Posted On 08 Dec 2017
Sue Quigley’s songs about loss, finding your voice, and “who we’re here to be” have made her a deft fixture in the Seattle music scene over the past decade.
Raised in a small Eastern Washington town and feeling like a black sheep, Sue looked forward to the day when she could go somewhere with trees and like-minded people. In the meantime, Sue “borrowed’ her sister’s guitar and began writing songs. After leaving town to attend college, she explored her love for nature and people as a forest firefighter, bartender and movie extra. These forays into adult life also led her to love, heartbreak, and its wake. These experiences provided the canvas for her first full-length album.
By the early 2000’s she had migrated to Seattle, put a band together, and was performing around the metro area. Since then Sue has been featured in showcases at SXSW in Nashville, The Viper Room in Los Angeles, The Bitter End in New York City, and Dublin, Ireland. Most recently, she played in the Seattle Acoustic Festival and in Seattle’s inaugural Upstream Fest. Sue released Perfect Chaos in 2009, and the single “Paper Tiger” was selected 1st runner-up for Song of the Year (songoftheyear.com).
Lots of life happened in the years that followed the release of Perfect Chaos, but life’s detours into unknown places brought new discoveries and deeper insights for Sue.
The songs on her newest collection, Little Wildernesses explore the relationships we have with ourselves, with others, and with the environment. It asks us to follow the “path towards the inside spark” as well as look outward to consider our presence and place in the world-the “light that eats up the dark.”
For Sue, one of the most exciting things about the new album is “the bridge between me and the listeners that invites them to see themselves in the arc of each song’s story.” The sonic experience of Little Wildernesses marks a departure from earlier albums, which featured a harder-hitting rock sound. Produced by Jonathan Plum at the historic London Bridge Studios (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Brandi Carlile), the songs’ uncluttered arrangements feature elements of roots, folk, and indie rock.
Percussionist Heather Thomas’ (Mary Lambert, Aron and the Way) responsive style lays the groundwork for each song. Little Wildernesses reminisces on the warm, early seventies sounds of Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt. There is also plenty here for a Fleet Foxes or Lucinda Williams fan.
Seattle Lo-fi hero Kris Orlowski contributes harmony vocals on the title track. Jen Ayers (Teatro Zinzanni, Dream-On) brings her unique style to the moody, evocative track “Birds” and “Catch or Fall”, which is about forging a path dictated by your truth. Kristy Smith (Seattle Drum School, Billy Pilgrim) rounds out the harmony vocals on “Rescuer” and “Outlaws”. “Long Run” is about facing yourself and not “chasing ghosts around.” “It’s about opening your heart to what love really is,” Sue explains. The lyric “love makes children of us all” concludes the album narrative.
Connect With Sue Quigley Here:
Learn more about Sue Quigley in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
In my bedroom with a brand new blanket I got from an antique shop and a cuppa tea and some Canadian cookies.
Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it?
Yes, Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day.”
What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood?
Old jazz or 80’s-Anything. Chrissie Hynde, Neko Case, Patsy Cline, Stevie Nicks, Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, Jill Scott, Ella Fitzgerald
Name a song you are loving these days?
I love new the Fleet Foxes, the National… I just heard Aimee Mann’s latest but I can’t recall the name of the song off of the top of my head. I love the Case Lang Viers album.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician?
I first wanted to be a forest ranger but once I found out how much math and chemistry that involved, I thought maybe I would probably go into education or something outdoorsy…. but I kept writing songs anyway, for myself. I always wanted to be a musician in some part of my secret heart but I don’t think I had the courage to say it out loud until I moved to Seattle and actually put a band together finally and stopped just doing open mics.
I’m told that I sang songs out in our backyard rose garden when I was around 4 and I have some memory of that. I started writing songs at 12-13, when my sister abandoned her guitar that she got, for boys. I am pretty sure I stayed in my room for that entire year writing songs and asking my mother to please stop opening the door and bothering me.
Was there a time where you thought of doing something completely different?
I thought about being an actress and I have been an extra in a movie. I did some plays here in there, so I wouldn’t mind giving that another turn. I’m in a place right now where I just want to be creative in every possible way I can.
Overall, how do you think 2017 has been for you and music career?
I think 2017 has been a good year because it’s been many years since I released my last album. There’s been a lot of life occurrences that made me doubt whether I could ever do another album, so the fact that it all took shape in the way that it did, with people involved in making it, is positively thrilling to me.
What are you most excited about for in 2018?
I’m excited to do some touring next year. I hope to go to the East Coast and I hope to share my songs with as many people as possible through as many avenues as possible.
Do you think you will make any New Year’s Resolutions?
I’m not a real resolution type of gal however I do try to write a lot before December 31 and set my intentions for the coming year. I always go to the Oregon coast right after Christmas so that is the best place to do so.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown and current home has affected you and your music today?
Having just had to go to my hometown again because it was a holiday, it’s clear to me and what ways my hometown influenced me as a young person. Especially as a young gay person. It was a different time then. Let’s just say I never ever felt at home in my hometown. It wasn’t even about being gay so much as I just never felt like it fit who I was. I never felt like I should be there. I always wanted to stay in Portland where my grandmother was. Years later I went on a road trip to Bellingham with friend while in college. I finally saw a city that I so felt it was who I was trying to be finally. I went to college in Bellingham. I got my degree there but alas as many people can attest, I could not get a job there. So I had to move to Seattle. I don’t know that living in Seattle has affected my music as much as who I have met and experiences I’ve had here has. Lately to be honest I’m not feeling like Seattle is really where I need to be so much anymore. Hopefully, if right, a new destination will be revealed to me soon.
Let’s talk about your latest album “Little Wilderness” that you released this past summer. What was the inspiration for these songs?
I would say, as previously stated, a lot of life that happened inspired the songs. Death, loss of my best friend, job issues, break ups. It’s also hitting a certain landmark age as a woman in this society that makes you think, “What am I doing?” “ Who am I doing it for? “What am I chasing?” I’ve come to realize that chasing anything or anyone in an effort to be “happy” as outlined in “Catch or Fall” and “Long Run” is a lost cause and going in the wrong direction. The external will never make you “happy.” Americans in our society chase that to our own detriment. I also finished some songs in the last several years that I had started a new relationship. It’s amazing sometimes when you can go back to something you wrote in a journal a year or two previously and come at it from a whole different place, finish it, and make a song that is saying what you couldn’t previously.
Did anything surprise when it came time to put this collection together?
I was surprised by how well my relationship with my producer Jonathan Plum (who I had met years earlier with Brandi Carlile) went. I was scared to share my ideas for song structure and arranging and instrumentation. He would usually come back with “that’s a great idea! “
Were there any unexpected challenges?
Sometimes Jonathan and I would come from very different places. I wanted things to be very stripped-down and sparse – a real departure from my previous CD but the things he added gave so much texture and structure to the songs, I just couldn’t say no.
While it’s difficult to answer, can you pick one or two favorite songs from this album?
“Catch or Fall,” “Birds,” “Lake Song,”and ”Long Run” are all my favorites because of what they represent: where I’ve been and how I’ve grown in myself , what I no longer fear, how I’ve come to a place of truth in myself no matter what ,and how I’ve come to see that my songs are the vehicle for that truth -directly from my soul. Sounds cheesy but there it is. When someone hears one of my songs and remarks on how it affects their sense of truth in themselves and their journey and how it positively impacted them, that means the absolute world to me.
Why do they stand out to you?
They stand out to me because of the different ways that the words came to me – whether in a journal or driving or in the woods. I feel like my writing is become clearer and better. I think these songs speak to the arc of our lives, especially if you are a woman who is of a certain age. There are just some things you cannot evade any longer if you’re really going to be honest with yourself and be authentic. I wrote “Birds” after reading a poem about World War I and how birds could fly over the horrors of war and remain unchanged. But that’s not true of the men below them. Also love is very similar in all of its forms in that it changes us irreparably. I wrote “Long Run” after first meeting my partner and recognizing that there were things that I needed to face in myself. I realized that I was the last stop, and that if I wasn’t going to face these things and be honest and grow up, I could lose something really amazing. It made me realize that no matter how much work you do on yourself, “love really does make children of all of us.” I wrote “Lake Song” after going on a backpacking trip by myself to a lake that I had camped at as a child. While I was there I had nothing but me and nature to reflect on. I have loved so much my entire life. The experience reminded me of my earlier heart- my child’s heart – and how I need to always carry it with me – no matter what risk is in front of me.
How do you think you have grown on this album and really since you released “Perfect Chaos” in 2009?
I think I’ve grown as a songwriter in that I think that I’ve become clearer on my voice and what I want to say, and how I want to say it. I think my vocal style and guitar has pretty much say the stayed the same- The messaging and the arc of the story behind all the songs is not so much from a place of victim or you broke my heart as it might’ve seemed before. It comes now from a place where everything in life that is made is made from what it is.
What has remained the same about your style?
I think my style is still very straightforward and without any affectation. I’m singing my story. Maybe you can see yourself in it too.
What about the process of making a record has changed?
Last time I put it on a credit card. I cannot do that anymore so I had to do some fundraising. It’s one of the reasons why it took a long time to get to the place of finally being ready to start. I’m also really blessed that on this record I got some real Northwest All-Stars to join me in instrumentation, background vocals, etc. to really make these songs everything that they could be.
Do you have any final tour dates to wrap up 2017? Where can people see you play live next?
I am planning out some tour dates in the spring possibly on the East Coast, some possibly on the West Coast in Southern California. My next show is December 29 out in Arlington, Washington at the Mirkwood Public house. After that I play at the Skylark in Seattle on Saturday, February 10.
What do you think of social media today and the importance of it for artists now? Do you find thatit’s hard to keep up with it all?
I know it’s necessary like a necessary evil but I find it draining honestly. That is why I’ve hired someone to do some social media stuff for me now. I think people are so inundated with constant messages on Facebook and what not about different events, that I don’t know how to really stand out when it comes to that anymore – but a girls ‘gotta keep trying ☺
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today?
I think I have to remind myself sometimes when I go to this cabin that I rent on Lake Quinault, that music is the salve I need for my soul especially in these times. So I have to make the time for it, which is hard because I have a pretty demanding job, a partner, aging parents etc. It can be frustrating when you feel that you worked really hard and tried all of the avenues for promoting your work and it’s like crickets. But if you’re going to be a musician it’s a life of struggle and I think we all know that when we sign onto it. What gives me a lot of joy is if I play a song and afterwards someone comes up to me and tells me how it fit into their life for them or how it made them feel better about something.
How do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these difficult times?
I’m not hearing a lot of reflection of these times actually in new music. Nina Simone said the times has to be reflected by the artist, so change can come. I wrote a song called Angry White Man that I’m just probably going to release independently at some point. It’s about the society that were in and the role of trolls in social media by angry white middle-aged men and how we have to refute their influence on civil discourse in our society.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Well I was raised with Stevie Nicks so I would love to meet her as well as Patty Griffin, Neko Case, Shawn Colvin, Bonnie Raitt, Ann & Nancy Wilson, KD Lang, Chrissie Hynde, and John Prine. I loved Amy Winehouse and found the movie about her so stunningly sad- her voice inspires me still.
What do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I hope they take away that everybody has their own journey and that might be not what you thought it would be – that might go in directions you don’t expect but if you stay true to yourself, be open to it all, be fed by your art, you’ll be amazed what will come around the bend. Don’t give up.
What advice would you give to a young person who is thinking about becoming a musician one day?
I would say you have to make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons. Be true to yourself, do your art for your art’s sake, because it feeds you and because you enjoy it . not because you want to be rich and famous, or because you want to gain favor with people. No matter what writing songs is like breathing for me at this point: I can’t not do it , no matter what the outcome.
Would you like to share anything else about yourself or your music with our readers?
I would also say don’t limit yourself as to when and where you can write a song. You can write a song anywhere, in any situation. I once wrote a song on top of a mountain that was on fire when I worked for the forest service and it was pretty good!