Suzi Analogue Talks Production Process, Her Label and Using Drums to Tell a Story
Maya Simone Shipman has been putting out tracks under the name Suzi Analogue since 2009. Typically output via her own label, Never Normal Records, her music is a sleek blend of funk, hip-hop and breaks. After the release of NNXTAPE, her third solo effort, Shipman's career skyrocketed, earning gigs around the world, a sponsorship with MOOG and a teaching gig at Yale University.
Born in Baltimore but now based in New York, we caught up with the DJ-producer-vocalist ahead of her audio-visual beat tape release ZONEZ V.3 later this week. Listen to exclusive track 'GameChange' featuring NappyNappa here.
++Download Suzi Analogue's free Outro sample pack here.
We figure it’s fair to assume you’re a hardware head. What are some of your favourite pieces to jam with?
I'm a gadget girl, I've always liked portable music electronics ever since I was young. Currently some of my most enjoyed pieces are Critter & Guittari's Organelle, a synth, sampler, and FX pedal all in one. Also Ableton Push 2, Moog Mother-32 and the Teenage Engineering OP-1—it's small enough to fit in a purse, but the sound is huge.
Your tracks are typically very drum-focused. What’s your approach to programming drums?
I have various approaches with programming drums, but I use drums to tell a story in a song with the way I bring them in, cut them out, and layer them with other percussion. The drums are used to build, but sometimes used to calm the moment. I use different tones of drums, as well as drum sounds from various worldwide cultures because I believe the communication of the drum can create unity in our world.
In 2013 you launched the label Never Normal Records. What advice would you give to people looking to start their own imprint?
My advice to people starting their own label is to find and release music you believe in, work at helping artists everyday and create your own rules. Don't worry about competition because there's room for so much special music in the game.
What informed your decision to specifically release cassettes and MP3s?
Cassette was the first format of music I ever consumed and recorded onto as a kid starting age eight, so I have a personal connection to cassette that will never go away. Cassettes are also very important in terms of diversifying music playback options. It was the very first form of portable music, and first form of customizable recording—tapes gave people the chance to make playlists, share music, and have more control over their own music choices. MP3s kind of had the same effect once they took off in the digital world. Both formats of music changed the landscape of how the world socializes with music, and I appreciate that.
You’ve collaborated frequently with Teklife affiliate DJ EARL, and over the last few years there has been more footwork influence in your music. What got you into footwork?
I grew up as a kid listening to music like baltimore club on a regular basis. When I was a teen, I started hearing different edits of classics that I grew up with and that's how I became aware of footwork, or really juke at the time, which is party music more similar to what I had grown up with. There is a bigger story there about regional club music from cities all over the country, my own culture and how that all influences my sound a lot.
"Find and release music you believe in, work at helping artists everyday and create your own rules."
The stylistic cues of once closed-off underground dance genres—like UK garage, baltimore club, dubstep and now even grime are being used in a lot of modern pop production. Do you think footwork will have a pop crossover moment?
There are a lot of producers who not only make footwork but are very inspired by it so it's inevitable. You can even see Chance The Rapper, who is from the same area of Southside Chicago as many footwork producers, using the sound in his recent recordings. The polyrhythms of footwork music are really natural to the ear, so I think the world will take to it, but it will take brave artists not afraid of going next level to really push the potential.
A few years ago, you went to Uganda to teach youth about beat-making. How did music fit into your life growing up, and what role can it play in young people's lives?
Music has always been the thing that I tap into that helps me understand the world the most. As a kid, making music was making sense of the thoughts in my head, and those that were around me. For young people, it can do so much - even promote peace and understanding in more politically dangerous places by bringing people together. On another note, music and creating music can help youth visualize math and science which are areas that kids struggle with—I even struggled with math as a kid, but now as an adult and music producer I realized that it wasn't the math concepts that stumped me it was the way it was delivered to me so literally. With music you can see numbers, count, hear fractions, and then experiment with tones and frequencies making it scientific by nature. The reality of encouraging youth to compose their own music could not just inspire kids to be creative, but to become the next wave of open-minded engineers and scientists we need to go into the future.
"I use drums to tell a story in a song with the way I bring them in, cut them out, and layer them with other percussion."
What are you listening to these days? What music or scenes are keeping you excited?
Lately I listen to anything coming from the Never Normal SoundSystem, a collective of super diverse musicians from around the globe that I believe in greatly. Some are featured on my upcoming ZONEZ V.3 project. It also really excites me to find older rare recordings, like old 45s. Some forgotten music can be the best thing to find and connect with.
What’s next in terms of releases - the label - new projects?
Next up is my ZONEZ V.3 AudioVisual Moodboard that drops May 5th via Never Normal. I am super excited to bring a new collection of instrumentals and to feature a few friends too. Then there are exciting drops coming throughout the rest of the year from some new names, and a few you have heard before too. It will all be very special, collectible releases, and very Never Normal.
Download Suzi Analogue's free Outro sample pack here.
Watch an exclusive video clip for 'GameChange' off of ZONEZ V.3: