Member Susan Gibson has, at 26 years of age, done something many of us only dream about. She has written not only a Number 1 song that topped the charts for 4 consecutive weeks, but has also become a late 90's anthem for young Women around the world. The artists who recorded her song? The Dixie Chicks. The Song? Wide Open Spaces!
- I've spent many hours chatting with Susan about her career and success. Below, I have taken 20 questions that I asked her that I think give the best overall picture of what this very humble, personable and talented Just Plain Folk has to say about it all:
In a recent interview Brian asked Susan the following questions:
1. JPNotes: Lets start at the beginning: when did you start your music/writing?
GROOBEEGAL: When I was a senior in high school, (1990), I auditioned to sing a song at our talent show, and my mom was gonna play the piano then the choir teacher told me about 2 weeks before the talent show that my mom couldn't play so I had my friend teach me to play a Suzanne Vega song (Gypsy) and I accompanied myself!
2. JPNotes: Did you consider yourself a writer at the time or a singer only?
GROOBEEGAL: Just a singer. I have been in choirs of one sort or another since I was about 3. But I used to try out for the pop choirs and stuff and I would never make it. I didn't really find my voice until I started playing guitar. Then I would do covers of different contemporary folkies (Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin,)
3. JPNotes: It is nearly everyone's fantasy to have huge success and go back to their high school.. Did you have such an experience? Isn't a big part of the ultimate fantasy! to have those who didn't notice you then, suddenly swoon in your presence?
GROOBEEGAL: uh--not really. I'll see people from my H.S. and they wouldn't have given me the time of day (I was kinda dorky) and now they'll come up and do the remember whens, and I really don't. So that's kind of funny. I could count my close high school friends on about 1 finger.... I just ran into her at a bar here in Amarillo. I guess I get kind of uncomfortable, cuz I don't know if I should tell them to shove it or what. I don't really think they swoon...maybe just sway..
4. JPNotes: Is Wide Open Spaces autobiographical in a literal sense? Or an emotional sense? Or simply good fictional writing?
GROOBEEGAL: No --- very autobiographical. In fact I was a little hesitant when the chix asked to do it because I think I was too close to the song. Boy, am I glad I didn't miss that boat!!
5. JPNotes: Well.. I am not surprised to hear that, as the honesty of the song is the appeal.. how does it feel to have written the late 90's anthem for young women going out on their own?
GROOBEEGAL: I think that part of it is just sinking in. I mean people would come up and tell me how much the song meant to them (and all sorts of people too, parents and young girls or brothers of girls who love the song) and I don't want yo to think I am a cynic...very much the opposite, but I would think they were just saying that...like to have something to say. but, like I said before when we were talking, I didn't really see the video or hear the song while it was at the top, so it was really the individual people coming up to me that made me feel good.
6. JPNotes: Is it strange to have people come up nervously to you, afraid or in awe of you? Who would you approach with that same sense of awe and nervousness if you had the chance?
GROOBEEGAL: Yeah--I think it's strange if they are nervous or like "we don't wanna bother you but ...." because I don't think that they understand that I live for this kind of thing... I mean not fame or fortune, but I conscientiously picked a job where I get applause about every 3 and a half minutes. so if they wanna tell me good stuff, they can feel free to push their way to the front...those with negative comments can stay in the back =) I think I would be nervous to meet Ani Difranco cuz she'd probably think I was a wuss. And I would be nervous to meet Shawn Colvin because her writing is the way I would like to write. I really like acoustic guitar music... I like the idea of making music with a piece of wood and some strings and years of practice
7. JPNotes: Most of the best writers talk about how they have to bare their soul out in the open in their writing, and how risky that can be. Do you find yourself still doing that in your writing, especially in light of the proven success?
GROOBEEGAL: You know, I was thinking of how neat it is to write songs, because I feel like I can open myself up, and i use writing very therapeutically, but I also get to decide what I want people to know about me. I mean I am painting a picture of myself and although it's out there for you to look at and like or not like, I get to decide what colors to use, which side is my best side, stuff like that.
8. JPNotes: Do you think you are thick skinned enough to show the flaws in your character or self to make a musical story ring more true?
GROOBEEGAL: I don't know if it's thick skinned. I would probably say I am the first to point out my flaws, just so if anyone else notices them, I can say, "I know I am that way...I already said that." you know? I am not a perfectionist, I am pretty darn entertained by some of my character flaws
9. JPNotes: How many songs have you written? How many were bad before they started being good? When did this change happen? What caused it? A realization, a technique, and method? Where did WOS fall into this process and tell us about actually writing that song?
GROOBEEGAL: I have written somewhere around 40 songs. I would say I just recently started writing songs that I consider great. (like that i would buy or something) I have alot of ok songs. I would say WOS was about the 24th or so. I think my writing changed a lot when I joined my band (the Groobees). But I wrote the majority of my songs (including WOS) before I joined the Groobees. I did not consider myself a songwriter at the time that I wrote WOS. I thought of myself as someone who doesn't verbalize well, so I needed to put it in a song instead of just say, telling my folks to give me some space.
10. JPNotes: When did this change happen from bad writing to good happen? What caused it? A realization, a technique, or influence or method?
GROOBEEGAL: I moved up to Missoula Montana to go to the forestry school, and I wrote the lyrics to WOS while I was home visiting for Christmas after that first semester. I thought forestry majors spent a lot of time walking around in the woods looking at how gorgeous everything is (ever been to Montana?) and instead they have to do math and computers and stuff. bummer. So, I went to class less, went to the bars more. I started out playing at open mics & getting my own gigs. I returned to Mt and left the lyric notebook at my Mom's house. She used to gather up stuff she thought i would want (the blue eyeshadow I wore in 6th grade, guitar picks etc.) and she put this notebook in a care package and sent it up to me. I had completely forgotten about those lyrics, but I put music to them the same day that I got them. I think its funny cuz here is this song about my independence and it wouldn't have even been written if it weren't for my Mom. I love my Mom. =)
11. JPNotes: Now THAT is a great story! It is great to know that your song was written from such a legitimate point of view, and not simply crafted by an expert in a publisher writers room in Nashville..
GROOBEEGAL: I have heard that a lot you know, I feel like I am so far outside that "song crafting" thing. My songs kinda come out like they come out. I would bet that WOS was written in about 20 minutes.
JPNotes: Nearly all the greatest songs WERE written in 20 minutes!
JPNotes: Like a nice conversation or an interesting story quickly told to a friend..
GROOBEEGAL: I think you are absolutely right about the 20 minutes thing. I almost never like my revisions as much as the immediate response.
12. JPNotes: So tell us about getting the song recorded and how you happened into placing it with the Dixie chicks?
GROOBEEGAL: The Groobees recorded that song in 1996 for our CD, Wayside, which Lloyd Maines produced. Lloyd took our CD home to Natalie (who had just signed on with the chix) to show her the new group that he was working with, and Natalie love the song. When the chix got signed onto Monument Records and were looking for songs for their album, Natalie brought that one to them.. they (producers) didn't really want to do the song cuz they said it wasn't country enough. Natalie really pushed for it though. Lucky me. The Chicks came and opened for us in July 1996 for our CD release party, and then I did some songwriting with Natalie once. We've been invited to the gold record parties and we have an awards thing in early January for WOS being #1 with the chix. They are really great!
13. JPNotes: Interesting that they were hesitant to use the song due to its non country sound, yet it is the title song of the album and a huge hit.. they say you can't hold back a true hit.. this would seem to be a good example of just that!
GROOBEEGAL: Thank you very much. I guess the song kind of overrode itself if that makes any sense. the same things that make it appealing could also be the pitfalls. ahhhh the duplicity of country music. I call it a happy accident
14. JPNotes: Lets talk aftermath.. first, lets clear up a few things people may think.. 1: You are now a multi millionaire swimming in the life of luxury. 2: Everyone now is throwing record contracts at you left and right 3: You can simply cruise through the rest of your life with no cares in the world Can you give us the reality of these 3 things?
GROOBEEGAL: I feel like I don't have a care in the world, but the other two are bullshit (excuse me) I still live in the same house (old 2 car garage renovated) but it was a stellar Christmas at the Gibson house. I think I'll keep my 87 oldsmobile. It's paid for. you'd laugh if you saw the car, too. I have to roll down the window and open the door from the outside! I have heard that a #1 song means that you may never have to work again, but i think that would take some pretty creative money management. I'd rather spend it and then try to write another good one We are kind of using WOS as a calling card. People are more willing to talk to us, but as far a legitimate record deals go, there's some stuff trickling in. Of course, there are a lot of folks willing to take 50% of that publishing off of our hands.
JPNotes: I am sure they are! hahahah
15. JPNotes: Give me a little info on how you were "allowed" to keep all the publishing?
GROOBEEGAL: I think, honestly, that we slipped through the cracks.
JPNotes: That is perhaps the biggest miracle in all of this.. hard to believe they didn't insist on the publishing at some stage...
GROOBEEGAL: I am not so naive to think that Sony has that big of cracks, but I bet the fact that Natalie was so insistent on the song had something to do with it. I honestly don't know
16. JPNotes: So what DID you splurge on for yourself when you saw that this first ship (of hopefully many more) came in?
GROOBEEGAL: I bought a Gibson guitar...my namesake. (Spoken in her best Cartmen voice from SouthPark) it is sooooooooooooo sweet!
17. JPNotes: Name the biggest mistake you made in your career so far, and what you learned from it?
GROOBEEGAL: You know, I am not saying that we have not made plenty of mistakes, but the big ones, you know the ones that I'm talking about, it seems like we have made narrow escapes every time For example, a near miss was when we first started, there was this guy that wanted to finance our first CD for half of our publishing, and we probably would have signed with him cuz we were so eager. But he never showed up with the contracts, and at first we were really bummed, but then we found out that he was indicted by the IRS we were so lucky that he didn't own half of us. -- I felt like the fieldmouse that escapes the talons of the vicious hawk. Whew!!
18. JPNotes: What was the best thing you have done to help your career and talent?
GROOBEEGAL: I think the best thing that I have done is that I have DECIDED that this is what I want to do, and I am going after it with everything I have. I mean, I think for all that I lack in focus in other areas of my life (which there are few) I really have focused on music. It's a selfish thing. I do this for myself, just like I said when I was talking about taking a job where I get applause all the time. =) I do this for me. and I love it whether there is 2 people or 2000. I love it.
19. JPNotes: What are your thoughts about your band The Groobees?
GROOBEEGAL: I absolutely love my band members. I am standing on the shoulders of giants when I play with them. They've been gigging for a while so I get the benefit of their experience, and we all get along so well. I mean they are people that I would hang out with even if I didn't have to . We play really well together cuz we have fun and enjoy each other. We all have different musical tastes, which is what I think gives us our patented Groobee sound. which I would describe to the non-faint of heart as the bastard child between country and folk/rock and to others I would say maybe that it is country music for people who don't like country music.
20. JPNotes: And your summary piece of advice for other women in music (and in Just Plain Folks)?
GROOBEEGAL: You know, I think women are in an interesting position right now. I realize that there is some discrimination that goes on for women although I personally have not experienced it. But I would say that now is the time for us gals to make a move and go out and do what we have been watching our idols do. I mean I don't look at it as a boys against girls thing, but while women have been clearing a path for a while, you never want to go down someone else's path. I think if you do something that is worth listening to, people will listen. I just can't say enough how important it is to have fun with your music...that's why we do it, right?
JPNotes: "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" That is one of my all time favorite quotes.. it so accurately describes the phenomena of fame in such a subtle way! I always try to find the man or woman behind the curtain... my general philosophy!
GROOBEEGAL: Yeah--I like to look at the kind of curtains people try to use vs. the (wo)man behind the curtain. cuz once you see the person, generally, I have found that I wonder "why the curtain?"
JPNotes: True.. it is quite revealing! Susan, thanks for letting me peak under your curtain! = )
GROOBEEGAL: Sure...it's drafty in here. =)