Austin native Suzanna Choffel gave the songs on her new album, STEADY EYE SHAKY BOW, time to mature and build character, like fine wine, before she stepped into the studio to record. The result is 10 elegant tracks that flow from the jazz-oriented style of her 2006 debut, SHUDDERS & RINGS, into a form she likes to call indie-soul-pop.
It’s as fitting a term as any to describe the blue-eyed charmer’s dusky vocal delivery. To paint an even more specific picture, she’ll go with “smoky-voiced female lead singing pop songs with a little bit of an urban feel.”
Not that jazz has taken a back seat. It’s there in her scat-like phrasing, and in such instrumentation as sax and vibraphone. Take “Raincloud,” the first single. It’s poppy, but with New Orleans second-line horns by Big Sam’s Funky Nation. The video of that song, coincidentally, has more than 500,000 views on YouTube, causing the Austin American-Statesman to declare Choffel the city’s first YouTube superstar. She’s also scored wins in the John Lennon Songwriting, International Songwriting and FameCast competitions.
Influenced by women as diverse as Erykah Badu and Edie Brickell (whose New Bohemians band-mate, Brad Houser, plays bass and sax in Suzanna’s band), with echoes of Feist and even a little Dusty, she writes upbeat melodies but wraps them around fearless examinations of the emotional complexities inherent in relationships. Some of these melodies carry delightful reminders of what’s come before: a little girl-group reference here, a little Stax or Motown flavoring there. Petula Clark and Lulu would be at home next to Suzanna. But there’s an earthiness, too: a sprinkle of what Choffel calls “a dark grit,” blues-colored, to be exact.
And though her subject matter might reflect uncertainty, the confidence in her voice is unmistakable.
“I always wanted to be a musician,” says Choffel, a longtime voice and guitar teacher. “I had my moments of wanting to be a doctor or novelist or basketball player, but those were all fleeting. I knew I was talented and invested in music from an early age. I believed in my musical self.”
She started playing piano and writing songs at 4 or 5, played sax in her high-school band, and fell in love with the guitar at 17. While attending Texas State University, she performed in a roots-rock-funk band and then a jazz/hip-hop/fusion outfit. After earning a degree in musical technology from the College of Santa Fe (“It was very old-school,” she says, “I learned to edit on tape”), the middle Choffel daughter went to Brazil to soak up its music and culture. When she got home, she did solo gigs and then put together a band.
The result is this strong collection of Danny Reisch-produced cuts, each an intricate, lush blend of catchiness and depth – recorded on warm-sounding tape, it should be noted. Its title comes from the song, “Archer,” about being vulnerable to Cupid’s bow even when you know the match isn’t made in heaven.
“ ‘Steady eye shaky bow’ really describes me and the way I live,” says Choffel. “I’ve always had very strong, defined visions of what I want my life to be and what I want to do, but the way I get there and go after them is round-about and meandering, a bit shaky.”
Maybe so, but with STEADY EYE SHAKY BOW, this archer has landed a bulls-eye.