Fleur the Kiwi
Suzanne Slair is vocalist and guitarist for Glyscian, a three-piece band that melds loud, heavy guitars with pretty melodies, and mixes punk sensibilities with a sharp sense of songwriting. Glyscian’s song “Awakening,” from the debut album, Never Return the Same, has been chosen to be featured in the forthcoming movie Patriot Act, a sci-fi thriller about an ex-government assassin who comes out of retirement to hunt an alien responsible for killing his team, directed by Wayne Slaten and due out this fall. Also check out Suzanne’s answers to the Heart of Rock questions.
DGT&G: How old were you when you first picked up a guitar?
I started playing guitar when I was 21. I had studied piano, saxophone, and voice at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada since I was a child. Piano is the best instrument to start on because you can visually see everything.
DGT&G: So you learned to read music, then.
Oh, yes. I took Theory 1 and Theory 2 just to be at a basic level. I learned to read music before I learned to read guitar tabs, which is backwards. [Laughs] As long as I can remember—that would be three years old; that’s as far back as I can remember—we’ve always had a piano in the house.
I studied opera at the Met—the Metropolitan Opera, in New York. My voice coach there was amazing. Her debut was with Placido Domingo. Her debut! I learned that your vocal chords are like your thighs—you’ve got to keep them in shape. People forget that. They party and don’t take care of their vocal chords. You wouldn’t pour beer on your guitar—or on your thighs!
DGT&G: Why did you switch from opera to rock music?
As a young singer, you find your place by your vocal temperament, your personality. My temperament was rough around the edges. It wasn’t that my voice was not right for opera, it was that my temperament fit rock better, even though I loved opera. I have a powerful, thick voice; all that mid-range.
DGT&G: How old were you when you first performed in front of an audience?
Six years old. I performed in front of 80 million people.
DGT&G: That’s quite a debut! Where was that?
It was the Olympics opening ceremony, in Canada. I was singing and dancing with other children. I am very honored that I was chosen for that. It is something that I will remember forever. It definitely got rid of stage fright for me. [Laughs] I’ve never had stage fright.
DGT&G: When did you know that you wanted rock ‘n’ roll to be your life?
In theater school, when I was 18–20. We toured doing musical theater and I realized I was always going to be typecast. I got offered to play the Little Mermaid for Disney—I also got offered to be in a goth band in the East Village. I chose the goth band. [Laughs] It was quite a choice, but I wouldn’t change it.
DGT&G: How did Glyscian come into being? [Here, Suzanne corrects my pronunciation.]
It’s “Gly-see-an.” It’s a nerd thing. Gliese [officially, Gliese 581 c; discovered April 2007] is a “super Earth.” It has a mass almost six times than that of Earth. If you were to live on this planet, you would be called a Glyscian.
DGT&G: What is your songwriting process?
It varies. I am a portal. The songs come through me. Sometimes I hear a vocal melody. Sometimes I hears a really cool thrash riff. Sometimes a chorus. If you listen to a song, it tells you what it needs. I try to stay out of the song’s way as much as possible.
DGT&G: Glyscian’s music definitely shows the influence of punk and hard rock. Who in particular are your influences?
Oh, there are so many. If I started, I don’t know that I’d end. I’d definitely say The Ramones. Of course, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Iron Maiden. Def Leppard. My basis for rock ’n’ roll was in the East Village in New York City at the end of the punk era. When the Ramones were still there. I was in the rock scene in the East Village when Blondie was there. Joan Jett. After that, the nightlife left.
DGT&G: One of the songs from Glyscian’s debut album, “Awakening,” has been chosen to be featured in the movie PATRIOT ACT, due out this fall. How did you score that great placement? Was the song picked up for the movie after recording or written specifically for the film?
It was written for the film. The producer, Wayne Slaten, knew of the band and requested that we write a song for the movie. He said, “These are the three topics,” and we chose “freedom.” Other bands submitted songs too, and ours was chosen from all the others to be used the most, which is really exciting and a great honor. It’s going to be on the soundtrack. I don’t know yet where else in the movie it will be used.
DGT&G: How did you write the song so that it was suitable for the film?
The guitar came first. Tremolo harmonic picking. All the thrash riffs. The lyrics are very powerful and they are extremely relevant to the movie, and to the theme of freedom. What you live for is what you die for … They are heavy lyrics. I wish they weren’t as relevant to the world as they are.
DGT&G: You’ve just released your debut album, NEVER RETURN THE SAME, which was produced by David Allen. What was it like working with a producer who has worked with such artists as Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Wylde, Black Label Society?
He is wonderful. He’s extremely patient. Nothing shocks him. He’s just mellow.
DGT&G: How did he come to produce the album?
I found him at a Black Label concert. I walked right up to him and said, “This is the best live mix I’ve ever heard.” Then we sent him demos and asked if he would be interested in producing us. He said, “Yes.” This was the first thing he did after leaving Black Label Society.
He and I mixed the album in a month. We did a lot at Tomcast Studios in Dallas, but the rest was done between Austin and Boston, where David lives. After a couple of weeks or a month we made the final tweaks.
DGT&G: The album is available on Amazon, iTunes and Spotify. Will it be released in hardcover?
It’s about to be released on iTunes. Not Spotify. That was too difficult. It’s hard to release things these days without getting ripped off. There will be a CD. I really like the picture disk with a digital download, but that’s hard to sell at shows. People like to buy something that they can play in the car on the way home.
DGT&G: The song “2 Close 2 Break,” which has just been released as a single, has a great video. How was that made?
The directors and I sat down—we really liked the Grindhouse video, so we decided to do something like that. It was shot at Ghost Town, outside Austin. The directors, Jeremy Ward and James Parker, found the hot rod cars through the racing scene. I like the way they bookended the video with headlights at the beginning and end. The scenario is an outlaw town run by women with chains. [Laughs]
DGT&G: That’s a great scenario. Any good stories from that video shoot?
Oh my God, yes. There’s so many. People asked, “Were you really punching the guy?” I said, “Of course not.” Plus, I’m a guitar player. I wouldn’t punch him. [Laughs] It was more of a waterboarding than a beating up. I hit his teeth with the bottle a couple of times. I was apologizing while I was beating him up. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
We had to take anti-venom kits with us because it was out in the desert. We all got lost in the maze at one point or another. We all had to jump over the fence and scratch ourselves up. [Laughs]
DGT&G: How long did it take to make the video?
Indoor was eight hours, and two sixteen-hour days outside. Two full, long days. That’s not counting the meetings, getting the props, creating the storyline, getting the hot rods, etc.
DGT&G: How long has Glyscian been in existence?
About three years. Really, one and a half with me as the front and Rona [Rougeheart] as the drummer. It was a three-piece, but as soon as we dropped the bass player we got signed by Angel Records in Canada. [Editor’s note: Rona has left Glyscian and the band is now again a three-piece, with Hugh Jorgan on bass and Dick Black on drums.]
DGT&G: Has Glyscian performed live?
Yes. We just played the Viper Room at NAMM, and Guitarlington, which is the biggest guitar show in [Texas].
DGT&G: How did the shows go?
Very well. The Viper Room show after NAMM was a little difficult—at NAMM you’re constantly talking, talking, talking nonstop for four days. I was sick—because you shake so many hands, there are germs everywhere. There’s even a name for it: NAMMthrax.
DGT&G: What’s the most memorable gig you’ve ever played?
It was definitely a show in New York. I sliced my wrist doing a fake suicide. I used a condom filled with chocolate syrup and red food dye and I prick it with a razor blade, but this time I went too far with the razor blade and actually sliced my wrist. But I finished the set! I don’t go near razors any more. [Laughs] That took care of that.
DGT&G: So was that your Spinal Tap moment?
That was one. There are so many that Spinal Tap isn’t a comedy, it’s just a reality. It’s a documentary.
DGT&G: You have chosen a symbol to represent you — what’s the story behind that?
It’s the Gemini sign shaped in the form of an eye, because people have always said that I’m a visionary and I see things.
The sign on my Signature V was designed by Rona McDonald. It’s my stamp. So I can be the Artist formerly known as the Artist formerly known as … [much laughter]
DGT&G: When you’re having a down day, what song do you put on to instantly bring you up?
Hmmm, a down-day song to bring me up. That’s a good one. [Pause] “Shoot to Thrill,” by AC/DC. Put that on and I’m good to go.
DGT&G: What song describes you now?
“Comfortably Numb.” It’s been a long week for me, with all the changes. [Editor’s note: Original drummer Rona Rougeheart, who played on the debut album, left the band and Suzanne auditioned new band members.] I’m very comfortable and happy with all that’s going on in the future, but your band is your family, so it’s hard.
DGT&G: What are your thoughts about music today? Are there any new bands that you like?
There are. I like Black Tide. I like All That Remains. They are two of my “new metal”—hard rock is probably what it’s considered. Devin Townsend Project. And of course I always love Queens of the Stone Age. Halestorm—of course! I love that they fucking won for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance at the Grammys. Finally … bring in the new. They are surrounded by those that have gone before and are still relentlessly touring and DOING IT.
DGT&G: What else would you like to tell our readers?
Just keep hitting the strings. Keep on going no matter what anyone out there tells you, as long as your heart’s in it. Don’t let anyone prevent you from reaching the outer realms … and then scream, “WHOOH!!!”