With her new album, “The Heart Will Jump (With Nowhere to Fall),” Hillary Susz gives listeners a collection of love songs three years in the making. Through her mix of operatic rock and poetic songwriting, Susz has turned her attention to a genre rarely seen or heard in the music industry: lesbian love songs. “There aren’t a lot of love songs in the world about lesbian love, so just by nature of them existing is somewhat political,” Susz said. “It’s creating a space that hasn’t traditionally been there.” Tracks on the new album include “Pollution,” with a melodic and haunting opening that builds to highlight Susz’s vocals, as well as “Make Me Make You,” which the Boulder, Colorado based musician describes as “romantic” and “poetic.” Additionally, “Dead Stars” gives a feeling of celestical lightness, which is then broken by rock-inspired guitar riffs.
Drawing on her own six-year relationship, Susz is able to cover a range of emotions and experiences in this album. “We’ve been together since we were nineteen years old and just have grown up together,” she said. “So, it’s largely about two people growing up together and learning how to live together.” Susz collected the songs on her new album over the course of three years, while she was balancing an office job with her musical career.
Introducing lesbian love songs to the world has been a double-edged sword for Susz. While her voice helps to add dialogue to the discussion of queerness in modern music, she said it still makes some uncomfortable. Occasionally, people have walked out of shows, or yelled rude remarks, which she said is all too common for female performers. Susz admitted that the music industry is very tough and requires “a lot of self-perseverance, a lot of strength,” she said. However, artists like Susz are providing an increase in information and perspectives and, as she said, “More options are available to you. You aren’t just getting straight people’s love songs or one particular kind of voice in music.”
The depths to which Susz reaches on “The Heart Will Jump (With Nowhere to Fall)” highlight a writing process that takes time and a lot of insight. “I’m very patient with my songs, I have drafts and I try to play them many times and see how they can organically develop,” she said, explaining that everything from time and practice, to performing a song live can change how it will eventually be recorded for an album. She also said that she makes it a habit to return to old work and reimagine it. “I’m a big believer in recycling work, and these themes and motifs don’t really go away, you acquire new language or new music to express them.” Susz’s listeners benefit from this recycling, and are introduced to metaphor-rich lyrics, guitar samples with just enough grunge, and a wholly new voice in the folk-rock realm.
Susz’s ability to create deeply emotional verses stems from years of songwriting, and is also strengthened by her development as a fiction writer. “I’ve been writing songs longer than I’ve been delving into fiction and poetry, that’s a little bit newer for me,” she said. In between touring, writing songs, and putting out a new album, Susz is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder, while also teaching writing classes. For Susz, each setting calls for different focuses in her writing: “With music, its more immediate emotion, and with fiction its more cognitive and character-driven,” she said. With so much going on, Susz makes use of her breaks from school to tour, and will be out on the road with her new songs this fall and winter.
While in her classroom, Susz says she is able to give students advice from her own experience, and her students often discuss insecurities in their work. “I always just tell them to keep producing work; it doesn’t do an artist any favors to not have work. There’s no one in history that’s famous that has one painting or one book, one album,” she said. “Always just keep making things.” For Susz, it has always been important to keep creating unique work. While she said that she’s never made it a point to learn to replicate other artists’ work, she does follow other female singers and songwriters such as Angel Olson and Neko Case.
As Susz continues to grow and develop her unique genre, fans can expect to hear familiar themes in her music. “At the core – content-wise – part of me just thinks that it is the same record over and over again and you’re trying to make it more true,” Susz said. “Maybe I’m writing the same album over and over again, just trying to make it better.”
“THE HEART WILL JUMP (WITH NOWHERE TO FALL)” THIS FALL.