Get to Know Susannah Joffe [Interview]

Olive Soki
Dylan Newton

Last week I got a chance to speak with Susannah Joffe. Aside from some killer recs, (more on that later) we discussed her journey as a songwriter, the benefits of creative agency, and life on the road.

If I’m not mistaken, you started writing songs and performing with your father. How young were you when you kind of caught the bug and realized that you’d want to try it out as a career

I was recording with my dad in high school. But at that point, I didn't think that I wanted to do music professionally, I really was set on pursuing a career in film. And then I went to college, but before college, I had never written a song on my own, it was always [me] recording with my dad. He was the one that was spearheading that whole process. He would alway try to get me to write stuff on my own, but I just felt so embarrassed. I'm very much the kind of person…  like, I don't like doing things I'm really bad at, especially in front of other people, or things l don't know for a fact that I'm good at,  so I was just kind of unwilling to try.

Then COVID happened and I was spending a lot of time alone. I was in this really intense situationship with my best friend, who was a girl, which was the first queer anything that I'd ever experienced. [It] just forced me to deal with a lot of emotions and a lot of self exploration, while being cooped up in my apartment. I started writing then. The first song I ever wrote, which I am going to release soon, wasn't even pertaining to my queerness, or anything. I wrote about this really intense experience I had in high school with someone who was an addict and was dealing with suicide stuff. And so it really emerged as a way for me to cope with and deal with stuff that I hadn't really finished coping with. Then after that, when I kind of saw what an amazing tool it was, for me, and kind of how essential it became just for me to like, get through life. I was like, “Oh, wait, I definitely want to do this full time.”

I feel that. And especially with Covid, it forced us to stay inside and re-evaluate everything. Kind of the same thing happened to me. One day I was in school and the next it was online for a while. And I just thought, “Let’s try writing.”

Honestly, obviously [’m]  not trying to say I'm glad COVID happened, but if I have to look at what was a shitty situation, I'm glad that I was forced to like, you know, spend more time outside, lay in parks, read, write, and like get back to things that felt more like intrinsically me that I had kind of pushed aside as I had grown up.

Do you think that if COVID hadn’t happened you would have started writing your own music? Or would you have just continued on your film journey?

I honestly don't know, because it was something, again, I was so terrified of writing and avoided it at all cost because it made me so uncomfortable. I think I would have eventually started writing, but I think it would have been years down the line. I think I was going to be making art in some form, regardless of if COVID happened just to deal with all of that. But I think COVID streamlined that process.

Speaking of songwriting, how do you go about it? Do you go in with very raw and fresh emotions and progressively hash it out while writing or, do you kind of take a contemplative approach? Personally I find that hashing it out is a 50/50, but I can always count on my future self to think things through properly.

I have never approached a song with an idea really. When I write it’s definitely when emotions are raw and I'm like, spiraling about something from the past that got brought up, or spiraling about something now. I cannot articulate how bad I am at processing emotions. Like, it’s a joke among my friends. If something happens to me, like semi-traumatic, I am literally numb for days, and then I will kind of freak out. So whenever I do feel a ton of emotions rising up I sit down and have to write because it's the only way that I can actually process through everything.

That makes sense.

There've been two songs, I think, where I was like, “I have an idea for this.” And that's the first one I ever wrote, and then the one that I'm writing right now. Both of those, I approached with like, “oh, I want to write a song about this.” But it was definitely like me sorting through stuff in the moment, but also with an idea of what I wanted the song to be for or about.

Do you find it more difficult when you’re already set on an idea? I feel like it’s so easy to overthink because you’re aiming for something that isn’t quite there yet.

One hundred percent! When I approach a song that’s truly just pouring out emotions I release any kind of judgment or expectation. So, it's kind of like I'm word vomiting and whatever comes out, I'm like, “This is the song.” And I don't really think too much into it. But whenever I do have a song I'm like, “this is the idea.” I get really caught up on each line and conveying [my] idea in the best way possible. My dad when he writes, it's very much like he has an idea and every single line has to go back to that idea. Couldn’t be me. But, when I’m writing with him, I definitely get more experience, I guess writing from that perspective, because it's not something I do very often.

And your music, it’s pretty personal, how do those emotions manifest when you're performing live.

I would say it honestly depends on the day and my headspace in general. A lot of my songs are pertaining to that one breakup, post COVID. I have moved past that breakup [but] at the same time, like, when you're singing these really vulnerable and painful lyrics, it's really easy for me to close my eyes and like, see everything happening again. It's definitely easy to get caught up and, you know, be like, I'm reliving all of that. It's hard.

That's something that I have struggled with, I guess, with singing these breakup songs over and over and over and over again, because it feels kind of like, it's the last thing holding me to that relationship and that breakup. The last tour that I did, I feel like for the first time, I was singing the songs but kind of had detached myself from the experience, even though I still felt like I was feeling the lyrics, if that makes sense.

Totally! I don’t know if you journal, but it’s kind of like when you're journaling and are having a really tough time, and then a year later, you’ll go to read those old entries from the otherside of all that chaos. By then you’re kind of unaffected by it. Obviously it’s hard at the moment, but looking back you can acknowledge the fact that, “I’m fine now.”

I almost hurt in a new way. I’m like hurting for past me [and] being like “I know you’re in so much pain, and I’m sorry”

I definitely get that. Who were some of your musical  influences early on?

When I first started writing, I was listening to Immunity, the Clairo album, day in and day out. I love the sound of that album because she was trying to establish herself as something more than a bedroom pop artist, which,  there's nothing wrong with that either, but I feel like [it was] the perfect blend of like a singer-songwriter with bedroom pop. I think I've been trying to kind of find my own place within that intersection of genres for a while and I'm definitely still doing that. But she was definitely a huge inspiration when I wrote “Backseat,”

Now, the stuff I listen to is honestly more like soft rock. And like bedroom pop, rock… Beabadoobee is definitely a big inspiration for that sound. I feel like I've been listening to a lot more [of] almost like soft grunge lately, and with the stuff  I've been writing as of the past like a few months I'm hoping to kind of blend those two styles and see what happens.

In those genres there’s room for both of those sides to shine. Like song-writing as well as the angst, if you want to call it that, because you can have a kind of even plane and a big bridge and everything. So I can see where you’re going with that. You went to UT for filmmaking and you direct all of your music videos, what attracted you to the visual storytelling?

Honestly I don’t know. Since I could physically operate a computer I was like, teaching myself how to use different editing softwares. I originally wanted to become a film editor, which is such a weird thing for a kid. I was just that kid that [would] make trailers for every single movie or book I consumed. It was all I did growing up.

There's something really special about being able to have some crazy idea like that. And then bring it to life and literally watch it play out in front of you. It's satisfying in a way that's different from music, I think it's almost more satisfying because it's like literally taking images in your head and making them something palpable.

At what point in the songwriting process do you start thinking about the music video?

For the most part, it's definitely the second I listen to it for the first time, all the way through, I start getting like little images. Usually when I'm trying to go to sleep. I swear to god my brain goes in like X Games mode, the second it hits midnight, and it's just like a fucking circus.

I feel like it also gives you more creative freedom, since you get to also control that part of it and just like see through the process, beginning to end.

It's actually so wild just being in control of every aspect of the song and then controlling every aspect of the visuals. It feels really intense because putting all those things out there when you've put so much TLC into the song and video and all of that and just wanting people to receive it well. It definitely ups the stakes a little bit. Like I feel like if someone else directed the video and like produced it and whatnot, and I put it out, I'd be like, word, but when I'm doing it, I'm like [sighs].

Definitely it’s like agreeing to something, versus  being able to control and make it as intended.


Out of all of them, do you have a favorite?

I would say “in your room” is, but I love the video for Halloween too!! [laughs]

“In your room” feels like a coming of age movie.

I literally filmed that in my synagogue, and my best friend's bedroom. The video’s exactly what I wanted the song to feel like, which is like a coming of age thing. I honestly think my best music video has not happened yet.

Honestly, that’s a nice way to go about. There’s endless potential. I feel like nowadays being an independent artist, the whole business of marketing and finding an audience, is confusing and skewed. Do you find that going on tour and finally seeing your audience is rewarding in that sense?

I would say that if that’s the price I have to pay for that outcome, it’s 100% worth it. I would do it a hundred times over. If I had to post ten videos a day, I would still do it. The tour I did with Sun Room was by far the best experience of my life.

I was watching your tour vlogs on Instagram, it looked like a time.

It was so fucking fun because like they went on tour opening for Louis Tomlinson, so a huge portion of their fan base is like fucking fan girls. These girls didn't even know me, but they were like… I think they would have killed for me, like they would have committed murder, arson, anything you name it for me. They were so supportive and loving. All these girls who hadn't even heard of me were freaking out meeting me and  buying all of my merch. It was an insane experience to be  on the other end of like, the fangirl-dom.

Do you have any highlights from the tour?

Yeah. It was so crazy. The second to last show, these four different girls, came up to me And we're like, “we loved your set so much we think we're gonna drive six hours to the next show, so we can see you again.” I was like, No way! And those fucking girls were there the next night. They were in the front row hanging and made signs that spelled out “we love you Susanna.”

That’s real dedication. We're nearing the end of the interview. I like asking this question because I love recommendations and I feel like it's nice to hear what artists are listening to, so what have you been listening to lately?

I have a whole list. One girl I’m obsessed with is SOMOH, she only has 40,000 monthly listeners. She’s fantastic. Love pom pom squad, big fan of hers. Bonnie Kemplay, she just got signed to Dirty Hit and Bel.

Killer recommendations, I’ll get back to you about some of those. Finally, What’s next for you?

I'm going to LA in a few weeks. I think I'm going to record a lot of stuff. I have so many songs written and I'm trying to get them all recorded. I feel so much creative energy kind of bubbling up in me. Everything that I’m recording, I think, is going to be my best work because I’m co-produce everything now and I wasn't doing that in the past and it has so much more of an organic feel, which I really like. I'm really excited about everything I'm gonna put out.

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