On her debut solo full-length, L.A.-based singer-songwriter Suzie Chism spins intensely personal, narrative songs that expertly flit across genres from rock to folk to synthpop. Where is an album about big life changes, new beginnings and finding a sense of self. And it’s an album that took shape in the closet of her Hollywood apartment.
Chism had spent eight years in Nashville, where she founded the band Moseley and had become embedded in that city’s music scene. Then, in 2018, she made the cross-country move to Los Angeles with her then-boyfriend. Their relationship ended shortly after arriving in town. Chism says that she wondered whether or not she should stay in L.A., where she hardly knew anyone, or return to Nashville, where she had a network of friends and colleagues in place.
“I wanted to like myself no matter where I’m at, which is where the concept of the album came,” Chism says. “I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere until I could get to know myself better. I stayed in L.A. and spent a lot of time with myself. I started therapy and I made this album.”
But Where isn’t a breakup album. Earlier, when Chism was still living at the home that she and her ex shared, she’d written some songs about the end of the relationship, but once she had moved into her own apartment, she was reticent to record them. “I didn’t want to hear that story anymore,” she says. “I wanted a new story and even though that scared me – because I became comfortable with my identity in L.A. of being this heartbroken ex-bandmate – I was ready for a new story.”
She spent nearly every day recording in the closet of her Hollywood apartment. In all, six of the nine songs on Where were created in that space. She played most of the instruments on the album too. “I had to figure out how to do it alone and had to learn how to play a lot of different instruments because I didn’t have the budget or the network here to hire people to play on it,” she explains.
It wasn’t always a smooth process. For the song “Good For Business,” Chism brought in a harp player to record inside the closet. While the space – which she calls “Suz Suz Studio” – isn’t tiny, it wasn’t quite big enough to fit the instrument. “I knocked over all my recording gear. Broke all my recording gear,” she recalls. The mishap forced Chism to upgrade her home studio. In the process, she realized that she learned how to use new gear and figured out how to better soundproof her closet. “It’s funny because, basically, I thought that was my final day of recording Where,” Chism says of that fateful recording session. “It ended up being the first day of recording Where.”
And it became a major learning experience. Chism drew from a list of influences – The Beatles, Harry Nilsson, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton – as she created songs about new beginnings. She leveled-up on her musicianship and recording skills along the way too. “I feel like this album saved my life in so many ways. It gave me my life back. It also gave me new life,” says Chism. “It really helped me in a deep battle with depression that I didn’t realize that I had been going through, probably my whole life. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I feel really liberated and this creation is a huge part of it.”
The album came out on March 13, just as music events across the U.S. were being canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I thought it would be cool to do a Friday the 13th release,” Chism says. “Maybe now, in retrospect, that was unwise, but, I’ll never forget it. The world shut down about that day.”
Chism herself had gotten sick around the same time and, having been unable to get tested for COVID-19, self-isolated. She said that she was recovering when we first spoke on the phone, two weeks following the album’s release. When we followed up in April, she was already at work on a second album.
While Los Angeles has been staying at home, Chism decided to revisit the songs that she had written in the midst of her breakup. “I realized that, emotionally, I wasn’t really strong enough to play those right away and be out performing them,” she says, adding that some of those had been part of her earlier live performances. But they’re songs that she feels are solid, and now that enough time has passed, she’s more comfortable singing them. One of the tunes, called “Paco,” was just about finished when we spoke and she was preparing to get to work on another one, called “Surprises and Apologies,” which she describes as “the theme for the second album.”
And, yes, she’s continuing to record in Suz Suz Studio. “I sometimes wonder if it’s time for me to start dreaming bigger than my closet,” she says, “but it works for now.”
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