Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Juel of Minnesota

Suzen Juel is a singer-songwriter who hails from the Twin Cities, residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the snow blows cold in the winter, but the music can be quite hot. Juel has just released Untitled #13, which, despite the name, is her third CD release.

Tunes such as "Lay Down In Mercy," "I'll Be Your Savior" and "Hanging On For The Ride" reveal a strong melodic sense, a deft touch on the acoustic guitar and a voice that is one part innocence and one part mischief with a pinch of Nashville twang, a dash of Dylan and two spoonfuls of Guthrie -- one Woody and one Arlo -- in this Minnesota girl.

RtD: How did you get started playing music, and who were your biggest influences when you started playing?

Juel: I started playing music when I was about five. I watched my mother play the piano/keyboard and learned to play by ear. Granted, this was nothing much at age five, just that the desire and the ear for music is something that came quite naturally. My grandfather, my mother, my great grandmother, etc. were all heavy into music in all its various forms. My grandpa, Jule, hand made my first guitar, which I discovered when I was about 11. I took lessons for a couple months, until my teacher wanted me to sing. I then put my guitar into its case and walked home... I had no intention of singing in front of anyone and also was very shy as a kid. I was a closet musician!

My biggest influences are the lyrically rich -- Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams... I grew up loving the music my parents listened to, a lot of 60's and 70's... Melanie Safka, John Prine... Janis Joplin gave me a blues flavor a bit later in life. As I got older, I completely fell in love with songwriters like Norah Jones, Mary Gauthier, Bonnie Raitt, and well, the list could go on and on!

I call myself a 'Lyrical Whore.' It's truly the lyrics of a song that suck me directly into it, and that goes with my own songwriting. It's like a recipe for me -- when I write a song, words have to compliment the tone of the song. It's like a whole audio appeal, the plate of the song must have just the right ingredients before I present it to my fans.

There are also two different audiences that I perform for -- the global, virtual... reaching out across the globe through virtual performances and of course the Midwest, as well as other places I've played.

RtD: You mentioned virtual performing. I understand this is done in the Second Life game?

Juel: Yes. Virtual shows that I do take place via my live stream, which is often in Second Life... I reach a broad audience this way, and have been doing this since about 2005, when the live shows in SL just started. It's been a fantastic platform to build upon, and has led to several live shows across the USA as well. The nice thing about the virtual performances is that people can interact with you, as you perform, whereas in real life, one must wait til the end of the show.

There are pros and cons to it, either way... and using it as a platform gives a broad perspective on how it can apply to real life performances. For example, it really helped me get over my inhibitions and I'm much more likely to just let loose during live shows in the physical world. It's taught me to just DO IT, instead of hesitating. It is truly my passion to write songs, to perform... and it's an incredible way to build a following, no matter where you perform in real life, someone is there that heard you, perhaps in a virtual sense as well.

RtD: I have heard that quite a number of performers are having success using Second Life as a performance tool. How did you discover that as a venue?

Juel: I discovered Second Life in 2003/2004. There was no live music [in SL] at that time, and I hadn't even heard of live music via virtual worlds, let alone a virtual world. [laughs] A friend of mine asked me to come into SL and try doing my live music. This was in 2005, so my second time joining [SL]. I was one of the first female musicians to hit the scene in Second Life. There were only a handful of musicians at that time, now there are over a thousand, I believe... Many are karaoke singers, and do not perform live, however, there are quite a talented bunch [of musicians] in SL as well.

So I began in 2005 doing live performances, building a loyal following of fans and friends and other musicians that I collaborate with, with songwriting as well as performing live with other musicians from around the world, doing a dual stream. To the audience it sounds as if we are in the same room, although we are miles away. It's a fun way to do things! So Second LIfe to me is a huge platform to play on, to build on, to experiment with, to showcase, to network.

I've been enjoying the "grid" since 2004, and even though I'm not in Second LIfe much, it is still my favorite place to 'sample' various musicians from around the world, or even locally.

RtD: One story I read about live music in Second Life pointed out the ease of performing that way vs. a real life gig. That person talked about not having to lug around equipment, and being able to perform in their pajamas (or less!).

Juel: Yes, there is an ease in performing online, in Second LIfe or via Ustream. For those that don't travel much or can't come to your real life shows, they can tune into a live show via the net, or Second Life. Everything I need is right here, and the chance to connect is endless!

RtD: According to your website, your most recent CD is called Untitled #13. Could you tell us a little about it? Is it your 13th release?

Juel: Untitled #13 could very well be my 13th release; however, as far as quality goes, it's my third official release. Thirteen songs, heavy, chunky, visual lyrics etc. I love the number 13. In Second Life I run a live music venue called Living Room #13. {Thirteen is] generally [considered] an unlucky number, so they say, but I"ve found that with everything in life, if the odds are stacked against me, I tend to rise up to the challenge of it, and 13 is just that...
a twist of fate, an unlikely cover for an odd place to dream... and it is at the core of most of what I do (not even intentional most times!).

RtD: I see a lot of artwork on your website... the cover of the new CD is an interesting drawing that appears to have a lot of symbolism. How did you come up with the cover, and what is it like being a visual artist as well as a musician? (I see on your website that you paint guitars as well, which I think sounds like fun.)

Juel: The cover [of Living Room #13] was done by Alan Seeger, an artist who offered to draw the cover, which inspired the CD even more. I designed most of my CD covers, and while I was in the middle of designing a cover for #13, Alan sent me this drawing, and it was perfect! I met Alan in Second LIfe as well... he's been a longtime fan of mine as well as [a fan of] live music in general, a great lover of music.

I've been painting/drawing since I can remember... always doodling or sketching, or painting something. When I was younger, about 14 or 15, I took the small handmade guitar that my Grampa Jule made for me, and I stripped it down, sanded it, took it apart and refinished it all... and now, years later, I find such satisfaction in color blending, textures, hues... so I took my old Washburn [guitar], sanded it and gave it a deep and beautiful red stain with warm hues of gold... I wanted the natural wood to come through... and the back and sides, I stained a deep blue/purple. I LOVE IT! I've also done several pieces for others, who shipped me their guitars, to sand, stain, paint with my original artwork, etc., and yes, it's FUN! I hope to start another project on the "GuitART" soon... so I'm always on the lookout for old guitars at garage sales, thrift stores etc. to sand and stain/paint.

As far as being a visual artist and musician, I feel it goes hand in hand. I find most musicians dabble in art of some form, and vice versa, as well as photography. Always looking for the PERFECT Shot. I've found that living up north, there aren't a lot of others who can do for me, what I need... photos, paintings, recording... so I've decided to do most of it myself, since I know how, and most of the time, I'm pretty good at it (not always). [laughs] But it seems that a creative person is just creative in more ways then they even understand themselves. Sometimes, as we go through life, it just shows us, "HEY, DID YOU KNOW YOU COULD SING?" and well, there you are! [laughs]

RtD: So what's next for Suzen Juel?

Juel: Well, that's the big question for me, too! I'm working with a musician from Switzerland, named Boris Van Luger, who is one of the most spectacular and talented musicians I've known. I wrote a song called "Lover" that he is re-creating with me, with his guitar, drums, etc., even backup vocals. I've worked with Phil Rossi as well, with backing vocals on his song "Revival." I look forward to these collaborations, and am most excited about what Boris and I can achieve, as well as the next new song.

I've written a few new ones in recent weeks and seem to have a theme starting, for the foundation of my next release. I'd love to give a date for that, but it seems to have its own agenda.

Also, with the warm weather, besides chasing birds around with my camera, gardening and watching my hundreds of sunflowers pop up -- I've been busy with that -- once fall kicks in, I'll likely start the fourth season of Naked Acoustic (virtually at Living Room #13). Meanwhile, some experiences in life will lead the way to the next phase of lyrics... life has a way of bringing that all
to the surface, it seems. Lots of projects to look forward to, many more to finish, and then there are always those buried treasures that have a way of resurfacing with a whole new face painted on them... Suzen JueL will always have something to grow in that garden of creativity. And all those inside my garden just add to the richness, contribute to the soil that helps all crazy and wild things grow into those wickedly beautiful flowers of a song.

RtD: To sum things up in one sentence, who is Suzen Juel / Juel Resistance?

Juel: Suzen JueL 'Resistance' is what happens when two worlds collide.

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