Touring for any musician can be a difficult challenge. That challenge is multiplied for singer-songwriter Poeina Suddarth. Currently on her Trains, Planes and Automobiles tour supporting Poeina, she relies on the ridesharing kindness of fans, strangers and truckers to get her from gig to gig since her van broke down almost a year ago. She doesn’t always make it, but hitching about the country can only add inspiration to her wandering brand of old-tyme Americana-flavored, indie rock-infused, twangy-otherworldly-pop.
Suddarth took a few minutes out of her busy performing and busier travel schedule to discuss via email her travel difficulties, missed gigs, upcoming music projects, and her fascination with all-things music – from country to horrid sounds “not even a mother could love.”
Up on the Sun: You had a show scheduled for Phoenix a couple of months back that was cancelled. Speculation is that you couldn’t get a ride here (somehow) in time and cancelled the show. True or false?
The last show in Phoenix I played was (in June) at the Last Exit. The show before that in March for the SXSW KWSS event was unfortunate to miss. The exciting part, though, was [that] it was not due to transportation – I was offered another gig in Flagstaff that offered to pay me a lot more money.
It was actually my first dilemma of this kind. I was grateful to Beef Vegan at KWSS that he told me not to stress over it, and that I should take the better paying gig.
How difficult has it been getting from venue to venue on this tour?
Traveling without my own vehicle has been rugged. I used to be able to sleep in my car, if necessary, and sometimes, if I had a long drive ahead of me, I could drive part-way, sleep on the side of the road, and keep driving.
Without that as an option, I’ve had to add travel days to parts of my tour, which keeps me on the road a lot longer – and occasionally I have missed a gig. Well, I’ve missed three since I’ve been touring like this, and I started touring like this in February. I am currently on my fourth tour since then, and I’ve played 44 shows and 23 open mics and last-minute add-on gigs.
The first gig I missed, I really should have planned an extra travel day. I was in San Francisco and the next gig was in Arcata, California, and public transportation between those places sucks. I had found a rideshare, and they cancelled an hour before we were supposed to leave, and the Greyhound only left once a day and arrived at 10 p.m., which was past showtime.
I found another rideshare just in the nick of time to get to the gig, and the guy’s brakes went out and he had to take his car into the shop. I had to cancel my show, and it was one of the few paid gigs I had that week.
I still caught a ride with him, and we drove all the way to Portland, where my next gig was. He was a young guy who fell in love with a girl who’d moved to Alaska. He was driving all hell across the country with his two-door car filled with his possessions, which I noticed contained a box with soy sauce and other random kitchen spices.
What’s been the strangest occurrence so far?
The road in general is a strange occurrence. Strange is really pretty normal to me at this point, so I guess if I had to pick one thing … well, I don’t know how strange this is, but it’s definitely never happened to me until last month.
This is the reason I missed the second show. I was donated a plane ticket from a fan to get me to my gig in Moscow, Idaho. I was flying on a buddy pass, on standby, and hoping I would make it to the show.
I missed the first flight, then the second flight they had two seats open but there were three people ahead of me. Luckily, the three people were two kids and a dad, and they couldn’t travel apart, so I got on the plane.
So we take off and fly all the way. The flight went well, and I sat next to a nice person, and the pilot announced we were preparing for descent. I spoke too soon by saying that was an easy flight.
The pilot came on again and said that we were going to circle for a while because there was too much fog to land. We circled for about a half an hour, and the pilot announced we were out of gas and had to return to Seattle. I’m sure he meant we only had enough gas to get back and didn’t want to risk circling and not being able to land, but it really freaked me out. The entire plane ride back to Seattle I thought we could possibly fall out of the sky.
I got back to the airport and waited all day to catch a plane to Boise, Idaho, where I caught a ride north to McCall for my show the following day.
Is this leading to any fresh songwriting ideas?
I wouldn’t be fit to be a songwriter if I couldn’t draw from the endless stories I come across. I seem to have a strange effect on people where they want to tell me their deepest struggles, dreams, failures and secrets. I don’t even give them drugs like Chuck Palanuik does.
I have too many songs, though, so I’ve taken a break from writing my music and I’ve been writing music for other projects, until I can get the 50-plus unrecorded songs taken care of. I’ve been writing songs for a film (with actor Patrick Kilpatrick), a trip-hop project called Unorthodox Methods (we are releasing an album in a month or two), and writing parts and laying tracks for Smoke of OLDominion’s upcoming hip-hop album.
I do hear those songs I’m neglecting pestering me to work on them, though. They bicker and complain that it’s not their fault that I haven’t gotten my shit together to record the other songs. They want all my attention, and they drive me nuts. I just make voice memos and write the words down and put them aside for when it’s their time to come into fruition. I have about 30 unwritten songs that are either fully written lyrics or guitar ideas.
Many of your songs are lush, rich and filled with instrumentation. How does this transfer to the stage as a slow artist? [Ed.: that question should have been “as a solo artist,” but the answer is great nonetheless.]
“Happy Whore” is pretty melancholy, but I don’t see myself as a slow artist. Sometimes when I play solo I think it comes across much slower than it is. I can do the same songs with a full band and get everybody up and dancing and having a party.
I try and play a few favorites from the album, some new material, and occasionally a badass cover song, but only if it’s really worth it. I have quite a bit of rowdy music, and lately I’ve been getting the feedback that people appreciate my “I don’t give a fuck” attitude while performing and wailing my tunes.
I definitely have a problem where I will write songs slow, and then over time they become more upbeat and lively. It’s been a focus of mine to actually slow down the tunes from the album to the speed I recorded them. Just take my time and appreciate the space I wrote them in.
That probably has to do with the stages of grieving, as well. Denial is pretty slow and then when you move into angry it gets really fast; once you reach acceptance you settle in.
Where do you draw inspiration? I sense an old-world Americana feeling …
Where I draw inspiration is constantly changing. If you are asking what kind of music I listen to … I listen to music whenever I get the chance, but I don’t always have access. That may seem weird in a world where access seems unlimited. I fell in love with Carrie Underwood when I lived in the mountains and I was 45 miles from the nearest stoplight.
I had a little boom box about 4-inches wide and 2-inches tall that ran on two double-D batteries. The only station that came in was a country station. I didn’t like much of what was on, but the three songs that kept coming on that I loved I found out were all her so she became my country-pop crush.
I tend to love more outlaw-style country music like Dolly Parton, Gillian Welch, Hank Williams – HW Jr. I also love indie rap, mariachi music; I absolutely can’t hold still if I hear meringue in a good way. I have a lot of pop crushes, and I think that just comes from watching a ton of drag queen shows.
My favorite is free live music. Some music entertains me and some touches my soul, but I also have an affinity for terrible music. I don’t mean mediocre. I mean horrid, atonal, awkward, and bizarre music. I love just imagining those people’s lives and how they came to create something that not even a mother could love.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I feel like I’ve rambled quite a bit, so I’ll end here. Oh, I guess if there is room, let people know I have a Kickstarter page going on to raise money to take me and my band, The Lucid Dreamers, to Europe!
Poeina Suddarth is scheduled to perform Thursday, August 15 at The Lost Leaf.