Suzie Vinnick’s keeping it positive by shaking the love around

Suzie Vinnick is at the NAC Fourth Stage on April 25. Her latest record is called Shake The Love Around.

Suzie Vinnick has several albums to her credit. The Saskatoon native has just released Shake The Love Around and it’s gathering some pretty solid reviews. She’s bringing that new music to the NAC Fourth Stage on April 25 but before the show she answered some questions from ARTSFILE.

Q. It looks like you’ve got a bit of a hit with Shake The Love Around. What do you make of the response?

A. Thanks. I’ve received a bunch of really nice reviews of the new album in Canada, the United States and overseas, and the album has also been receiving some airplay in Canada, the U.S. and over in Europe, too, so I’m happy it’s being embraced.

We received a Canadian Folk Music Award Nomination for Producer of the Year for Shake The Love Around. I was very pleased about that as I’ve never been nominated for Producer before. 

Q. Tell me about the album.

A. I have released six solo albums and another eight with other projects; my last two albums were both acoustic albums — Me ‘n’ Mabel is voice and guitar with some special guests and Live At Bluesville is just me and my little Larivee parlour guitar. Shake the Love Around is a roots and blues music full-band album (though I play a big part in the ‘band’). I wanted to do something that was full band and that featured my voices – as a singer, as a guitarist, as a bassist and songwriter. I also played some lap steel on a few tunes.

I co-produced the album with my friend Mark Lalama which was a great experience. Mark is really easy going, I could bounce ideas off of him. He’d suggest things to me and we had a lot of flexibility to play with different musical ideas as the album was recorded at his home studio.

We chose songs with as many positive messages as we could – I had been through a bit of a dark few years and it was important to me to try and put some lightness out into the world. A couple of the songs have darker leanings but the music is generally pretty up. 

Q. When you were writing for this did you imagine it as an “electric” album?

A. Many of the songs were written years ago but just hadn’t found the right album to land on. A few songs are covers and some were written more recently for this project – they are a little bit diverse stylistically but still seemed to fit together nicely. The album material lends itself to solo or band performances, but the songs definitely get bigger with a full band.

Q. Who’s in the band?

A. The album is a full band album, but I recorded the bed tracks on guitar with drummer Gary Craig (Gary has played drums on four of my solo albums). Afterwards I added bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars where needed and background vocals. Mark Lalama, my co-producer, is a keyboard player and added some organ and accordion. Other players who contributed were John Johnson, a Toronto based saxophone player. Kevin Breit and Colin Linden (a couple of my guitar heroes) played solos on a couple of tracks, and two of my co-writers, David Leask and Dean McTaggart sang some background vocals on the album. 

Q. You covered John Fogarty’s A Hundred and Ten in the Shade. Why? 

A. I first heard A Hundred and Ten in the Shade on a compilation CD that my ‘feller’, James Dean put together for one of our many road trips – I loved the tune and after hearing it would always say “I have to learn that tune” then I’d forget. After a few trips and a few times hearing it I finally got it together and started playing it at my shows. People always gave me positive feedback on my performance of it and generally loved the tune so I decided that it would be a good contender for the new album. The arrangement on my new album isn’t that far off from John Fogerty’s but I thought it gave the song a different perspective to hear the lyrics sung by a female.

Q. Is there one song (or more than one) that you think sort of captures where you are at musically these days and which one is it? 

A. My song-writing varies as I am a little all over the map in my musical tastes; it’s hard to encapsulate where I’m at musically at any one time. I listen to classical music, gospel, alternative rock, jazz, blues, old country, bluegrass, pop, hip-hop, world music — pretty much the whole gamut.

All of these musical influences feed my song-writing but my songs end up somehow still having a roots and blues influence. Those genres are the ones that I’ve been performing for such a long time and musically are what are in my ‘fingers’ as a player. Thematically I’m trying to keep things on the positive as I’m able – I find the bombardment of bad news in the media and social media can really beat a person down, it’s hard to escape.

As far as a song walkthrough goes, I wrote The Golden Rule for the Acoustic Guitar Project back in the fall of November 2016.  I couldn’t believe the things I was seeing going on in politics, people behaving badly – things that if I was a kid doing them would’ve gotten the wooden spoon. So I took on the theme of The Golden Rule and wrote my first song draft for the project about a guy who was in power and a jerk, then he met someone and changed his evil ways. I was happy to have a first draft for the project, and thought it might be nice to add to the new album. However, it was a little too Disney to me to record so I wanted to try to get the lyrics to tell a deeper story and asked one of my previous co-writers, Arlene Bishop, if she’d be interested in helping me rewrite it. She came up with stronger verses and chorus using my initial draft. I still wasn’t 100 per cent about the chorus and Mark Lalama came up with a couple of tweaks and the three of us completed the song.
Gary and I tracked the song with guitar and drums; I added bass, electric guitar and lap steel and Mark added some Wurlitzer and voila.

Q. There are a lot of co-writes with folks like Matt Anderson, Arlene Bishop and others.

A. I do a lot of co-writing; I find it’s the best way for me to get songs completed. It’s face to face writing most of the time, but there are some writers that I’ve worked with that I’ve not even sat in a room with to write; I’ve just sent them a lyric/music idea and we bounce things around via email, or we’ve connected via Skype/FaceTime.  It’s often simply just a matter of saying ‘Hey do you want to write sometime?’”

Q. Tell me about those friends in Forget who inspired the title of the record?

A. The title was named after meal-time grace tradition. My friends Shannon and Don Shakotko used to run a venue in Forget, Saskatchewan, called The Happy Nun. I performed there a number of times. They’d make these incredible meals and before dinner they’d have us all hold hands as someone said grace, then at the end they’d say ‘Shake the love around’ and invite everyone to shake their hands around, kinda like the wave. I always liked how Don and Shannon created community through their meals (and their venue) and thought it’d make a fun title for the album and put a nice little positive message out there. 

Q. Thirty years as a female singer/songwriter/instrumentalist (guitar and bass) in Canada, that’s a long road. Why are you still moved to tour, perform and record?

A. Music has been a big part of my life since I was little, I always gravitated towards it, like people need to sleep, drink and eat. I didn’t have dreams of being a star. Listening to and playing music was just always something I loved to do that made me happy. I’m grateful that my parents nurtured that love.

I’ve been fulltime in the business since my early 30s and over the years I’ve worked my share of admin jobs, I was a nanny, cleaned houses and a few other things to get by. It’s not without its challenges, but I enjoy being my own boss and the flexibility the lifestyle provides. I enjoy the travel — getting to see new and old places. I meet and perform for a lot of wonderful folks when I tour. I’m blessed to get to create and perform for a living.

It may get a little trickier to manoeuvre when I get older, but I’ll figure it out as I go.  

Q. In the early 90s, you moved to Ottawa and signed on with Tony D of MonkeyJunk. What were those years like?

A. I am originally from Saskatoon and first heard Tony D at the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival performing with his group Tony D and the Wailin’ Damians. Tony moved to Saskatoon for a brief time and we connected through the Calgary-based blues musician Back Alley John, who hired Tony and I to back him up for some shows in Saskatchewan. Tony and I ended up forming a trio with Saskatoon drummer Craig Kaleal. We played together for about six months.

Tony ended up moving back to Ottawa and invited me to come to a bunch of gigs over the summer of 1991. I decided to move to Ottawa in September 1991 to continue to play music with Tony (and drummer Miche Pouliot and saxophonist Zeek Gross).  I learned so much getting to play music with Tony and had a lot of fun doing so, too. We recorded a full-length album in 1992 called Dig Deep and we toured the album across Ontario and western Canada in the early ’90s. We performed together for a couple of years then went our separate ways, but would still do the occasional show together. And we still do occasional shows together which I love.

Suzie Vinnick
Where: NAC Fourth Stage
When: April 25 at 8:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.