Interview with Oh Susanna

Suzie Underleider, better known by her artist name, Oh Susanna, is getting ready for the re-release of her critically acclaimed album “Sleepy Little Sailor” first released 20 years ago. The deluxe version of the album which includes 5 bonus revisited tracks for this special re-release to include vinyl.

Oh Susanna hails from Western Canada from where in the 90’s she launched her artist career becoming a firm favourite on the folk-country scene through her deeply moving, storytelling songwriting approach and distinctive sound. Oh Susanna has been captivating audiences for over two decades, thousands of shows and eight critically acclaimed albums.

We caught up with Suzie by email to discuss the re-release, what it’s been like to revisit her musical journey, and how she is looking forward to the live launch event in the UK. Thank you Suzie for your time, sharing your thoughts and good luck with the release!

How did the idea of re-releasing your previous albums come about? Johnstown last year and now Sleepy Little Sailor?

I am a naturally nostalgic person who loves looking back, and initially it was an idea I concocted with John Thompson who owns a little record shop in Ottawa called The Record Centre, after the success of A Girl in Teen City when I started to realize “Oh my God! It will soon be 20 years since I released Johnstown. Maybe it would be fun to celebrate that and put the album on vinyl.”
It began as a Record Store Day release in April 2019 and we did an interview and an in-store performance.
Then a few months later in September 2019, I came to the UK to tour the album. It had had such a great reaction in 1999 especially after Bob Harris played songs from Johnstown, so it felt very natural to celebrate the anniversary by performing it in the UK.
Now everything comes full circle at this point because after I played in London last September, Andrew Bowles who was the main person I worked with at Hot Records twenty years ago, wrote me to say how he saw I was just in London and he was “gutted” that he missed the show. A few days later Andrew and his business partner Tom Norrell of MVKA wrote me to say how much they wanted to re-issue Sleepy Little Sailor because of their strong emotional connection to those songs. They said that they feel it is “buried treasure” that new audiences should hear. Of course, this all felt very wonderful, cozy and warm and fuzzy. I adore those guys and loved working with them back then and it feels right to be working with them again.

Why a vinyl release and what comes in the vinyl release?

A vinyl release because vinyl is sexy! Why else do it? Hahaha! Also it never was on vinyl before and honestly because it was recorded mostly live off the floor on 2 inch tape, all mixed on analogue gear, it really makes so much sense to listen to it on vinyl. We made the album in the way records used to be made so vinyl is the perfect medium in which to hear the recording. In fact, when it first came out it really felt almost silly and reductive to put it on a CD. You have to understand that when I made those first records I was really ambitious about it and I was wanting to follow in the footsteps of my heroes like the Stones or Bowie or The Clash. Making a record was special and not everyone could do it back then like you can today. So vinyl is kind of symbolic of that: it says “this is special and you ought to pay attention and listen, not just casually stream it in the background.” Because really, most of us who make and record music work very hard to create something meaningful that we are proud of and that we want to be our legacy.
The Sleepy Little Sailor – Deluxe Edition is on double white vinyl. Andrew and Tom wanted to have all the music on vinyl plus 5 acoustic versions of the original songs, harkening back to how the songs sounded when I first wrote them. The liner notes include the original notes and lyrics that I had back in the 2001 edition. The CD had a story that I wrote, lyrics, illustrations by Geoffrey Farmer, and names of friends who helped me make the record by contributing to an old school mail-order crowdfunding campaign I did. All that is in there.
As you can tell I like to walk down memory lane and I have a lot of stories to tell about the album. So for fun I wrote a 10 page essay about the making of the record but I didn’t include it in the package….I have just been posting little snippets of that on social media and making little Behind the Song videos.

Where were you in your life and in your music when you first wrote Sleepy Little Sailor?

Much of the album was written in my little one- bedroom apartment on Shaw Street in Toronto. I was touring a lot by myself and then spending a lot of time alone in my place writing while looking out my back window. I was living a solitary existence. Some of the time I was nursing a broken heart and listening obsessively to Otis Redding. Writing and touring was my vocation so I was very focussed on that and on hanging out in the Toronto roots music scene, seeing bands at Ted’s Wrecking Yard, The Horseshoe, The Rivoli and the El Mocambo.
What were your musical influences growing up and who are the contemporary artists you like to follow now or whose songwriting interests you?
As a kid I loved The Rolling Stones, they were my gateway into the blues and old time country music. From them I went back to field recordings and old folkways records. Also I loved Kate Bush who is absolutely unique in voice and story-telling. Her literary approach really influenced me. Her songs were so insightful and poignant. Then I got into The Clash who also wrote story songs.
From being in the Canadian music scene I have a lot of friends whose work I feel is kind of a benchmark for me. Sarah Harmer, Joel Plaskett, Amelia Curran, Kathleen Edwards, Neko Case, Andy Shauf, John K Samson, Jim Bryson, Keri Latimer are all inspirations. Gillian Welch of course for the beautiful simplicity of narrative and presentation. My closest friends these days are Sam Parton of The Be Good Tanyas and Veda Hille who writes songs full of whimsy and piercing intelligence. Their work and friendship inspires me to create.

How did you choose the tracks for the acoustic version bonus tracks on the re-release?

Three of the songs “Sleepy Little Sailor”, “Sacrifice” and “Beauty Boy” were from a session in 2000 I did at Catherine North Studio with the producer Colin Cripps. The goal was to record the songs acoustically as I wrote them before going into full production with the whole band at The Bathouse in Kingston.
The other two bonus tracks Kings Road and River Blue were recorded earlier this year with Jim Bryson. It was Andrew Bowles idea, he thought it would be intriguing to record them more acoustically and intimately.

Tell us about Campfire and Cocktails – how did you come up with the idea? How many will you do? What has the audience reaction been? What’s your favourite cocktail?
Campfire & Cocktails is a show I live-streamed on Facebook from my backyard in Vancouver with Paul Pigat on guitar, Jeremy Holmes on bass and mandolin, and my husband Cam on drums. It came together because we rehearsed outside for a show we did online for Vancouver Folk Music Festival. The rehearsal was so fun that Jeremy said we should do a show like that as a live-stream.
We decided to treat the show as if you are hanging out with us in our garden, sipping a nice drink and listening to us play music acoustically. Cam is the mixologist and my teenager is an aspiring film maker so we recruited kiddo to operate the camera.
Lots of people loved it and said they really felt like they were there in the garden with us. Because so many people are isolated and alone in this pandemic, it seemed important to do something fun like a gathering that makes people feel close to other humans.
We are planning to do one a month until we can’t deal with the cold anymore. But listen, I just bought an outdoor heater and my friend says she has a market tent for us to use in case of rain. So we will likely be able to perform until Christmas. Stay tuned for the next one in mid-September!
I love sour cocktails that are strained with no ice. So something with citrus at its core. Our first featured cocktail was a Blackberry Thyme Daiquiri. The next one is going to be Calvados Sidecar (its seasonal because it has apple brandy and it is in September when the apples ripen).

The album is released on 4th September with a live launch in the UK via The Live Room from Saltaire, West Yorkshire. Have you ever visited West Yorkshire or the beautiful village of Saltaire? What are the plans for the launch – can you tell us more?

Yes I love Saltaire! I played there a few times and was lucky enough to visit the old factory building which is now home to a beautiful bookstore, café and the David Hockney Gallery. Yorkshire of course is magical and it makes me sing Wuthering Heights in my head a hundred times over.
The plan is that I will be performing the whole album of Sleepy Little Sailor in its original sequence – a solo performance. Because then I get to re-capture how I originally wrote the songs on guitar. It will be a very intimate affair, up close and personal. There is something about these home shows that definitely feel more raw and emotional sometimes. Maybe I am able to be more vulnerable at home.

Do you have plans to come over to the UK once travel and virus restrictions are under control? What would be your first port of call?

YES! I am hoping to tour in the UK next Spring 2021. The plan is to have a new album launched by then. I truly hope it is able to happen. I have no idea where I will be first. Often I am flying into London but then driving somewhere smaller. In fact Saltaire was the first port of call on a tour I did in 2012. Whatever place it is, I am very much looking forward to being able to play in front of a live audience again. Although in the meantime these live-streamed shows have their own good feels too.

Sleepy Little Sailor is released on 4th September along with a live launch at 8pm from The Live Room, Saltaire. Pre-order your copy here

Interview by Ann Kenney (

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