Susy Sun has a particularly ironic name. After all, she lives in Seattle, a city with a gray cloud ceiling that lasts through nine months of the year. And that's not the only incongruity: Her particularly squeaky-clean pop outlook contrasts with the rugged, folky alt-country that is at the heart of the Seattle indie scene today. All of that is part of her charm. The rest is her strong music styling. A classically trained pianist, Sun's by-the-book musical background runs through her crossover songwriting.
"On my album, I have an instrumental track that I wrote, that's my roots," explained Sun. "Also, especially on Wanderlust (Sun's 2013 six-track album) the songs have more complex piano lines and musical interludes that will break down in the middle of the song. Sometimes I'll switch timing. It's not a standard pop album."
The term chamber pop tends to be overused in referring to any charting song that adds orchestral strings, but Sun's complex arrangements blending piano lines over fettering violin and cello feel more composed for a classical ensemble than a pop act, while still sticking with the verse-chorus-bridge structural elements of pop.
Those pop roots, however, are often interrupted with unconstrained piano instrumentals, minor scales and arpeggios that slice into the songs like pleasant, and unexpected visitors. And, Sun can easily snap back into textbook pop arrangements and solo vocal piano and vocal work.
"Three or four years ago, when I started playing with other people, I had no idea how to do it," Sun said of working alone versus working with a band. "I grew up singing and playing in Catholic Church, so I kind of got some experience, but ultimately, being a pianist is very individual. When I started with my drummer, our first rehearsal was horrible. She had done more rock and roll and my stuff is more orchestral. It's arranged. Some parts are soft and some parts build, but it's not a jam. It's been cool to find players who are really into that style."
Being immersed in the diverse scene that brought folk acts like the Head and the Heart, The Maldives and Lomolo to a wider pop-hungry audience, it hasn't been hard for Sun to find collaborators in Seattle. Her tour that begins next week is co-headlined by soft-voiced folk singer Justin Froese, another catchy Seattle pop artist with whom Sun has recently been collaboratively writing songs.
"He plays guitar and that's fun, because I don't play guitar very well," she said. "It's been fun, because with one of the songs I didn't touch the piano and was able to focus on the vocal stuff."
While Sun is used to collaborating with the flannel-wearing, bearded Seattle crowd, she's working to expand her horizons by recording in Los Angeles, a fairly different scene than the dressed-down folksters she's used to.
"It's the pop world. It's kind of crazy," said Sun. "Most people don't write their own songs and some can't actually sing. I'm working with this producer who is more of a pop producer. We're still doing alt-pop, not Rihanna dance tracks or anything."
Sun also said that the focus on image over songwriting is a huge difference from Seattle to L.A.
"I'm obviously a strong musician, but I also love the brand and the product. That image is really important to me. I value the aesthetic. Seattle is not as good at that," said Sun. "But in the end, none of that stuff matters. I'm just writing music that I love."
Susy Sun with Justin Froese
Sun., May 11
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr.