bill bodkin interviews the new it girl…
We walk past them everyday in the train station — the performers who pour out their hearts and souls for the mere change in your pocket. Many of us ignore them, blowing by them in order to reach our next business meeting or dinner reservation. However, if you take a second and listen to one of these performers you may just be listening to someone like Susan Justice.
At the tender age of 14, Susan Justice was performing in the bustling subways of New York City, engaging large audiences, sometimes earning up to $500 a performance. But lest we forget, this girl was literally singing for her life — music was her way to survive.
Her subway performances lead to an eventual record — The Subway Recordings, which got her into the New York Club scene. As fate would have it former Spin Doctors drummer Aaron Comess caught one of Justice’s shows, recommended her to famed manager David Sonenberg (who worked with artists like The Fugees), who in turn set her up with producer Toby Gad, an industry vet who’s worked with the likes of The Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce. From there, the former subway performer was signed to Capitol Records and Kite Records, with whom she has released her major label debut, Eat Dirt, this past Tuesday, March 26.
Pop-Break got the chance to speak with Susan Justice about the whirlwind that has been her young life — from performing in subways to work with major label producers.
Pop-Break: You call your new album, Eat Dirt, a lyrical autobiography. Did you have any reservations about sharing your life experiences and really baring your heart and soul to the world? It seems like such a daunting thing to do.
Susan Justice: I honestly didn’t think about it. I wrote these songs for myself. I wasn’t focused on the sharing aspect. Honestly, I never imaged these songs would make it on a record.
PB: To follow up with that question, once the record was complete was there a sense of catharsis — that you were glad that you got everything out?
SJ: I had a lot of bottled up feelings. Writing these songs helped me. I’m ready for the next chapter in my life.
PB: In your bio it says that despite the fact your parents didn’t approve of pop culture that wasn’t sanctioned by them you still “devoured” albums by Alanis Morissette, Tracy Chapman, Prince, Nirvana, etc. What was it about these artists and for that matter, music in general that made you push the boundaries of your family’s rules, compelling you to listen to music in secret?
SJ: I may have had a very different upbringing than most kids, but I was still a kid, Millions of young girls related to that Alanis album. I was just one of them. Tracey Chapman was perhaps a bit of a role model for me. She plays acoustic guitar and sings honest songs. I wanted to do that. And Prince and Nirvana, well, they were just the bomb as far as I was concerned.
PB: On this record you worked with producer Toby Gad who’s worked with Beyonce, Fergie and Alicia Keys. How did working with him help you grow as an artist? How did he challenge you?
SJ: Let me put it to you this way, when I think about where I’m at today — I thank Gad! I’ve never met anyone like him. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s full of light and life and pushes me to say something, rather than just try and write a hit song.
PB: Can you talk about this experience of going from performing in New York subways just to make enough to survive to now being on a major record label, working with a famed producer and now having your record coming out across the nation? Has this experience been overwhelming?
SJ: It can be a bit terrifying. I love making art but I’m not sure that I have what it takes to be a recording artist. It’s one thing writing a song in your room and performing it on the street to make enough money to survive. It’s quite another thing to go to radio stations, do press interviews, TV and all the promotional stuff that goes with being on a major label. I’m going to give it my best shot … we’ll see.
PB: What can we expect from Susan Justice in 2012 — in terms of touring, singles, etc.?
SJ: All I know is — I’m ready for anything!