Suzi Brown: The Sound of Service

Photographer: Angela Davis

Singer-songwriter melds her passion for music with her passion for human rights.

 

Adventurous traveler, social justice advocate, percussion guitarist, singer, songwriter, storyteller, painter and photographer. Suzi Brown does it all with genuine joy, an ever-present smile and a passion for people worldwide.

Brown has explored the world, singing everywhere from bars in the heart of Thailand’s red-light district to wineries throughout the United States. With her enchanting alto voice and percussive guitar skills, she’s launching a tour across America this month to tell her stories and spread hope.

“I’m really excited,” Brown says. “This is my first real, out-of-state tour.”

Her 2014 solo tour stops include Philadelphia, Gettysburg, West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia Beach. She plans on ending up in Montana by the end of summer, where she’ll visit friends and relax.

A Harrisburg resident, Brown employs a DIY approach to every step of the trip, from booking hotel rooms to contacting local radio stations to self-marketing. “I do it all, from beginning to end,” she says. “I am my own marketer, planner, scheduler and guide.”

Brown released her debut album, Siren Song, last August. The album consists of 10 tracks, including a few instrumentals. It was a collaborative effort with some high-profile help: producer Pier Giacalone (who has engineered and mastered albums for Regina Spektor), drummer Rodney Holmes (of Santana fame) and keyboardist Arne Wendt (who’s performed with Bon Jovi). Brown also credits multi-instrumentalist Joe Cheng with a lot of her style influence; he plays violin, cello and mandolin and has been collaborating with Brown for more than 14 years.

Brown’s music is a unique blend of Celtic, Asian, jazz and traditional folk styles. On tour, she performs solo with her acoustic guitar, accompanied by a pre-programmed loop station, which involves her playing bass, various guitar beats and multiple chord structures.

Brown doesn’t read music, but has an innate musical sense that wowed her Camp Hill High School music instructor, Dave Shover, and inspired her to pursue her music full-time.

“I know and understand music very well,” Brown says, adding that Shover was a huge part of that process. “He let me pass even though I couldn’t read anything!” After graduating college, Brown began her career as a session player, accompanying other musicians both live and in the studio. She then started recording her own music.

SuziBrown1113Brown cites vast musical influences, from The Indigo Girls and Van Morrison to Stevie Wonder and Lauryn Hill, and her emotive voice is softly lyrical and captivating. Her writing is revelatory – she writes about heartbreak, relationships, good and bad places in life. “If you’re in my life,” she says, “you’re going to be in my songs.”

Storytelling is a huge part of her shows, and she says her audiences connect with her because she tries to “be honest and real” in her performances. She has even played and sang impromptu songs at her shows, based on a feeling and vibe she gets from the crowd. “Sometimes audiences can check out,” Brown says. “I startle them back into being in the moment.” In this way, her shows become performance art – stories mixed in with distinctive music.

When asked to describe her own sound, Brown laughs. “The easiest way would be to say percussive guitar,” she says. She utilizes a variety of strumming and picking techniques, constantly trying to incorporate new ideas into her music. She also says a lot of her music includes Celtic undertones; “Spring” is one of her favorite songs, with a Celtic melody and Asian string influences.

Her extensive travels have given her endless songwriting inspiration. Brown worked in Thailand during college, teaching English and playing music in a band with other students.

Her studies took on a deeper meaning when she visited the red-light district in Thailand and began meeting people whose lives were affected by the sex-trade industry. Sex trade is rampant in Pattaya – the city known as the sex tourist capitol of the world. Becoming immersed in the city and getting to know the people gave Brown a passion for those exploited there and all over the world.

When touring this summer, Brown hopes to spread the message of the world’s sex trade epidemic, making people realize it’s not just something that happens in foreign lands. When she performs, she plays a song she wrote in Thailand titled “Rumspringa,” which she uses to transition into telling audiences about the criminalization and signs of sex trafficking in the travel industry. She’s even titled her tour the “Lit Lantern Tour” in reference to the lanterns that would light the way of those trying to escape slavery on the Underground Railroad.

Her passion is real, shown not only by her lyrics, but in her continued desire for action. She is working with Harrisburg police on creating a brochure and literature on sex-trafficking awareness. She hopes to one day be able to have this information available for distribution in hotels, truck stops and travel agencies around the state.

Combining music, travel and social justice comes naturally for Brown. “I’m most happy writing songs and traveling,” she says. “So when I can use my music in a positive way, it makes it all worth it… Music by itself is not everything.”

Her future plans? More travel and more music, of course. “My dream is to visit Nepal, which is very similar to Thailand in culture and social problems.” She also says she wants to visit Amsterdam, just for fun.

As for where she sees her music taking her, it’s very simple. “Let the music speak for itself,” Brown says. “And every door will be opened.”

Cassel Vineyard • July 11


 

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Posted in Articles, Harrisburg, Music, Music – Harrisburg, Out & About – Harrisburg
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