A musician based out of Charlottesville, Virginia, Suz Slezak made her name as one half of the husband-wife folk duo David Wax Museum. While balancing the demands of being in an international touring band with raising two young children, Suz has never really considered exploring her own solo music, until the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly brought David Wax Museum’s touring to an abrupt halt. Embracing the stillness of a non-touring life, Suz set about working on the songs that would become her debut album, Our Wings May Be Featherless, which she recorded with producer Anthony da Costa between her home and a Nashville studio.
Recently released via Nine Mile Records, Our Wings May Be Featherless is a record that finds Suz glancing inward, exploring deeply personal topics from her battles with bipolar disorder, through to the difficulties of childbirth. As Suz explains the songs were a chance to explore her own thoughts, the record serving as, “a way of coming to terms with a brain that’s been reeling, sometimes out of control, my whole adult life”. While not a complete departure from the musical style of David Wax Museum, Suz’s music does stretch her musical palette, showcasing her multi-instrumentalist skills across instruments from fiddle through to accordion, piano and harp, with former Big Thief drummer Jason Burger adding some perfectly complex rhythmic flourishes. The record opens on the harp-led delicacy of This Life Is Kindly, and it’s a fine introduction to Suz’s subtly stunning vocal, which acts as a thread pinning together the musical variety on show across the album. Whether turning her hand to the rockier drive of Beautiful Mess or the Regina Spektor-like piano ballad Loneliness Is Measured, Suz always finds a way to stamp her own personality onto the music. Particularly wonderful is Take Me, a song Suz describes as, “a statement of deep acceptance of myself, scars and all”, which sets her intricate vocal melody to a swelling backing of gentle piano chords, textural guitars and the prominent pulse of double-bass. If Our Wings May Be Featherless wasn’t a record Suz Slezak ever planned to make it’s one that she should be proud of, an intimate and beautiful record that feels much more than a stop-gap.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Suz Slezak?
Oh my goodness, who is Suz Slezak? I’d love to know! I’m supposedly an adult and mother and musician who’s trying to understand what is going on each day I wake up here! I am a human who loves looking at small things, singing harmony, whipping up a meal from whatever’s in the fridge, working on my front yard garden, stitching little quilts from pink and red calicos I’ve saved since I was a kid, cutting dough with a sharp knife, looking for things (think four leaf clovers, missing watches, random lego pieces in a lego bin), writing when I’m in a good flow, cuddling with my kids, looking at children’s books that have pictures of the inside of a home that shows each room in detail, and other things too.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
My first show… hmmm… if you don’t count playing Ode to Joy at my aunt’s wedding, or Ashokan Farewell at a friend’s funeral, or the piano, violin and choral concerts I did several times a year, or busking downtown, I’d say my first solo show was during a manic blitz when I took a train to Boston (I was 24) and convinced my alma mater to host a show in the college pub.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I suppose I make music because it’s a language I’m fluent in. It could’ve been something else — puppet making, theater, dance — but my parents taught me the language of music, so that’s the art form I communicate in. It’s part of me. I can’t explain how to sing a harmony, I just do it instinctively. I can’t tell you how I know where the four or five chord might fit under a melody, I just feel it.
As a young person I always knew I’d have a musician for a partner. I thought it would be too strange to be married to someone who didn’t speak that language. Little did I know how interconnected I’d be with my mate — as co-parents, co-owners of our little music business, and co-creators of music.
FTR: What can people expect from the Suz Slezak live show?
While I’ve played maybe 1,500 or more shows with David Wax Museum, I haven’t played many live solo shows featuring my solo music. But what I can say is that so far, my music is mellow and dreamy and personal and tear-inducing (both for me and the listeners); the banter is honest and vulnerable and maybe cringe-worthy sometimes; and although the songs are serious, I don’t take myself too seriously.
FTR: What’s next for Suz Slezak?
What’s next is the same thing I’ve always been doing: riding the waves of a bipolar brain, trying to understand and accept why each day can feel so drastically different as a human. What’s next is surviving the strange and dull days when I feel disgusted by it all, especially my art, and reveling in the fast-flowing days when it flowers out of me as naturally as anything! What’s next is more writing — poetry prose, songs, essays, memoir. What’s next is another solo CD that I’ll make in our new studio barn out back. What’s next is continuing to make things instead of judging my ability or desire to make them. What’s next is speaking about things I care about. Thank you for caring too.
They Listen To…
Lowland Hum: songs that make me cry and tingle all over