7 Aug 2011

Interview : Suzi Quatro

Photo used with permission from Suzi Quatro's management.
Where do I start with Suzi Quatro?

The woman is responsible for my love of music. It's that simple and meaningful.

"A one, a two, a one two three...Well at the age of 5..." she sang on her 1974 single, Devil Gate Drive. At the time, I was 5 years old; do you know, I actually thought the song had been written for me? The lounge room was my auditorium, the carpet my stage. I would wait until my family was outside doing something, and I'd pop on my brother's vinyl of this song and gyrate around the lounge room strumming my tennis racquet-come-bass while singing to my imaginary, fawning fans.

With my floral embroidered flares, Tom (from Tom & Jerry) t-shirt, blonde afro...I thought I was the coolest, hippest cat in the land and Suzi Q was the one who made me dream - right from the start - that little girls could grow up to become rock'n'roll stars. When I saw her appearances on Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero...well, that just solidified her cool factor for me.

So, when I heard Suzi was touring Australia again, I thought I'd catch up with her for a quick Q&A to find out what she's up to.

47 years in the music industry so far! What drives you and keeps you motivated to write and tour? 

I was born to rock and, to go further, to entertain. It is in my blood. Every show, I feel like I have to go out and prove myself all over again. It's part and parcel of being an artist; I love it! I certainly don't do it for the money...

As a child, I first became enamoured of your music upon hearing Devil Gate Drive. It was raunchy and your vocals shredded. What inspired you to become a musician and what music back then influenced you? 

I was an Elvis fan from the age of 5. I played bongos with Dad at age 8, took classical piano then percussion. Then at 14 I saw The Beatles on TV. My sisters and I started an all girl band, The Pleasure Seekers. We come from a musical family, so it's not a big deal that we play several instruments each. There were three pianos - one on each floor - and any instrument you wanted was somewhere in the house.

What music influences you now? 

I like a lot of the new bands coming up. Thank god: there was a real draught for real musicians. I also like Keane, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Arctic Monkeys.

Speaking of influences, you’ve been a major one for many young female musicians. Your blend of confident, sassy musicianship has always been refreshing amidst the bevy of female artists signed more for their looks than talent. Do you have any thoughts on why the music industry focuses on what women look like and downplays their abilities to create good music? 

I can only speak for myself. I wanted to be taken seriously so I never even wore make-up, not for a long time. A lot of women are putting themselves out there with 'looks' being at the forefront, and making soft porn-style videos, so is it any wonder that this is how they're being perceived? I would like to see this trend reverse itself, as I think that'd be healthier for the music industry. Adele is a positive example.

Do you have any thoughts about the current state of the music industry? Many musicians have spoken to me about the difficulty of breaking even, about the lack of album sales etc. As someone who’s been in the industry for a while, what’s your take? 

Yes, it's not easy. Nobody wants to pay for music anymore and this is how we make our living. The internet has been wonderful in lots of ways, but this is not one of them. We need music to go back into the shops where it belongs. CD shops are disappearing at an alarming rate and it's scary. At least downloads now count.

Tell me about your new album, In the Spotlight (released in Australia this week). 

First, I made Back to the Drive, which was a collection of songs over 15 years. This was very personal for me, an autobiography in words and music. Then I wrote my story, Unzipped. My journey was well and truly chronicled. Mike Chapman had executive produced Back to the Drive and Andy Scott (from The Sweet) produced. After my book had been out for about a year, Mike said "Now that you've got all that out of your system, let's make an album. I know exactly what to do: which songs, which musicians to use...I have a vision". I trust Mike completely, as a producer and as a friend.

What was it like working with Mike again? 

Although we haven't made an album for a long time, we have always made the odd track through the years. But doing this one was like putting on my favourite pair of blue jeans and, funny enough, they still fit.

Which is your favourite song from the album and why? 

Favourite is hard to pick. I like them all for different reasons. Spotlight was the best song to sing, I love the vibe on Strict Machine. Lots of people have picked my composition Hurt with You as their favourite, which makes me feel proud. And of course, I am happy that Singing with Angels (my Elvis tribute song) is finally on a CD as a bonus track.

You've included some covers on your album. It interests me to see a cover of Goldfrapp included on the track listing: are you a fan? 

Yes, especially Strict Machine. If you notice, we did a little tongue-in-cheek reference to Can the Can. I would be very surprised if they didn't get a little influence from my hit; it's too similar.

With the various changes in the technology available to musicians across the past few decades, is there any new technology you’ve embraced? 

Not really, I'm old fashioned. I don't even like lots of dials and switches on my bass; I leave that to the guitarist. I like to keep music real and spontaneous.

For your upcoming tour, what bass guitar will you be playing and do you have any favourite brands/models? 

I'm using a Fender Jazz. I prefer Fender Precision the most, but got a good deal on this one from a shop my son worked in. You can't beat a Fender.

You seem to tour Australia fairly regularly. What's your attraction to this country? 

I've always gone there since 1974. We understand each other. We have grown up together. We are family. I'm no bullshit and Australia is no bullshit: a perfect union.

I’ve seen a couple of your shows and both times have been impressed with your onstage vigour. What steps do you take to stay fit and energetic? 

As I write, I've just returned from my morning jog of five miles...in the Spanish heat. Not easy: downhill all the way then uphill on return. Phew!

Who will we see in your current band line-up when you tour Australia? 

Andy Dowding (drums), Tim Smith (guitar), Ray Beavis (sax), Carl Membrino (piano), Toby Gucklhorn (trombone) and Dick Hanson (trumpet).

You can catch Suzi on tour in Australia starting 16 September 2011.

Find out more:
Suzi Q website
Suzi Q on Twitter
Suzi Q on Facebook
Suzi Q on MySpace
Buy In the Spotlight

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