From the opening lines of Susan Calloway’s infectious pop rocker “Chasin The Sun,” the title track from her explosive six-song debut EP, the Detroit based singer/songwriter makes no bones about the stark reality and intense challenges of being an indie artist emerging in 2010: “What did you think? It was gonna be easy? What did you think? They’d make you a star? The gates would just swing open and they’d all know who you are?”
Those proverbial gates are opening a little more each day thanks to the strong reception “Chasin The Sun” has gotten at both terrestrial and internet radio. Top 40 and Hot AC stations across the country are adding it rapidly to their spin lists, it’s already on Pandora.com and will soon be playing on XM Radio.
Most artists wait for the momentum on their first project to build before seeking film and TV licensing opportunities, but Calloway’s been on the case for several years, placing a handful of the first songs she recorded as a solo artist on the hit WB/CW shows “Dawson’s Creek,” “Summerland” and “One Tree Hill.” These early tracks, like the six newer tunes on Chasin The Sun, were produced by Gerard Smerek, who has mixed, engineered or produced projects for everyone from soul divas Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer to R. Kelly and Kid Rock. While Smerek has proven to be an incredible sounding board for Calloway, the singer sets herself apart from many artists who call themselves “singer-songwriters” by literally writing everything herself: lyrics, melodies, chord changes, harmonies, bridges and arrangements.
Firmly believing that embracing the journey is just as exciting as reaching any sort of ideal destination, to extend the metaphor, Calloway’s been chasing these dreams her whole life. Learning classical piano at age five and taking classical voice from the age of 12, she believed early on that “music is something that chose me more than I chose it.” In grade school, she could sing words she didn’t even know how to say.
Just out of high school, she started a band called Red C that scored a loud and loyal following in the Midwest and on the East Coast, performing hundreds of shows, selling thousands of self-produced records and winning over 12 Detroit Music Awards—all while its lead singer was attending college at Michigan’s Oakland University. Being the lead singer of a popular touring band that was compared favorably to Lone Justice was fulfilling for a time, but Calloway chose to go her own way after college and began working steadily in New York and L.A. as a film, TV and commercial session singer while developing her own material.
While gearing up to release Chasin The Sun, Calloway has done a number of well-attended showcases in both New York (where she has played at The Bitter End numerous times, and Rockwood Music Hall) and Los Angeles (Genghis Cohen). She’s also performed numerous times at local clubs in Detroit like The Magic Bag.
“Being part of a band is a great experience but because there were other creative voices in the mix, it was hard to really stand out and perform a lot of my own material,” she says. “It seemed natural as I evolved as a writer and performer that I would eventually move on and take more risks as a solo artist. Because my background included both classical training and playing pop/rock, I had a deep well to draw from, and I think the distinctive mix of influences helps set me apart from other artists like me. From writing and recording the album to putting together a team to help get my music out there, it’s like a painter that takes a long time to get that first work of art perfect.
“As for vibe,” she continues, “a lot of people think I sound like Pink because of my edginess, but my lyrics are more socially conscious like U2. It’s always easy to start out writing love songs, but I’m at a place where I’m confident enough to go deeper and have something significant to say about the world. The songs on Chasin’ The Sun represent a lot of hope to me. I feel good art should give us a different perspective and inspire us. Music is a powerful tool and I think in spirit I’m very much in tune with the singers and songwriters in the 60s and 70s who wrote about what was going on in the world. I want people to care about what’s going on in the world. If our generation doesn’t care, how can we expect future generations to?”
With the initial response it’s getting, it’s likely that “Chasin The Sun” may turn out to be something of a trademark mantra for Calloway. This is perfectly fine with the singer because as universal as it is, it’s also perfectly autobiographical in its mention of all the obstacles she’s faced on her way to achieving her dream. The tune may not mention it directly, but a big part of Calloway’s childhood was facing the aftermath of a terrible car accident that severely injured her mother.
Learning to “play mom” to her younger siblings while her dad worked two jobs to make a dent in the medical bills was a life defining experience—one which contributes to making her the person and artist she is today. It helped her become a fighter and gave her the tools it takes to survive in the crazy music business. Her faith in God is another constant in her life, along with an anchoring spiritual belief that she’s here for a reason and that there’s an ultimate plan for her life. Realizing the strength of her musical gifts early on, combined with her awareness of our brevity on earth, helps her stay focused on what she wants to accomplish.
The mid-tempo, piano and guitar driven “Divided” is a classic coming of age song about facing a moment of indecision when we feel trapped and frozen between two choices, each of which could lead to different repercussions. Calloway wrote the incisive anthem-like “Safe” about the experience of a friend who was caught up in a cycle of domestic violence—an issue which is close to the singer’s heart and which she hopes to become more involved in. After the classic break up ballad “Learning To Live,” Calloway dares to be vulnerable after trying to convince herself: “Don’t Fall In Love.” The hypnotic, alt rock ballad closer “Lay It Down” is one of her personal favorites, alluding to the power of faith in her life and her belief that there are simply times when we have to surrender to things beyond our control and let the chips fall where they may.
“After years as part of a band, it is wonderfully flattering to have people who hear me perform or find my music online respond so positively to my original songs,” says Calloway. “Making this connection is always wonderful and it’s great that I get these uplifting emails from people of all ages. There were even two 12 year old fans who love ‘Chasin’ The Sun’ and one is using it for an audition! I haven’t always been able to say this, but I’m learning to really appreciate the step by step process of developing as a solo artist. There is so much to learn in the pursuit of this goal and so many wonderful people who have helped encourage me along the way. Working hard all my life and finally seeing concrete results is very exciting and keeps me determined to move forward, trust my instincts and stay on the right path where, yes, I keep ‘Chasin’ The Sun.’”