Interview: Susan SurfTone & Producer Steve Kravac

Susan Surftone and Steve Kravac have both been submerged in the music world since before I was born. They have spent the last week in the amazing Jackpot Studios in Portland, Oregon. The two veterans began recording Susan’s new album with hopes of defining a career and preserving a legacy. After interviewing both Susan, renowned producer Steve Kravac, and listening to their previous works; I am filled with respect and excitement to get a taste of a wonderfully composed, unique and timeless piece of instrumental music.

Susan Surftone is an artist that had been unknown to me up until a couple of weeks ago, with much regret on my part. Time to be honest and I hope that I do not upset any readers, but my usual tastes lead me to unfair judgments upon female guitarists. The feeling sucks because I love being able to open my mind to not only new music but being able to get a taste of the female psyche on the guitar. I was instantly touched by similar tastes and top notch guitar playing on Susan Surftones previous recordings.

As Susan prepared for her new album she drew from artist that have influenced her music, artist such as The Beatles, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters, just to name a few. “Listeners can expect to hear some of those influences, but not directly. I play mostly sixties music with a bit of a contemporary edge. Robert Johnson is in one song pretty strong but more influence than cover. I wanted to take the various influences and what I have been playing recently to come up with something different,” Susan explains to me on what to expect from the new album.

Producer Steve Kravac is known for his work with bands like MxPx, Less Than Jake, Blink 182, and Pepper. Steve joined Susan and me to talk about the project. “I think what I want Susan to achieve is sort of a culmination on this record. She was looking to make a record that made a statement, something that wrapped up her career in one listen and that excited me immediately. We are trying to make some history here and that is what making records is all about. I listened to the demos and there were some really cool melodies but they just needed to be brought into more of a focus. I felt like there was a mountain to climb there and that was really exciting,” Steve told me about how wanted to take on this project.

When it comes time to record, things really do need to be perfect in order to achieve, not only the best tone but bring out creativity in the artist. I asked Steve why Jackpot studios were the best fit. Steve tells me, “When we came across Jackpot Susan fell in love with it immediately and it looked like the creative space she wanted to be in. I started looking through the equipment list and realized some of the funky cool gear they had. The vibe of the space, the pedigree of artists that have worked there and being in Susan’s home town made it an easy choice. It also got me out of my comfort zone a bit and I know Portland pretty well and have some friends there.”

With fewer and fewer artists hiring professionals to produce albums and people opting for recording at home instead of a studio, I wanted to know the thoughts of another musician and a producer about today’s recording technology. Susan’s thoughts on recording technology, “For me as a writer it has made it so much more fun, I have a home set-up and I can go in there and just record an idea or a usable track. It makes it so much more natural and I don’t have to schedule time at the studio, go out and then feel like, now I have to be creative. I can wake up at three in the morning and record an idea if I want to.”

Steve, as a producer had awesome insight to recording in this technologically driven musical age, “There is an enhanced freedom with it but I find that can also create problems sometimes. People realize ‘hey I have 128 tracks, I can do ten takes of this solo’ we shouldn’t have to do ten takes of the solo. I want to be able to capture the energy of one good one. The freedom is great but you have to be careful with it, you want to be able to keep things moving, you don’t want to get bogged down. I want to capture the feeling and energy of one amazing take instead of mulling over the same thing over and over. I haven’t been using Auto-tune and some of the other digital tools, I want to get into a space and record like we used to. The more I talk about it, the more excited people are getting. I want to get back to that. Use the Pro-Tools not as an editing station but as a portable idea station and focus more on good performances.” Susan added while chuckling, “Don’t worry Steve; I don’t record anything in the studio I can’t play live. I usually only have one take in me.”

Susan, Steve talked about their mutual respect for the great recordings of the sixties and seventies like Sgt. Pepper and how those recording are timeless. Susan also talked about Robert Johnson and how unbelievably hard his music is to replicate. I won’t spoil it but expect to hear one cover song on the new album. It’s from a band whose lead singer is a part of the forever 27 club. It is also a band that people have been asking her to cover for some time now.

After talking with Susan and Steve I have fresh hope for the way music is being made and excitement that more people will follow with fresh ideas using the timeless methods of recording. I also can say that I hold a major amount of respect for the accomplishments of a lead female guitarist that raised the bar musically. The combination of a great producer and a great artist will definitely give listeners something that will tickle eardrums and inspire creativity.

For more information you can follow Susan and Steve on twitter @SusanSurftone and @stevekravac for tour dates and upcoming projects.

AJ Rivera, Contributor

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