Oh Susanna Opens Up About the Trials, Tribulations and Ultimate Triumphs of 'Namedropper'
Published Oct 24, 2014The long wait from completion to release for Namedropper, the new album from Oh Susanna is finally over. This week Toronto-based roots songstress Suzie Ungerleider ushered out her record via Sonic Unyon Records/Sony, virtually a full two years since a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of her sixth album.
The much-publicized reason for the delay was a diagnosis of breast cancer in spring 2013, just as the record was being wrapped.
"We had finished everything. We were about to send the artwork off to get that printed," a now-healthy Ungerleider tells Exclaim! "When I got diagnosed with cancer I felt very guilty. I was like 'oh, I can't give people their Kickstarter rewards. I guess that's a funny thing to think about, but those are the ways your brain copes with emergencies."
A long period of treatment and recuperation followed, meaning that Namedropper now arrives just over a year later than the initial release date.
The self-deprecating album title refers to the presence of a veritable who's who of top Canadian songwriters involved: Jim Bryson, Joel Plaskett, Royal Wood, Nathan's Keri Latimer, Ron Sexsmith, Melissa McClelland, Old Man Luedecke, Luke Doucet, Amelia Curran, the Good Lovelies and Jim Cuddy.
Instead of simple covers, all these writers were approached by album producer and key collaborator Jim Bryson to come up with a new song specifically written for Namedropper. Ungerleider recalls that "my original plan was for an album of covers of songs by these people I actually knew and that I admired. Then Jim went 'Nah. Let's get people to write the songs for you.' He said that was just a flash of inspiration he had. I was like 'Well, okay, but can you ask them? [Laughs.] I'm chicken.' So he did, and most people said yes. The few noes we got were polite and kind insecure noes, as in 'I don't know if I can do that.' Occasionally Jim said 'How about asking this person?' and I said 'No, I don't know them.' We stuck to that rule."
The generally enthusiastic response to the idea testifies to the peer respect long enjoyed within the Canadian music community by the American-born, Vancouver-raised Ungerleider.
Armed with a batch of new contributed songs, Oh Susanna, Bryson (who is featured on a multitude of instruments) and the rhythm section of bassist Eli Abrams and drummer Cam Giroux (Ungerleider's husband) set up shop with engineer/mixer Zane Whitfield at his North of Princess Recording Studio in Kingston.
"We had two sessions, each about a week long," says Ungerleider. "We did work stuff out as a group, together in the studio. Sometimes Jim would go 'I have no idea what I'm going to do with this one,' and I'd go 'Let's just play it,' and we would come up with stuff. Then Jim took it home and tinkered with it. He did a lot of layering and overdubs and he and Zane mixed it. The mixing really influenced some of the sounds in terms of reverb and the space the song is in. It was a huge part of the record."
Oh Susanna had never worked in the studio with longtime friend Bryson before, but clearly enjoyed the experience. "I was happy to have Jim bossing me around. That is why I chose him. I wanted someone who had a completely different idea of what a record should sound like. This project has really renewed our friendship and our creative juices."
Four of the contributing writers, Jay Harris, Royal Wood, Joel Plaskett and the Good Lovelies, added backing vocals on their tunes, while Kathleen Edwards guested on three songs.
Ungerleider is now ready for her Canadian tour, which just kicked off last night (October 23) in Hamilton. "I love being on tour and seeing the landscape change every day," she says. "I'm touring with Jim, who will play guitar and add the odd funny joke."
As previously reported, one tour highlight is likely to be at her October 30 Ottawa stop. An Ottawa International Writers Festival event will focus on Namedropper and will feature album contributors Bryson, Amelia Curran, Ron Sexsmith, Joel Plaskett and Whitehorse guesting with Oh Susanna.
You can see all the dates below, as well as the recently revealed video for album track "Goodnight."
10/25 Toronto, ON - The Great Hall
10/30 Ottawa, ON - Knox Presbyterian Church *
11/08 Winnipeg, MB - West End Cultural Centre
11/09 Nanton, AB - Auditorium Hotel
11/10 Calgary, AB - Ironwood Stage & Grill
11/11 Kelowna, BC - Minstrel Café
11/13 Vancouver, BC - St. James Hall
11/14 Port Alberni, BC - Char's Landing
11/15 Bowen Island, BC House Concert – Cindy's House
11/16 Duncan, BC - Duncan Showroom
* with Jim Bryson, Amelia Curran, Ron Sexsmith, Joel Plaskett, Whitehorse