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Conversation With: Susan Plus the premiere of their new video, “Somebody New”

Susan is a band, and we’ve been in love with them ever since they let us use their song “Windows Down” in Episode 1 of 4 Cities with Ozzie Wright (by the way, watch that). Comprised of Jessica Owen on guitar, Beth B on bass and Katie Fern on drums, Susan mixes elements of pop and punk to produce their own completely natural wall of sound. And despite being all females, they’re not really into the whole “girl band” thing. “We’re not a separate genre,” they told me. “We’re just people playing music.” I hung out with Susan one sweaty afternoon in Owen’s apartment while Tony Accosta snapped some pictures. We also drank a lot of champagne. Read below, and watch the premiere of their new video for “Somebody New” off their debut album, Never Enough. –Maya Eslami

How long have you guys been doing Susan?

KATIE FERN: Three and a half years?

JESSICA OWEN: I think it’s been four years.

BETH B: That’s so crazy.

JO: That went by really fast.

Tell me about the name. How’d you guys choose that?

KF: We gotta make up a lie. [Laughing].

BB: There was this woman named Susan… We’re gonna fabricate a really good story about it. Before we moved here, I was really obsessed with the name Susan, because I don’t know anyone named Susan.

JO: It’s an older generation name. No one names their kid Susan anymore.

BB: Just grandmas and aunts and like weird ladies who work in department stores with name tags. We wanted to start a band named Susan in Austin, but then we came here and it was just perfect.

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So you guys lived in Austin before here?

KF: [Beth and I] did. We played in a band together before Susan, but it only existed for six months, and we only played one show.

BB: And then we moved to LA and met Jessica.

KF: We used to play in her garage and drink Champagne, it was our Sunday brunch tradition. We’d just drink tons of Champagne and mess around in the garage.

How did you guys meet?

JO: We had a mutual friend, and the first time I ever met Beth, I think our mutual friend had said, “Jessica plays guitar-”

BB: Because Katie and I moved here at the same time and just played with each other, and we were like, “This is so sad.”

KF: Like a lonely rhythm section.

BB: So I was like, “We need a guitar player. We need her to be really cool, and our friend, and on our same level. Our mutual friend introduced us, and she’s like, “Oh yeah, Jessica plays guitar.” And I had been drinking a little bit-

JO: We were at a show.

BB: And I just screamed in her face, and grabbed her by the shoulders, and said, “We gotta play in a band together!”

JO: My first memory of Beth is her being like, “You play guitar?!”

BB: And I knew it was fine because I screamed in her face and she still wanted to hang out with me.

KF: I remember talking to [Beth] on the phone and [she said], “I just met this girl who plays guitar!” And I was like, “I just met this girl who plays guitar too! She’s really cool!” Same person.

JO: We met separately, through the same mutual friend. I took Katie dancing at the Monty, and Katie was breakdancing. I was like, “I need to be her friend.”

KF: It was tight. I’m really good at it (not really good at it).

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I’ve been listening to Never Enough all day. Do all of you sing on the record?

KF: We all sing. There’s certain songs that one or two of us will sing primarily, but we all kind of switch off. And it’s never the same person singing the lead. You know what I mean? Because we all sing together.

How do you guys decide that?

JO: We all come to practice with ideas for songs, like, “I have this idea and I have some lyrics but it’s not fleshed out.” And then we’ll all flesh songs out together. And whoever initially brought the idea-

KF: It’s kinda like whoever wrote the majority of the lyrics for the song ends up singing the song, mostly.

TONY ACCOSTA: Whoever had the most Champagne that day.

BB: Exactly.

KF: And then we all just get drunk and sing over each other.

JO: I love that you brought us Champagne.

TA: That was my idea. I read “Champagne” on your about page.

It’s a good mix with the Banquet beers we’re drinking.

KF: It’s my favorite budget beer.

So much better than Bud.

KF: They have to be really really really cold, like almost icy, for them to be good.

JO: Have you ever had a draft beer that’s so cold it’s almost a slushy? It’s the best thing on the whole planet. You know how they have the Coca-Cola Slurpee’s? I just want a beer Slurpee. Why has no one done that before?

BB: Is that delicious?

JO: It might be gross. I don’t believe it would be gross.

BB: We should try that.

JO: Can you freeze beer and make it a slushy?

BB: I used to freeze Sparks all the time. That was my jam when I was in high school. It separates out, so it’s like orange popsicle and then malt liquor.

TA: I had my fair share of Sparks. The extra strength black ones.

BB: That’s so fucked up.

JO: I had one of those once and I had to sit down and put my head between my legs at a show because I got so lightheaded from that shit. It was so crazy.

KF: I have this really gnarly memory of when I was like- I was definitely underage, I don’t know what I was doing, but I was partying in Austin and I drank probably like four Sparks by myself at a party and I was so drunk, I was like “I have to leave right now.” And I asked some guy friend of mine at the time, “Can I take your BMX bike, I have to leave right now.” Just riding this dumb BMX bike in the street, wasted, trying to get back to my friends’ house, like “Focus.” And then I ran over a possum’s tail. [Laughing]. It was very bizarre. Just going down the hill, a possum ran across the street, I hit the possum’s tail and it made a really crazy sound, and I had drank a lot of Sparks.

JO: The people at 7-Eleven used to think it was an energy drink, so they would sell it to minors because they didn’t know the difference. We’d drink it all the time because it was the only option.

BB: Nobody had seen anything like that. it was really just groundbreaking. [Laughing]

KF: Had I been drunk on something else, I wouldn’t have been able to ride that BMX bike. [More laughing]. I also had never ridden a BMX bike before and I kept getting so annoyed because I couldn’t sit down.

JO: I remember this one night I drank a bunch of Sparks and ended up saying to my friend, “We should go running right now.” Drunk running down the streets of Palos Verdes in the middle of the night on Sparks just like, “This is really fun.” Jogging, just wasted.

BB: It’s funny, I never thought about running when I’ve been drinking.

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Back to songwriting. Sounds like you guys are all on the same page.

KF: We all write together. We individually come with ideas, and then we put it all together.

JO: Yeah, it’s very collaborative.

KF: And it takes longer.

BB: It takes a little bit longer. [Laughing]

JO: But I think that’s what makes things more dynamic, because someone will hear something you didn’t think of before, in a place you might’ve been stuck in songwriting, and you just don’t know how to make it better. And someone else hears it with fresh ears, and they’re like, “What if we just did this.” And that’s the secret, and all of a sudden it’s a new song.

Do you remember the first song you all wrote together?

JO: It’s called “Pancake”. Because it’s like your first pancake, you throw it away. That was one of our favorite songs that we’d play for a little bit.

KF: It started really crazy, it had all these weird parts that we ended up ditching.

BB: We wrote that song so hard.

KF: It had a talking part-

JO: Like a girl band.

BB: Total Shirelles. Super dramatic. And then later we were like, “Let’s just cut that.”

We wrote that song like five times. So we really wrote that song. Because we had nothing else.

JO: It was our first pancake.

BB: It’s on the EP. It’s the one where everyone’s like, “This is very angsty.”

JO: It’s the one that ends with, “Fuck you, I hate you, I hope you die alone.”

KF: We were emotional at the time.

BB: It was all good natured.

Are you guys inspired by other girl bands?

JO: Definitely.

BB: I feel like recently we were talking about Hole a lot as a band, like that’s a really awesome girl grunge band. But because Courtney Love’s kinda crazy-

She sucks.

JO: A lot of Dolly Mixture, and Go-Gos and stuff like that.

BB: Look Blue Go Purple. Dolly Mixture for sure. Girls in the early ‘80s were getting together like, “We’ll just make sweet awesome music together” and it kind of didn’t go anywhere in their time and they broke up and got married and had babies. And thirty years later, it’s our favorite band.

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How do you guys feel about the “girl band” label?

KF: Well, we call ourselves a boy band.

JO: It’s constantly a thing where people never say it mean spiritedly, but it’s always a little stab, because it’s not a genre.

KF: Because if you see a band that’s comprised of only dudes playing rock ‘n’ roll you would never call them a boy band. You would never be like, “Oh my god did you see that boy band play last night?” Just like five dudes all in a band. Nobody would ever say that about dudes playing music.

JO: It’s something that’s very common that a lot of people don’t care about, but it just pisses me off.

BB: Yes, we happen to be all girls, we happen to all be girlfriends, and our music is feminine, but it’s not girly. I don’t identify with, “We’re a girl band” because we’re not a separate genre. We’re not a separate league, we’re just people playing music. And that’s why we call ourselves a boy band.

KF: We’re just an all boy fronted band. [Laughing]

JO: Male fronted boy band.

KF: That’s us.

BB: Drawing awareness to the fact that we are females identifying as a male band.

KF: It can be frustrating, but it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day.

BB: But at the same time, you wanna support other girls playing music. I didn’t start playing music until I was in my early 20s. And I think a lot of that was because I was a shy girl for a lot of my life, so if we can even inspire one teenager to be like, “Oh you guys are girls and are doing it, I can totally do that,” then for sure. I don’t wanna separate from that ever. It can be intimidating, it definitely is.

JO: But I think it’s getting a lot better now, because it seems like a lot of girls that are still in high school are starting to play music way more than when I was in high school, which is really cool. And eventually I’m sure girl punk or girl rock, whatever they call it, is not gonna be an issue anymore. No one will say it because it’s not a way to define a sound of music. I think we’re in a transitional phase with that, because it does seem like there’s a lot more female musicians in the past 5-10 years than there was before then, in a really cool way. It’s getting better.

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