From getting the chance to play in some of Los Angeles’ most prestigious jazz clubs as a teenager to a life-changing experience on “American Idol,” Boston-born, New York-raised, California-educated, and Chicago-groomed singer SuCh has parlayed her unique road traveled into a thriving career in both music and acting.
In addition to an award-winning turn as Celie in the regional premiere of The Color Purple, the multitalented Renaissance woman just released her sophomore album, Trial and Error, to rave reviews. The album, which debuted at No. 2 on Amazon’s R&B chart, is powered by the lead single, “Sugar Maple,” which peaked at No. 1 on the UK Soul Charts, the UK Amazon Soul/R&B MP3 Charts, Starpoint Radio Charts and The Independent UK Soul Charts. In the U.S., it’s been in rotation on several radio stations, most notably iHeart Radio nationwide, WYBC, Music Choice and Sirius XM’s Heart & Soul.
We recently sat down with SuCh to discuss her musical influences, her new album, Trial and Error, and what happened when she gave a PowerPoint presentation to convince her parents to let her pursue a music career.
What’s the origin of your stage name?
It’s actually twofold. First, my given name is Su Charles. Also I like the definition of “such.” The word such can be used in two ways: to exemplify something ….”such as” or to amplify something….”such good music.” I basically want to amplify and exemplify all that is good, beautiful and real and put it in my music.
As a kid, did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
Well music is the one consistent thing I’ve done my whole life. I began singing at about 3 years old. My dad is a pastor so I started singing in church. I have two older sisters that sing. Once I got in elementary school I started singing in choirs and even took up the flute. Music has always been the thing. But I didn’t know for sure that I could be a musician until I was 15. That’s when I got into a program called the Grammy High School Jazz Ensemble. That experience is such a process. You audition, (if you get it) you get a 10 day all expense paid trip to LA, you perform at jazz clubs all over LA, you perform at the Grammy nominee party, you attend the Grammys, and you also record an album. It’s like a really crammed version of a musician’s life. It was really life changing. I remember going to my sister, a jazz vocalist, after coming home the first year and telling her I wanted to be a singer. So I asked her advice on approaching my parents about it. She advised me to come up with a plan and presentation. I came up with a power point presentation and pitched my heart out and they said “Absolutely not!”
So you literally did a PowerPoint presentation?
I really did. At the time the nearest performing arts school was over an hour away so I had to make it good. I had mapped out how to get there by train and the whole nine. I was so serious. My parents were like “We do support you but music is an extremely hard field to be successful in so you have to have a degree and a fallback plan.” At that point I kinda just thought to myself like “Well OK then, the music will just be my hobby.” I went on with my studies but I always stayed close to the music. I directed choirs, praise teams at church, and just kept music with in some form or another. I went on to get my first degree in Exercise Science and my second degree in nursing and up until January of 2012 I was a nurse.
And so what do your parents think of your career now?
My parents are retired now so they’re totally way cooler [laughs]! I’m Haitian-American so I think their whole thing with moving to the States was “we don’t want to see our children struggle for anything.” I respect the decisions that they made and I’m proud to have really supportive parents because they are really really proud of me.
What was your first big break?
My first big break as an artist was making it through the end of Hollywood Week on “American Idol’s” 2012 season. That’s what made me realize that I could actually do this. It’s one thing for you to have it in your head that you want to be a singer but it’s another thing to face one of your biggest fears of being rejected. So I auditioned for American Idol. I actually had waited forever to audition because I didn’t want to hear ‘no’ from professional artists because that would mean that I’m not good at what I do and it would crush my dream. But hearing “no” didn’t crush my dreams. It made me realize that ‘no’ is a part of the journey and every ‘no’ leads me closer to a ‘yes’. So yeah it made me realize that I could do this because if I could bounce back from hearing ‘no’ at that level then I can definitely do it. Also getting my song, “Sugar Maple” played on Sirius XM radio. It’s just really cool that random people across the world who I don’t know can and have heard my song.
Tell us about your first album, Stretch Marks?
Stretch Marks came out right after I was eliminated from American Idol. I was in a very pensive space. As a Haitian-American when the earthquakes hit Haiti that was very personal for me. I started thinking and prioritizing. I began wondering what my calling in life was and so when I began thinking about Stretch Marks I realized that stretch marks occur when there’s been growth over a short period of time. I feel like every scar tells a story and that while we look at stretch marks as a blemish and often people try to hide them, they actually show that you’ve been through and survived something. You are now stronger and wiser as a person and those stretch marks remind you of that growth.
Your latest album is called Trial and Error. What’s the significance behind that title?
I’m really proud of this album and I’m really proud of the growth that I’ve experienced over the last couple of years. Trial and Error is just life in a nutshell. You try, you fail, you adjust, you try again. These last few years for me have just been full of growth. I’ve been uncomfortable and pushed out of my comfort zone and I’m honestly better for it. This album is uplifting and triumphant in a sense that we shouldn’t be afraid of failure because true failure only really exists when you stop trying.
What can you tell us about new single, “Sugar Maple”?
It’s one of those feel good songs that relax and vibe out to as you listen. It’s a love song talking about how you and your boo are great and the love is so sweet like sap from a sugar maple.
Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
Funny story I don’t know much music before the ’90s. Because my dad was a pastor we couldn’t listen to secular music in the house. It took our house burning down for things to change and he loosened up and I began listening to what my older sisters listened to and that was ’90s R&B. So Boyz II Men, Toni Braxton, Jagged Edge and the list goes on. I also loved pop artist like Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey. Around the same time my family moved to Lancaster, Massachusetts, and I got into classic rock and alternative artists like Bonnie Raitt, Jewel, Phil Collins, and Green Day. And with my sister being a jazz artist she introduced me to classic jazz like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. And with my dad being a pastor, gospel music was always in the house so I got into artists like Donnie McClurkin and Richard Smallwood. And on top of all that, lots of Haitian music as well so my influences definitely run the gamut.
Will we hear all those influences present on Trial and Error?
Oh for sure! “Sugar Maple” is more of a neo-soul sorta flavor but there’s a taste of almost everything. There’s everything from an old school hip-hop joint to an old school soul song to a jazzy soul to a little bit of pop. One of my biggest goals with this album was for each song to stand on it’s on. I didn’t want any fillers. I wanted each song to be the best version of itself that it could be. Even genre wise. So if the song needed to be a rock song it had to be a rock song. I wasn’t gonna try to force it to be jazz or neo-soul because it’s what I’ve been labeled as. So yeah there’s even a rock song on there but it all ties together because I’ve written everything so it’s all my voice.
When you’re on stage performing, what’s that experience like for you?
Quite simply, I love it. I feel like I’m at home. The stage is my favorite place. I love connecting with the audience. I love sharing myself with people. Because I write my own songs I feel very vulnerable but at the same time it’s very refreshing to be able to share an intimate part of yourself and to have people relate. I just love to do it.
So you never get stage fright?
Oh of course I do. I always get super nervous. Are you kidding me? It’s scary! If you asked me to sing right now I’d get nervous. I get nervous whether it’s for one person or a thousand people but if I weren’t to get nervous, that’s more frightening. But the nervousness usually ends up leaving like halfway through the first song and then it clicks like “Oh yeah, this is what I’m supposed to be doing”.
As a songwriter what’s your process like writing new songs?
It’s really different for every song. I wish I had a formula because then it would be a lot easier. *laughs* Some songs I’ll hear like when my producer starts playing the piano and then boom, it just comes out of no where. Other songs it’s like pulling teeth. But both songs will be just as good. Take “Sugar Maple” for example. My producer came with a whole track. I was coming up with different melodies but nothing was sticking. Nothing made me feel like “Okay, this is a song.”. It was really pretty wack and I was so annoyed because I liked the track. I was getting frustrated and he was like “How about I just loop the track for 30 minutes and leave the room and you just sing til you’re heart’s content. We’ll record that and go through it and see if there’s anything we like from that.” So that’s what we did. He came back and as we were going through it he says “I really love the part where you say ‘sugar maple'”. I looked at like “I never said ‘sugar maple’. What are you talking about?!?!” But just with that moment an idea struck.So I’m like “Now that you mention it…” and I went and looked up sugar maple trees and the chorus fell out of me and the song was born.
Did you ever figure out what you really said where he thought he heard ‘sugar maple’?
To this day we still don’t have an idea. Isnt that crazy? We actually went back through it and he couldn’t pick out where he thought he heard it. Like there is no way I would have said ‘sugar maple’ but the song needed to be written I guess.
What’s next for SuCh?
Well, I’m touring in promotion of the album so stay with me and keep in tuned because I’ll be all over. I also act and am actively auditioning so who knows. I may be on a stage or screen near you soon.
For more information about SuCh, please visit her website www.iamsuch.com
Check out the video for “Sugar Maple” below.