This quirky, out queer artist with the Joni-ish jazzy vocals, the sweeping range, and the plain-spoken piano pop sound of Regina Spektor has the sort of truly individual approach to songwriting that only comes from having lots of living under one’s belt.
Her lyrics are whimsical and often absurd, sometimes seemingly written for the sole purpose of achieving countless crazy rhymes. And yet messages – at times even serious ones – emerge. Her songs often incorporate decontextualized fragments of conversations or characters from Süss’ life.
To the extent that Süss’ music is eclectic, so too was the life experience and musical training that inspired it.
Born and raised near Steinbach, Manitoba, Süss grew up with a Mennonite mother and a German Baptist immigrant father who raised their children in a Mennonite church that sang hymns in the traditional four-part harmony. She also studied classical piano and – for a time – voice and guitar. She consumed the music of the impressionist-era composers, listened to a lot of soul and funk, and adored artists like Bruce Cockburn and Jane Siberry. But Süss never seriously considered a career in music until she experienced that fabled “female midlife crisis” that’s said to hit around age 30.
Suddenly realizing that this was, in fact, what she wanted to be when she grew up, Süss abruptly switched majors at University – where she had originally enrolled in a science program as a mature student – and immersed herself in music studies, choosing a jazz improviser as her piano instructor. Upon graduation, she focused on sight reading jazz standards, improving her vocal skills and playing the flute in a Middle Eastern ensemble, where she was exposed to diverse time signatures. She also began working for CBC Radio, where she produced a documentary about her experience as a queer Mennonite. While at the CBC, fellow staffer and unsung arts patron Clare Lawler commissioned her to write the piece that became “Waltz for Clare.” Finally, in 2007, and approaching age 40, she recorded her debut album – with help from a couple of the ‘Peg’s finest players: bassists Marie Josee Dandeneau (Wyrd Systers) and Gilles Fournier (Tito Puente, Kevin Eubanks).
Süss now has a demanding music career at home in Winnipeg. She is a musical accompanist for the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, she plays for an inner-city Anglican church, and she runs the inner-city music program at the city’s Rossbrook House drop-in. She is profiting from her holidays from these jobs to finally travel to Quebec and Ontario to play for live audiences there for the first time. And anyone who loves quirky jazzy singer songwriters should take advantage of this opportunity to discover an exciting new voice in the genre.