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Ghost Canyon

Susan Werner Susan Werner

'A Classic Beauty'

With 6 albums under her belt, an active touring career throughout the U.S. and a string of accolades from the likes of The Washington Post, The Village Voice and The New Yorker, Susan Werner has become one of the defining artists of the folk music genre. Her songs effortlessly slide between folk, jazz and pop, and are delivered with a sassy wit and classic midwestern charm.

With 'Classics,' Werner delivers entirely new string arrangements of mainstream popular songs by top songwriters from a "classical" pop era - the sixties and seventies. Drawing on her unique training as a classical vocalist (she has a master's degree in music history and voice performance), and the diverse talents of esteemed Boston Symphony and Pops players, 'Classics' sets a mood that highlights elegance and sophistication previously overlooked in the first lives of songs like Paul Simon's A Hazy Shade of Winter, Marvin Gaye's Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed and America's Lonely People.

Chatting one-on-one with the lovely lady herself, I first wondered what had been her musical influences growing up and how many still factor into her music today? "Franciscan nuns and the folk mass, Count Basie and his Orchestra, The Who, and they all three still show up one way or another in my music. I'm not even kidding."

For the Average Joe who (amazingly) may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your upcoming new CD, how would you yourself describe your sound? "However commercially unwise it may be, my sound changes from project to project, depending on the nature of the record. This project has chamber music instruments - because that's what the project's about. Previous project has gospel choirs and b3 organs, because the project was about the church in America. The project before that had clarinet and upright bass and drum kit because it was a 1930s style songbook -style take on romance. I like to think it's part of what gives my work its vitality - stumbling on something new, while learning a new style, that's where i seem to do my best work."

Most of the press on you has labeled you as "the ever-ambitious Susan Werner" ... is this a fair assumption on who you are; and if so, what is one ambition you've had for as long as you can remember, but still one that has yet to be achieved? "I guess I am ambitious, but hopefully in a good way!! and I do I like a new mountaintop to climb with every project. One big ambition yet - to write a musical. I'll let you know when I've pulled that off - that feels like some kinda Mount Everest, that one."

Going back to the days of the late '60s / early '70s to enable yourself to create this new album of classics, in what frame of mind did you find yourself in the studio? "My producer and I arrived at this concept while working on pop songs from the 50's to now ... but we kept coming back to these well written pop classics from this era because they had broad familiarity - people of all generations know these, boomers/hippies AND THEIR KIDS - and that mattered to me. I didn't, like, put on bellbottoms or drop acid or anything, if that's what you're asking :)"

Which turned out to be your favorite track, why ... and did you have to gain the permission rights to record any or all these songs, perhaps? "As for permission, most of these songs are listed in an online service, as long as you pay the fee to sell your recordings you can record most any song. My favorite track I have to say was 'Mercy Mercy Me,' because it was such a surprise, how elegant the lyrics are, and how lovely and heartbreaking that song is when performed with a string quartet. And because I found a way, after many attempts, to sing it on the record. I had to sing much much more softly and much much more calmly than on any other track I've ever sung. You have to respect a song as HUGE and BRILLIANT as 'Mercy Me' - and I hope I did it justice."

It's been said that you "refashioned each song" ... just how did you go about that? "Much of the fun of the project was to play each song - we must have tried out almost 200 of them, from the Billboard charts from 1965 to 1975 - with string quartet sound samples in the studio - I can play almost anything by ear, so I simply sat there as if I was in a piano bar, and ran song after song. Most songs fell flat - either they sounded cheesy or too much like a joke - but there was a certain number of songs that sounded surprisingly satisfying in the tuxedo that is a string quartet. Those are the songs that have something in them, either lyrically or structurally or both, that is elegant, and, one might say, formal - and those are the songs that made the cut."

Indeed, how easy (or hard) is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderment's/accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "Over time, I guess I've learned that you have to be really specific about what you want to do - that's the only way to stand out. Be really really specific. Because so many musicians and writers and singers have done so many things so well already - if you're just making more general noise, who needs it?"

Do you believe this is finally the album to bring those unsure of the classical composition round to the thinking that it can actually be implemented into their lives effortlessly and painlessly? "Oh my God, painlessly? Yikes!! But you're bringing up a good point - and I think the problem with classical music is that it became detached from any emotional impact - it became elevator music, to many people - but once you bring the beauty and power and clarity of woodwinds and strings together with a great song that speaks to people - like Paul Simon's 'Hazy Shade of Winter' or Bob Marley's 'Waiting in Vain' - classical music can allow a listener to feel something even more deeply. There's lovely music and then there's really really lovely music - something almost so gorgeous you can't stand it - that's what we were aiming for here."

Ok, as we head into the final few questions here, please explain how a young girl, born and raised on a hog farm in Iow a became the musically enchanting woman that we all know and love today?! "Well, aren't you a darling! Do go on! :) Well, the farm wasn't your usual farm ... of course, we had dairy and chickens and corn and soybeans and my parents are still farming in Iowa - but one of my brothers is a professional stand up comic and another brother is a performing drag queen so you should know we had a lot of fun out there."

"My parents really enjoyed and encouraged their children and our unusual creative talents - and I'll always be grateful for that. And I can't even begin to tell you what a good time we have at the holidays - Thanksgivings and Christmases are pretty lively out there."

If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today ... and why?! "'I WANT YOU TO WANT ME.' Really. I was totally into Cheap Trick. Oh my God, totally. I still want a double neck electric so bad!"

Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins ... do you?! "I am neutral on the subject of penguins. I have strong feelings for prairie dogs, hawks and eagles of all kinds, and large cats like lions tigers jaguars, et cetera. I have a strong aversion to insects, especially ones that crawl up inside your suitcase in cheap hotels. I am sorry I can't offer more support there :)"

Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk

'Classics' CD Purchase Link

If you would like to win a copy of this brand new CD .. AUTOGRAPHED ... and you think you know all there is to know about the lovely lady, just answer this easy question: Werner relishes the challenge of being a creative free spirit, which she proved back in 2004 on her 'I Can't Be New' CD, where she delivered her modern contribution to the Great American Songbook by writing originals in the style which two composers?!

Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before May 1st with your answer and the subject title SUSAN WERNER SIGNED CDs to:

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