Susana interview: 15 Years Anniversary
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us! The last time TrancePodium spoke with you was in 2010. I'm sure a lot has changed since then. How have things been?
My pleasure, thank you for having me! The last time we spoke was probably around the release of my debut album Closer and I was also touring with Armin van Buuren at the time. To be honest it doesn’t feel like 9 years have passed! But at the same time I have grown a lot as an artist since then as well!
After the success of Closer I released a second album, Brave, in 2012. Besides touring twice with Armin I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of solo shows around the world as well. There was of course the release of RAMelia. Launching my Press Play radio show and compilation series. Tune Of The Year for Unbreakable, my Spanish track with Aly & Fila and Roger Shah. Performing at the Best Of Armin Only shows in the Johan Cruijff Arena, releasing my first three solo singles… just to name a few career highlights!
You just recently had the opportunity to sing "Shivers" at Tomorrowland with the Metropole Orchestra, as well as on the main stage as part of Armin van Buuren's Tomorrowland 15-year tribute set and on top of that you performed with Armin at Untold Festival in Romania. What an amazing opportunity and such beautiful performances!
What were your thoughts when you were first approached to do these performances, how did you prepare and what are your overall thoughts and feelings about these amazing experiences?
Talk about career highlights! This whole crazy journey started with a Whatsapp message from Armin beginning of July. I really had to pinch myself when I was asked for these performances. Even more so because they really came out of the blue for me. For some reason I thought that my Best Of Armin Only performance would be the last time Armin and I would perform Shivers together. Probably because the track is already 15 years old.
And as far as Tomorrowland goes: I was there in 2017. And even though I fantasised about it, never in a million years did I think I would actually perform there. Let alone on the main stage!
Initially I was only supposed to perform Shivers twice on the Freedom Stage with the Metropole Orchestra, on both Sundays of the event, as part of the so-called Symphony Of Unity. As if that wasn’t amazing enough already, a few days after the first Symphony Of Unity performance I got a phone call from Armin’s team asking me if I’d be up for performing Shivers on the main stage with him that second weekend as well! My emotions after that phone call I think can be best described as a mixture of disbelief and excitement!
And the surprises didn’t end there! I was informed that because it was all so short notice, there wouldn’t be any opportunity to rehearse or soundcheck the main stage performance. Strangely enough that didn’t worry me. I think that’s really where my 15 years of experience comes in. And in preparation of the performances with the Metropole I had been rehearsing Shivers every day for two weeks. So I knew I was prepared. What I didn’t know, due to some miscommunication, was that I would be performing on top of an elevator in the middle of the crowd! I only found out about this when I arrived to the main stage 30mins before my performance. Life really is full of surprises!
It’s hard to describe how I felt during the performance. There’s so much going through your mind at once - how is the sound, can I hear myself, how is the crowd responding, am I in tune - and at the same time you want to give a great performance, entertain the crowd, etc. Amidst all of that, it can be easy to forget to enjoy it, to be in the moment. But thankfully I managed to do just that!
The view up there was almost magical, the crowd went as far as my eyes could see, the confetti raining down on me, the lights, the fireworks lighting up the sky behind me, making a connection with Armin in the booth... The performance itself was only a few mins, but it will last a lifetime in my mind and heart!
And then we got to do it again the week after in Romania at Untold Festival where we ended the night dancing in the rain with the Romanian crowd! It has really been a fantastic adventure!
Speaking of 15-year anniversaries, your 15-year anniversary as a trance singer is coming up! You're celebrating with an intimate acoustic concert on November 9th at Poppodium P60 with some special guests. What can you tell us about what you have in store for this concert?
Last year, when I realised my anniversary was coming up, I immediately knew I wanted to do something special to celebrate this milestone. It seemed the perfect opportunity to bring to life some ideas I’ve had for a really long time.
To begin with I have always wanted to do an acoustic project but for some reason never got round to it. Besides that it has always been my mission to help pave the way for vocalists as artists in their own right in our scene that, even though a lot has improved over the years, is still mainly dominated by DJs and producers. I mean, look at the average Trance event, it’s mainly DJ’s who get booked, and even if they book vocalists it’s usually just one or two.
So it was a logical decision for me to invite some of my fellow vocalists to join me. There are millions of vocal trance fans all around the world but they rarely get the opportunity to see their favourite vocalists perform live. I want to contribute to changing that. And I’m starting with having Ana Criado and Sue McLaren perform at Susana|15.
I am now in the process of putting together an ensemble of live musicians. I have teamed up with concert pianist and composer Geronimo Snijtsheuvel, who will be working closely with me and the musicians as musical director of the event. He has experience in the Trance scene composing show music for Transmission Festival and working with Ferry Corsten, so I couldn’t think of a better partner and I can’t wait to share some previews of what we’ve been working on!
I really see Susana|15 as much more than just a celebration of my career. I also see it as a celebration of the people who played an important role in it over the past years, my colleagues, family, friends and fans. And as an ode to the vocal trance genre in general. My goal is to offer a unique and intimate live concert experience for the true vocal trance lovers!
So yeah, I don’t know if you can tell but I’m very excited about this and I can’t wait to share it with the world!
Photos Susana|15: Dietrich van Gobbel Photography
Your lyrics are so emotional and touching. Where do you find your inspiration?
It depends. As you may expect, when I write by myself, I often take inspiration from my own life, from what I am going through at that time. But when I don’t have a specific theme on my mind I usually just listen to the music and see which words and themes come up and then take it from there. That’s how I came up with the Unbreakable hook. It was the first thing I heard when I listened to the demo they sent me.
Sometimes a lyric idea or theme will come to mind unexpectedly, when I’m doing something else, such as going for a walk or listening to music on the train. I also write a lot with songwriter and producer Raz Nitzan. We have been friends for a really long time and often have long conversations about life, love and relationships. So usually we take inspiration from those conversations.
How would you say that you've progressed over the years as a singer?
I think throughout these 15 years years the most impactful change I have made as an artist is that I have taken full control of my own career. When I was first introduced to topline writers Raz Nitzan and Adrian Broekhuyse back in 2004 I basically worked with them as a session singer. To give you an example: they wrote the melody and lyrics of Shivers and I just came to the studio to record it. I did not have any songwriting input. I was also completely new to the Trance scene, so they took the lead in deciding which projects we were going to do etc.
I am really thankful to have had them as my mentors. I am proud of everything we’ve done together and I learned a lot from them. But the more I started to fall in love with Trance music, the more I felt a desire to spread my own wings. To start writing my own songs and sit in the driver’s seat of my career. Which, looking back, has been a journey with ups and downs. For one I didn’t have much experience as a songwriter and felt quite insecure about it. And where previously Raz was the one handling the business side of things, I now started to deal directly with DJ’s and their managers and record labels. Which, truth be told, can be a bit of a minefield sometimes. I basically had to learn to become more business savvy and stand up for myself.
Sometimes I forget I was only 20 when Shivers came out. It makes sense that I still had a lot of growing up to do. Looking back I can honestly say I am proud of how far I’ve come!
You've been a trance singer for 15 years now. With all of these different genres that are being played today, are there any other genres that you have thought about getting involved with?
Even though Trance has been my main focus I do have a pretty versatile background in music. I started out singing in a choir as a child and then went on to sing in different pop/rock bands during my teens. I played a lot with live musicians in different styles and genres. Besides that I received classical training from the age of 14 by my vocal coach Kirsten Schotteldreier, she is a former opera singer and coaches a lot of professional opera singers throughout Europe till this day. I think the versions of my songs that we’re going to perform at Susana|15 will reflect some of these influences. And I am also a sucker for more downtempo electronic music genres such as wave, cinematic electronic music, certain melodic styles of drum ‘n bass etc.
You also have your Press Play Radio Podcast. You had a special episode in June. Do you have plans to continue on with that?
I started Press Play Radio in 2015 as a monthly show. I thought it would be an exciting way for me to not only share the music I love, but to connect even more with the Trance community as well.
I think most of us will recognise the moment you hear a great song and you feel like playing it to everyone you know. DJ’s get to do this all the time in their live sets and radio shows, and I figured I could do the same from a vocalist perspective.
And of course it also allows me to play my own songs and talk about how they were born, the story behind them etc. Because I enjoyed making the shows so much I also started a compilation series under the same name. I think volume 5 will come next year!
Even though it started as a monthly show, the past year I have become so busy I had to put it on the back burner. Besides working on my music, performances and my own event this year I also launched my Business Coaching For Artists Academy through which I intend to teach everything I have learned throughout the years to a new generation of artists. The first course started in March and I am planning to open up it up to new students again later this year. So with everything going on I had to prioritise my time and currently I’m just doing the show when I have time. But as long as I find great music to play, Press Play Radio is here to stay!
How do you think the dance music industry has changed over the years with the acceptance of female artists/singers?
I could write a whole essay on this subject! But I’ll try to keep it short.
Even though we still have a long way to go I do see things are changing for the better. I think this is a reflection of a broader development in our society where there’s more and more attention for the emancipation of minorities. I think gender roles in general are changing and professions that were always dominated by men are opening up more and more to women.
Let’s face it, producing electronic music and DJing is quite technical, which, generally speaking, isn’t a skill set that is associated with women. That is probably why people are often skeptical of female artists in electronic music. But I think those people make a thinking error, the fact that technical skills aren’t associated with women has nothing to do with women not being able to master those skills, and everything with how gender roles have previously been defined.
At the end of the day I do believe it is our responsibility as women to pave the way for ourselves and just get out there and do it. So to every woman out there dreaming of a career in electronic music I would say: yes, you may need to work harder to prove yourself. That’s annoying but it’s just the way things are at the moment. Instead of dwelling on it or letting that hold you back, you’re better off accepting this fact and just going for it. The more women get out there and make it, the faster our emancipation and acceptance will happen and the more role models there will be for other women to follow in our footsteps.
Throughout your career, is there one moment in particular that stands out the most to you?
Wow that’s a tough one! There are multiple once in a lifetime experiences that come to mind, such as performing with Aly & Fila at the Pyramids of Gizeh in Egypt, flying through the Amsterdam Arena singing Desiderium 207 and of course my recent Tomorrowland performances!
Besides your acoustic concert in November, what does the rest of your 2019 have in store?
After a busy month touring last month my main focus for the next couple months will be composing and rehearsing all the songs for Susana|15. I do also have some new releases coming up. Starting with the remix package for Northern Star including a progressive White Akre mix and a stunning uplifting mix by Ciaran McAuley. I also have a new single coming up on Amsterdam Trance Records in September and will be working on new material with RAM as well.
Thank you again for taking the time to talk with us. It's been an absolute honor speaking with you. Is there anything I may have missed that you'd like to mention, or anything else you'd like to say to your fans?
I would just like to say thank you to you for the interesting questions! And a thank you to everyone who has supported me all these years, I wouldn’t be where I am today without you!
For all info about the 'Susana|15' event + tickets, click here.