Meet Suzi Wu: Def Jam’s Rising Artist at the Forefront of Electro-Grunge
We join Suzi Wu, recently signed to Def Jam Records, riding the release of her 2019 EP Error404 on a clear cool Tuesday afternoon in London where she has just returned from a mini US tour of both coasts. Suzi begins our chat discussing the heat of D.C. and humidity of New York that has you feeling like you’re swimming through the air.
R: How was your first Governor’s Ball?
Suzi: It was so good! It was my first big festival and I got to see all of these kids who knew the words to all of my songs. Which was really cool. And also it’s an honor to be in the heart of New York like that. The artists area was mad as well. You know you’re just chilling and it’s like Kendall Jenner is there. It’s like what the f- is happening? It was cool.
R: Did you get to catch any sets?
Suzi: I caught Playboi Carti. I love his style. He’s got that punk-trap kind of style. It was kind of crazy though because the crowd was so mild. People had told me it’s crazy how hard Americans mosh because they don’t have healthcare. You’d think they’d tear up for Playboi Carti! I didn’t experience that this time so I’m still waiting for that crazy American mosh.
R: Anybody you wanted to see that you couldn’t?
Suzi: I wanted to see Vince Staples. He’s so unanimously loved! I was so caught up in the whirlwind of being there I’m sure it’ll come around again.
I think as well, I was aware that people tell you to never waste away your youth wishing you were somewhere else, but that’s impossible because that’s a part of youth and part of what makes it beautiful!
R: Starting off with your 2017 Teenage Witch EP, I felt like I was on the bus to school during my senior year. It really took me back in time. It had me feeling like not when will I get out of here but when will I get –
Suzi: To live!
R: Yes! Yeah!
Suzi: I totally get you. I love that that’s what you got.
R: With “Teenage Witch”, the track, you kind of touch on invincibility, youth, and that excitement to take on the world. What do you kind of think the beauty of youth is and in that time period what were you really excited for?
Suzi: I was excited to grow up. Still excited to grow up. I think as well, I was aware that people tell you to never waste away your youth wishing you were somewhere else, but that’s impossible because that’s a part of youth and part of what makes it beautiful! It’s this angst and desire, burning and yearning for something more, you know? And, um, there’s a bit in the song “Speed” that goes, “I’ll tell you when I’m older and I’m wearing my true face, how I miss those sunny days scrambling for a place.” It’s basically that missing the days when you were scrambling for that thing.
R: Into the second song “Taken Care Of,” which might be my favorite, you kind of touch on being a disgrace. Sometimes when we’re growing up, we feel like we might be disappointing ourselves or the people around us. Can you elaborate on that a bit and what you were feeling with this song?
Suzi: It’s mad how many people relate to that song. With any relationship of people with their parents there’s a sort of hoping that they’re proud but not always being sure. There’s also how proud you feel of yourself. For me, a lot of that fear and insecurity is what I put into my performances. I wrote that song when I was fifteen and it was the first song I ever wrote to put it out to the public. It’s almost a song about the music that I make taking care of me. Therefore, me being taken care of. I say “in a place where I feel invincible,” that being the stage. But I also get to talk about why I don’t feel like that as well. That song is funny though because its me trying to introduce the whole world to me. It’s like, I’m here, b-tches!
R: There’s a line in there, “Too scared to live. Too stoned to die.” Growing up now, that’s something you kind of see a lot. I feel like the world is in a weird place. We’re supposed to live, but we don’t know how it’ll pan out in a few years.
Suzi: I feel like it’s a hard time to be alive. Our generation is in a position of human history we’ve never seen before. That’s a lot. The future is seriously the least certain it has ever been. It’s a tough one. I hope that resonates with people, but I would also like to tell people that that’s why we have to live doubly as hard. Like we have to go in.
R: It’s crazy too because a lot of young people around eighteen are thinking like, “well, why should I even try if the world is going to end in fifteen years?”
Suzi: I think it’s important to say that the world isn’t going to end necessarily, so much so as society is going to change. We have in some way more control over our destiny because if society changes then we’re the youngest, we’ll spearhead that. Whatever it is!
We’re always told that we need to be ourselves, but how the hell are we supposed to work out to be ourselves unless we try on a thousand other faces and ideas? You know what I mean?
R: Moving into the nitty gritty of the real world, why did you choose to add a cover of “Jockey Full of Bourbon” to the EP?
Suzi: I’ve always loved that song and its poetry since I was a kid. Tom Waits is kind of this old hardened criminal feel and I liked the idea of being an 18-year-old girl singing about something that rough. I love riot girls like Patti Smith, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott — girls who show that attitude. I thought I could deliver it in that same way as the women I look up to.
R: You end the EP with “Speed,” as if you state that life can get a bit rough but it turns out in the end with your line “I’ve got someone to be.” I felt like that tied in with the whole theme of invincibility and how in your youth one day you can be this person and the next you can be someone else. How do you take that shapeshifting mentality and apply it to your music?
Suzi: We’re always told that we need to be ourselves, but how the hell are we supposed to work out to be ourselves unless we try on a thousand other faces and ideas? You know what I mean? That’s how we find out what we like. I think my beats are also like that. They change and fluctuate as do the characters that I write about. Sometimes they’re separate issues. Sometimes I feel like I am them. But my attitude towards all of that is that experimentation is fun and if you can hold on to all of that forever then you’re only gonna discover more things about who you are. People give people a lot of sh-t for just experimenting. You’ve gotta give people as long as they need.
R: I was reading up on your other interviews and you mentioned something along the lines of not wanting to explain your lyrics too much because whoever is meant to understand them will. What is a lyrics or song in your life that speaks to you on another level?
Suzi: It’s like the stupidest line in the world, but it’s Kurt Cobain’s “It’s okay to eat fish because they don’t have any feelings.” Number one, I think that line just challenges people on some of their own beliefs. Number two, it just sounds so upsetting and it talks so much about what’s wrong with people in the world while still being hilarious. You know what I mean? He’s like the saddest most depressed man on the planet but it still makes you laugh when you think about it. I like stuff like that that. Just makes you feel so many things at once from one stupid sentence. It makes you double take.
R: You’ve recently signed with Def Jam. Tell me a bit about how that has changed the recording process going into Error404.
Suzi: It’s actually been really cool because they’ve allowed me to continue doing what I want to do just with their backing. I’ve been able to take production up and experiment in many different ways.
R: Moving into your latest work Error 404, I felt like I was dropped into the world of Skins UK. Going into the first track “Grim Reaper,” it sounds like you’re in your head and have experienced a bit of life. You know how the party is going to go, but it also touches on the existence and realities of death being part of life. How do you feel about that loss of invincibility being a part of growing up?
Suzi: I do think it’s a part of growing up. But I also think that the awareness of your own morality Is important to keep you alive. It’s also something you need to balance with a sense of adventure so you don’t lock yourself away.
R: Your next song “Highway” reminded a bit of some K-pop songs stylistically. What are some of your music and life influences?
Suzi: A lot of my music is based in dance music. A lot of the sounds you hear in K-pop would be like that. Really heavy 90s dance. Very British guitar sounds like Johnny Marr from The Smiths. I also love Radiohead and Hip-Hop. So it’s literally spread all over the space which is why you get all of these offshoots coming into my music.
R: “Error404” comes in as a track that took me minute to digest. From “Highway” to “Error404,” there’s a big contrast in sounds; from a feeling of being comfortable and established to a chaotic scene almost like you’re losing yourself. Can you talk about that juxtaposition?
Suzi: I mean, it’s definitely descriptive of my life that year. My head was a mess. Everyone has those years and it was definitely one of those years for me. My mood was all over the place and you can hear that within it. I was also trying to figure out who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do even more so than my first EP. My first one, there was a level of safety, and in my second one there was a level of chaos. Like, okay, I’m here now. I’m in the world. What is my place in it and what do I want from it? What I discovered is that I didn’t want to waste it doing drugs all of the time.
R: You touch on mental health a bit and those periods of struggle. After those periods though, many people come out like they’re ready to take on anything the world brings. With making this song the title of your EP, is that what you wanted the overarching theme to be?
Suzi: Well, the line in “Error 404,” “I simply am not there,” is kind of how I was feeling at the time. So it seemed like the most apt thing to call the EP, but I think the overall theme for me is more the “Grim Reaper” track. It’s a wild one for sure.
R: Why would you say “Grim Reaper” is more the theme?
Suzi: Well, number one, it was my favorite experimentation and production on the EP, but it was also me grappling with more adult concepts. Which is kind of what that song is about and like you said finding that balance between living and your own mortality.
R: You close out your EP with “Hungry,” and I liked that Timbaland and Nelly Furtado that you could hear in there. This to me also felt like acceptance of yourself, life, and all that comes with it at the end of this journey
Suzi: Definitely got those vibes. I loved that sort of 2000s hip-hop R’n’B thing. I think it’s fantastic! That’s something I’ll definitely be doing more of for sure.
R: I loved how it was a track discussing my current life struggles with this nostalgic beat. With that, what is something you wish to carry with you throughout all of life’s changes and challenges?
Suzi: For me, I’d like to carry a level of contentment. Like I don’t have to wake up everyday thinking “My life’s amazing!” on a rollercoaster because with great ups come great downs. I would like a level of stability and I want to take that contentment and stability with me through life for sure. And adventure! I like adventure.
-brief pause to open the door as Suzi mentions she always has friends over-
R: With friends coming in and out like that, what would you say your current recording environment is like?
Suzi: I live in this house at the moment. I get all of my friends over and then I sit in my room for hours in the dark making tunes. They also make stuff, like my sister is tattooing someone right now. The whole process of creativity is really good. We’re gonna be doing a little zine called “Doomsday Mag” as a London collective.
R: It’s cool how you’re bringing in your friends to kind of showcase a bit more of the London scene. How do you kind of want to showcase British culture in what you’ll be doing in the future?
Suzi: I think by just continuing to put out the music that I put out. It’s interesting, I think that American artists have an ear for when something in the UK might come around. I think Grime will be getting bigger and bigger which is something it deserves.
R: What do you have up for the rest of your day?
Suzi: Make more tunes! Do you have Hard Rock Café in America?
R: Of course!
Suzi: Yeah, so my friend just started working there and I get a free meal, so that’s what I’m doing! The portions are crazy!
R: They’re truly massive. Enjoy your meal, and it’s been a lovely chat!
Suzi: Big love!
A big thanks to Suzi Wu for taking the time out of her day to chat with us over at CoogRadio! You can click here to check out Suzi Wu on Instagram and Twitter, and check out some of her music on SoundCloud, Spotify , or Apple Music.