable side and fall in love. At the same time, in a broader sense, the title refers to how it takes courage to step out of your comfort zone to aim at making your dreams come true. Or, on a more personal level, to take more control over my own career. Something I have been growing into doing over the past few years. Which hasn’t always been easy, especially as a vocalist in a scene that for long has been the main territory of producers and DJs? I really believe fortune favours the brave and even though it can be tough sometimes, I am receiving a lot in return and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dimitri: What is your opinion about Armin’s persistence in support for a female presence in the music industry, and do you believe that this helps women to find a louder voice within this male dominated industry?
Susana: I have noticed there is a lot of debate going on lately about woman in EDM. It’s an obvious fact that there are less successful female artists in EDM than there are men. And, although I don’t have any proof of this, I believe the average female in this scene earns less than the average male. Fortunately, I have also noticed over the past few years, that woman are slowly but surely gaining a bigger platform. I believe initiatives like that of ASOT550 contribute to these developments, but are in a way, catching up on a trend that has already been initiated mainly by the female artists themselves. Female EDM artists - be it producers, DJ’s or vocalists - are gaining more respect, bigger audiences and stages by setting the right creative and business standards for themselves. On the other hand, I’d prefer not to turn this too much into a gender issue. It shouldn’t be about male vs female, blue vs pink stages, but about gaining respect through talent, creativity and hard work.
Dimitri: Brave is definitely a marvellous album that friends of vocal trance will love to listen to at home and DJ’s will play at the clubs. Did you have a certain concept in mind behind the tracks that you finally choose for this album? For instance, is it an album to listen to at home or predominantly produced for the clubs?
Susana: I didn’t really start out with a specific goal or plan, besides of course delivering quality tracks. I took it track by track basically, selecting instrumentals that I felt a connection with, and then I would let the music take me from there. I think Brave has become a diverse album that lends itself very well to listen to at home or on your headphones when on the road. Various tracks of Brave - like Down to Nothing, All Time Low, Wintersong, Only You and Different Worlds - have had quite some exposure on EDM radio shows as well. The idea is to release a remixed album later on, for which we will focus more on club mixes. Dimitri: How long did it take you to complete the album, and is it possible to tell us how many takes you took before you felt satisfied with your performance in any of the tracks? Which track on the album was the easiest and which one was the hardest to record and why?
Susana: I think all in all, from deciding to do a follow-up album, to its official release, it has taken almost a year to complete. There’s an individual journey towards every track. Sometimes I am satisfied pretty quickly and other times I experiment with different angles and colouring to my vocals, which usually takes more takes to do. It also happens that during the recording process it will become apparent that certain lyrics or melodies aren’t quite working out, and they need some adjustments. Generally speaking, studio time is quality time for me. I love working in the studio. Of course there are also less productive studio sessions, sometimes I get stuck, for example when I am not feeling a track that much after all, or if I can’t seem to find the right words or message. But I’ve noticed that some of the most challenging tracks have eventually become the most valuable to me.
Dimitri: I wonder in what ways do you prepare yourself emotionally, physically and mentally before entering the recording booth?
Susana: Usually before entering the recording booth I have pretty much already prepared the vocals, so I already have an idea of where I want to take it. So actually all I do is warm up my voice, and from there I just go with the flow.
Dimitri: Have you actually met all the producers involved in your album or was the majority of the work done via internet with the transfer of files back and forth? Would you prefer to be in their studio and record the tracks with them? Do you think this will make any difference to the final result?
Susana: I have met some of the producers in person, either before our collaboration or after, but never during the creative process. All the work was indeed done through the internet. It’s a tough question for me to answer; if working in a studio together would make any difference for the end result. I think this really depends on the combination of people. I have had studio sessions with multiple people at once, and sometimes this wouldn’t be very productive because too many ideas were flowing at the same time. But if there’s a good connection between musicians I think it can work very well. I must add though, that I’m really self-conscious about my writing so I might feel a bit shy having to be creative in front of others. I prefer to write at night, at home, so I can craft and shape it until I think it’s decent enough to share with anyone! Even in front of Raz Nitzan and Adrian Broekhuyse, two vocal producers I have been working with for quite a few years now, I can feel pretty shy about my writings. But again, in the end I know it’s going to be worth getting out of my comfort zone to create something personal.
Dimitri: It would be great to take this great album track by track and give us your comment about it. For example, the production process, the collaborations, feelings, influences and inspiration behind each track.
01. All Time Low (& Rex Mundi)
Blown away by it first time I heard the instrumental in the studio: so cool and different!
02. Down To Nothing (& Max Graham)
One of my favourite tracks to perform live! Good memories of performing it live with Max Graham during an FSOE event at Club Space in Sharm El Sheikh.
03. Brave (& Ernesto vs Bastian with Wezz Devall)
Probably one of the most personal tracks on the album, I wrote it about needing to find the courage to open up to love.
04. A Different World (& Beat Service)
Immediately fell for its more groovy sound! It’s a song about how being in love can feel like a rollercoaster sometimes. Especially when the other person is giving you mixed signals.
05. Shelter (& Aurosonic)
Love the build-up in this one! A song about friendship. About being there for someone even though they put up a wall and try to push you away.
06. Chasing Dreams (& Leon Bolier)
Song about wanting something you can’t have, which can be a toxic combination.
07. Not Looking Back (& DNS Project)
Another very personal one. I wrote it about walking out on an emotionally abusive relationship. Don’t let them blame you for what makes them weak! If it’s love they will lift you up instead of put you down.
08. Only You (& Shogun)
After all the heartbreak songs I thought it was about time I did a love song! And it seems to appeal to a lot of people because we’ve received a lot of feedback on this one.
09. Lean On Me (& Alexander Popov)
About trying to show that special person that you are what they have been waiting for all that time!
10. Home (& Dark Matters) (Daniel Kandi Remix)
My cover of the trance classic by Coast2Coast and Penny Nixon. What I loved about doing this cover is that it gave me the opportunity to showcase a different side of my voice. I have been exploring the higher regions of my voice and this was the perfect song to put them to use.
11. Winter Song (& Ronski Speed)
I’m a prog trance lover, but this is a track for the fans of more uplifting trance!
12. Blinded By The Lie (& Snatt & Vix)
Wrote it some time ago already, initially for my first album. But it got reworked by Snatt & Vix. It’s a song about loving someone in silence. Being afraid to speak up about it.
13. Home (& Dark Matters with Eller van Buuren)
An ambient version of Home for which we asked Eller van Buuren to deliver some guitar parts. Eller and I have come to know each other quite well because we toured together on two consecutive Armin Only shows, and we’ve done a few acoustic hotel room sessions.
Dimitri: Have you written any of the lyrics of the tracks in this album or are the lyrics written predominantly by other composers?
Susana: Yes, I have co-written at least have of the tracks on the album. The hardest one I wrote I think was “Not Looking Back”, because it’s about leaving behind an emotionally abusive relationship. I was writing it at night and it all kind of came back to me at that point, even though this had happened a few years back already. The most personal track on the album for me is Brave, because it relates to a process I have been going through the past few years; learning to open up and accept and receive love, and more importantly, to believe in love. Dimitri: An essential component of the tracks from the album released as singles are the remixes of course. Do you have any input about the remixers who will transform your tracks into big club anthems? Can you reveal to us any of the producers who are lined up to remix any of your forthcoming singles?
Susana: I am always free to deliver any input for the album to the record label. But I also like to be surprised by their pick. And of course it also depends on the remixers themselves, if they will be up for it.
Dimitri: Do you feel comfortable about being live on stage in front of a thousand eyes and ears? What is your worst fear that comes to your mind before going on stage? Can you tell us your best and worst experience on stage?
Susana: Performing is one of the most magical things! It’s a rush of adrenaline. At the same time I am always worried about the sound. Some EDM clubs or venues aren’t used to having live performers on stage and this then translates into a lacking Soundsystem or inexperienced sound engineers. To deliver a great live vocal it’s important to be able to hear yourself well! That’s why I purchased the TC Helicon Voicelive Play device; this will give me more control over my own sound. I just got it so am still in the process of getting the hang of it, but I am confident it will help me a lot with getting the sound right so I can feel freer on stage and not worry too much about it. I do really believe the saying “if you want it done right do it yourself” counts for certain things, and I think this is one of those things! Dimitri: The music videos for your songs released so far are magnificent. Would you like to tell us about the videos that you prepared for the songs for this album? Shall we expect to watch the unexpected maybe?
Susana: I travelled to Taiwan in April to shoot 3 music videos with Provoke, a fantastic and creative production company. The videos form kind of a trilogy, showcasing different sides of Susana. For example; the video for Brave, which will be released as a single at the end of July, shows me as a normal girl, walking the streets enjoying the music on her iPod, until all of a sudden she goes from dancing on the street to performing on an actual stage for a crowd. Kind of like metaphor for how my love for music, ever since I was a little girl, has eventually led me to get out of my comfort zone and become an artist. To emphasise the trilogy perspective, all three videos are in black and white. Ciro Ayala, the director, is incredible with visuals that are where the unexpected elements come from. Even though I have worked closely with him for a few days shooting the three videos, I could never have predicted the outcome. He surprises me every time with his creativity and vision! I am aware of the fact that these videos are not your average superficial “pretty girl in sexy dress” videos, but that’s what I love so much about them! I like to create something that makes you think a bit further. For example, the video for Down to Nothing is a video one can watch a couple of times, and discover new images and new meaning every time. Words can’t describe how happy I am to have been working with a production company who understands this, and actually makes it happen. Dimitri: We were very happy to learn and to wait with anticipation because you, along with Audrey Gallagher, & Betsie Larkin, are about to start your own radio show. Is it possible to tell us why you took the decision to do this and if you feel really excited about this new project?
Susana: Yes, this is something I am very excited about! V2V is a project initiated by my agent JAM DJ Management in collaboration with Audrey Gallagher, Betsie Larkin and myself. It is aimed at promoting and consolidating the currently growing market for vocalists in EDM through live shows, radio and Podcasts, online media, merchandising etc. As we all know the EDM scene has long been the main territory of – mainly male – DJ’s and producers, but over the past few years’ vocalists have been gaining more and more popularity and respect as EDM artists. I think that, for example initiatives like the Armin Only Tour have contributed to this development by bringing live artists on stage, and showing the impact this has on crowds around the world. Also, the rise of social media has made it easier for vocalists to profile themselves and connect with these same crowds. They have started to grow their own fan bases and the scene is picking up on this. And of course vocalists are consolidating this development by setting the right standards for themselves and branding themselves as solo artists. A lot of good things are happening for vocalists, and I’m hoping V2V will contribute to this. We will have a monthly radio show on Afterhours.fm which will be broadcast every 2nd Sunday of the month and Audrey, Betsie and I will compile and host it in turns. I kicked off with the first episode in June and Audrey Gallagher just aired the July episode. Those interested can visit www.v2vonline.com. The next episode will be with Betsie Larkin in August!
Dimitri: Summer is here and I wonder if you have a favourite place to spend your holidays? It would be great to share your best summer holiday ever with our readers.
Susana: I have travelled a lot and visited a lot of places. It’s hard to choose! But I have very fond memories of my childhood holidays. Every summer my parents would take me and my brother on a road trip for a few weeks camping in countries like France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Greece… Even to this day I love camping and the outdoors a lot! Dimitri: What is your opinion about artists who give too much information about their life through social media like Facebook or twitter? Do you feel comfortable to be visible online and be in constant interaction with your fans and get immediate reaction for your projects?
Susana: I believe social media can be a powerful tool to enhance your career. I think it’s great to interact with fans, and to be in control of my own promotion so to speak. I mainly use it for promotional means, but I think it’s boring for people to only see posts about releases, tour dates etc. I think it’s good to show a bit of your personality as well at times. I have noticed it’s usually those more personal posts that receive the most feedback and interaction. Of course, one has to be careful about what to put out there as well. It’s important to keep certain things private. That’s why, for example, I also have a private Facebook account for my close family and friends.
Dimitri: Last question should be your advice to any singers out there who wish to pursue a career. Please choose a verse from any of your tracks on Brave, and dedicate this to our readers.
Susana: First of all I believe different roads can lead to a successful vocalist career, so it’s not that easy to advise aspiring vocalist on how to go about it. But what I know for sure is that talent alone is not enough, you have to be prepared to seize opportunities, work hard, and also create opportunities where you can. This might mean you have to get out of your comfort zone a lot, which can be tough, and it’s ok to struggle a little with that. I went through that myself, but do it and you will see that fortune does actually favour the brave! Another important thing is to treat people the way you’d like people to treat you. Be genuine. Embrace creativity. But also educate yourself in the business side of things. Take responsibility for your own business; don’t expect that other people will naturally have your best interest at heart. It just doesn’t work that way most of the time. And don’t rest on your success. Always keep developing yourself as a singer, songwriter, performer, artist, representative of your own brand or business etc. Really, to be a successful artist nowadays means to be all of that. Last but not least; never forget that you’re in it for the music, and make sure to keep enjoying what you do!
And to your readers I would say: this one was for you and “Only you!” ?
Many thanks to Susana for replying to my questions in such a wonderful way.
Many thanks to Marije de Konink at Armada Music press office for the fantastic support in helping to organise this superb interview
Many thanks to Tjerk at Armada Music offices for his great support for my radio shows.
Interview was written and conducted by Dimitri Kechagias, radio/Club DJ & Music Journalist
1.Susana & Rex Mundi - All Time Low (03:24)
2.Susana & Max Graham - Down To Nothing (03:43)
3.Susana & Ernesto vs Bastian with Wezz Devall - Brave (Susana & Ernesto vs Bastian with Wezz Devall) (03:39)
4.Susana & Beat Service - Different Worlds (03:44)
5.Susana & Aurosonic - Shelter (04:07)
6.Susana & Leon Bolier - Chasing Dreams (03:19)
7.Susana & DNS Project - Not Looking Back (03:20)
8.Susana & Shogun - Only You (03:47)
9.Susana & Alexander Popov - Lean On Me (03:54)
10.Susana & Dark Matters - Home (Daniel Kandi Edit) (04:06)
11.Susana & Ronski Speed - Winter Song (03:04)
12.Susana & Snatt & Vix - Blinded By The Lie (03:52)
13.Susana & Dark Matters with Eller van Buuren - Home (03:24)
Buy the album on iTunes:
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/brave/id525706878 Buy the album on Beatport https://www.beatport.com/release/brave/911469