Suzi Quatro discusses Face To Face, her incredible new album and collaboration with KT Tunstall
A match made in heaven
Face To Face is the new album and a collaboration from Suzi Quatro and KT Tunstall – and it is absolutely incredible. Suzi and KT are two very distinctive artists, each with their own style, but they have come together to create an album which is as heartfelt as it is both uplifting and empowering. There is something quite simply magical about how their voices work so effortlessly together, and there is an honesty to their songwriting that creates a wholly emotive experience. It’s absolutely startling that in the year that sees Suzi’s 1973 hit Can The Can enjoy it’s 50th anniversary that she is still at the very top of her game and delivering music that continues to justify her reputation for being a pioneer and the indisputable Queen Of Rock And Roll. And it’s on a scorchingly hot day in June that he catch up with Suzi at her home in Essex in the UK. Surrounded by countless gold discs in what Suzi jokingly refers to as her ‘bragging room’, she is in high spirits, clearly – and deservedly - brimming with pride over what she has achieved with her friend KT. But how did such an inspired and ambitious collaboration all come together? We make ourselves comfortable and our conversation begins…
A light that shines so brightly...
Well the first thing I want to say is that when I heard about this collaboration, Suzi Quatro and KT Tunstall coming together to write music and to create an album, the first thing I thought is what an incredibly inspired partnership this is. Now I know that you’ve always been a fan of KT’s right from her first hit, but when did you first meet and how did this collaboration come about?
Well she was a fan of mine and I didn’t know it because I hadn’t met her. I was a fan of hers and I’ve been vocal about it a few times, ‘I like this new girl!’, and then I saw her on a rough cut of my documentary when it was in its final stages and I just thought ‘Oh, I had no idea! So she’s also a fan of mine? Okay!’. We had a mutual friend, who actually did a lot of the footage on the video for the single (Shine A Light), and he suggested that we contact each other. I thought that was a great idea. So she contacted me and asked if I would come to the studio where she was working in London and we could have lunch and I said “okay”. So we sat at the bar and we’re talking and she said something to me that really struck me. She said “I have a confession to make. In all my time in the business, whenever I’ve had to make a decision about something, I would ask myself ‘what would Suzi do?’” So this came as a surprise to me! We started to talk and she said “I’d like to move out of my comfort zone and ask if you would like to write a track with me?” And I said “Sure! I’m a big fan!”. And then it all started to be natural. She sent me Overload, which is one of the tracks on the album, and she sent me a riff. I took the riff, got my bass, worked out what I thought it should be and sent it back to her – “Here’s my input”, and she called me and said “You finished it!“. I said “I didn’t, I’m just sending back my take on it” but she said “No, no it’s perfect!”. I went “Okay!”. So then we did another one, Good Kinda Hot, and then something happened. She had me booked to be on her album with the track Overload but all this time I’m thinking ‘there’s something more here’, but I didn’t want to approach her with it, because she had come to me to ask if I wanted to write. I didn’t want to push myself down her throat, you know? So the night before this session was due to happen, she called me and cancelled, and I said “Oh, why?” and she said “Because there’s something more here” (laughs!) I told her how pleased I was that she’d said that. So we decided ‘let’s make an album’. She came to the house, that’s where it all began. She was going to spend three or four days, and we sat in the front room where I do all my writing and it just went effortlessly. We talked, we wrote, we talked, we wrote, but what you can’t manufacture - and my husband pointed it out - is the blend of the voices. Who would’ve thought that? And I never even realised it because I was too involved in making the album. I didn’t even think about how the voices blended but my husband said they’re brilliant together! So that’s a match made in heaven – we are cut from the same cloth. She’s a bit more folky than me and I’m a bit more rocky than her but we found a space between the two styles which is just great! It’s magic!
Just focussing generally on the album, Face To Face has some wonderfully acoustic driven tracks, and it has some seriously rocking tracks – and you’ve mentioned Good Kinda Hot and I absolutely love how gutsy that track is - but at the heart of this album is just the strongest of songwriting. When coming together with KT, and you mentioned your two different styles, what conversations took place around the kind of album you wanted to make?
We didn’t even speak about the kind of album. We just sat and talked and wrote, and I was pushing all the time for ‘exposure’. She backed off a little bit but then she started… and then it really started to happen! There’s a song on the album called If I Come Home and I was talking about my childhood demons – we all have them – and her childhood demons, and we got into this big subject of ‘what we carry with us’. And I said “Let’s write this song!”. She kind of didn’t want to do it but I said “Come on! This is real exposure!” and we ended up writing If I Come Home. When we got finished with the song, which I love, KT grizzled a bit. I said “What’s wrong?” and she said “I love this song and I’m really angry that you made me write it with you!” (Laughs!). And I just said “Okay, fine!”. A lot of people have commented on the honesty of that song.
I completely understand because it’s that essence of daring to be vulnerable.
You have to be! And I think she’s taking a page from my book on that because she’s a wonderful songwriter and a wonderful singer. For example, when the documentary came out, Suzi Q, and I was okaying it, there were uncomfortable moments in that documentary and I was tempted to cut them out but then I went ‘No, do not cut them out’. And they ended up being the best bits in the film. It’s the same kind of thing with songwriting where you question ‘Do I have to go there?’. Yes, go there! When you expose yourself the audience feels that. It’s been quite a mind-blowing experience. We were Skyping just the other day, myself and KT, and I asked her “How did this happen?” and she said “I don’t know!” (Laughs!). So it’s two separate people coming from slightly different angles but cut from the same cloth!
Just sticking with the album’s title, and of course the title of the second track Face To Face, the wonderful thing about this record is that, as you said, you were both in the same room at your house, sitting on the floor, talking and writing. The track Face To Face appears to be a celebration of being able to enjoy the freedoms of this post-Covid world and the simple things like being together with people, things we may have taken for granted. To what extent is that the essence of Face To Face?
Well I think certainly everyone had the same reaction after Covid, and my God did we take things for granted. I didn’t see my husband for five months because he lives in Germany and all the borders were closed. Face To Face is a title that I had for a long time and as we got close to the end, in fact it was the last song that we wrote, KT and I agreed it should be the title for the album. But I said to KT “We have to write this, like the album cover, we have to write this song and it has to be exactly how this has happened. You know, we have been uncomfortable sometimes with how honest we have been with each other. Like I said, exposure can make you feel vulnerable but we had to write this song. That was the last song: Face To Face – here we are! I challenged you and possibly damaged you – here’s my shoulder!”. We went the distance with that one and it’s one of my favourite tracks on the album. It’s got that real beautiful vibe to it, doesn’t it?
It absolutely does!
Just going back to Good Kinda Hot, it’s got funny story. After Overload, of which KT had given me the riff, I started the riff to Good Kinda Hot and she loved it. I had the chorus but I waited to do the verse - I wanted to leave it for KT and I didn’t want to finish it again! So KT wrote the verse. As we got halfway through the album, KT said “I’ve been listening to everything we’ve done and I love Good Kinda Hot but it’s too heavy, can we record it?”. So we did. Then I said to her when she went back to the States “It’s too soft” and she said “I agree”. So we did it a third time and the third time was perfect! Three run-throughs! It was a little bit too heavy before but when we were putting down the vocal for that, we were in booths facing each other, and I did my Suzi scream which I’ve done throughout my whole life, and she stopped singing. I asked her “What’s the matter?” and she asked me “How many screams do you think you do a year?” (Laughs!) We had to stop the session while we worked it out!
Let’s pick up on the first single Shine A Light, because right from the bright acoustic intro and supporting keyboards, it just creates this wonderfully uplifting mood. And the lyrics are so powerful: “So opportunity knocked on my door, I chose to let it in”. Straightaway this had such an enormous impact on me and it gave me an enormous sense of empowerment. I felt empowered and was given a sense of ‘anything is possible’. It’s actually quite profound. To what extent is this something that you were trying to achieve?
It is a profound song and it’s so profound that many times when I hear it it makes me cry. That’s because as I have fought my whole life. I have fought. And I have fought against the weakness that we talked about when we wrote it. I said “Don’t you hate it when people say you were lucky?” and KT said “Yes!”. There is that great line ‘don’t call it luck’ – and I mean it from the bottom of my soul. Okay, you have to have a luck– yes – but when you say you were lucky it implies that you didn’t have talent. That really annoys me! You’ve got to have the talent first, luck may follow. That’s how I speak – I chose to let it in. Opportunity, yes, you might get the knock on the door but you don’t open the door! You’ve got to let it in! It’s a really powerful message: ‘shine a light on me or let me be’.
Well let’s pick up on that message ‘shine a light on me or let me be’ because it just reminded me of how especially in the social media world that we live in that there are so many people who exist only to ‘try’ to knock people down. And they don’t discriminate, they will attack the most successful artists as well as those who are perhaps at the start of their careers. I just wanted to explore with you, for someone who’s been in the business as long as you have, whether it actually gets easier to cope with the negativity that can be thrown at you and the impacts of social media: is it harder to be an artist today because of how easy it is for some people to simply be not very nice people?
I think there comes a certain point in your life where you are very comfortable in your skin. I’m certainly comfortable in mine. When you’re first becoming successful you get hit with all that up-and-down up-and-down. I’m in a privileged position right now and I don’t know why this and I’m not going to question it. I’m 73 and I’m now getting the best reviews of my life - and what a bonus that is! At 73 I keep going what!? Why!? I came from a family of five so I had to find my voice. It’s an important lesson for everybody. I didn’t fit anywhere comfortably and because I didn’t fit anywhere comfortably I had to find my own niche. So once you find your voice it’s that Shine a Light again. When you find your light, switch it on and don’t let anybody switch it off! This is my motto in life. I stick to me. I don’t care if you tell me I can’t do such and such. I don’t care. I do it because it’s me. You’ve got to stick to who you are and that’s the only message I can give people. And that’s what Shine a Light is all about: be you. You can’t be somebody else’s version of you, you know? And if you do get critics, so what!? Not everybody is going to love you… but I like it if most people do! (Laughs!) I am very vulnerable as an artiste and artistes are truly sensitive. That’s just the way it is.
Can I also say how much I love the music video for Shine A Light which sees the two of you together in the studio. What really comes through is how much fun you were having, and that comes through wonderfully in the music. Right at the start of the video when you’re telling everyone that it’s your first recording session with KT we can see how excited you are and your spoken intro really bares your soul and presents a wonderfully personal moment. And then everything that unfolds in the studio just shows how much a very special collaboration this must’ve been.
It is special, and in fact when I was talking to a guy at Sun Records he said that what he particularly liked about this collaboration is that a lot of artists get together to make money. He said “You guys are friends! You see it. And you’re doing this because you want to do it”. I wanted the video to capture the closeness that we have and you can see it all the way through the video. We have a friend, he did stuff for the documentary and he is the guy that brought us together and he said to me when we were doing our first sessions “Should I come to document it?”. I asked KT what she thought and she said yes. Thank God he did! He captured the magic that we have captured together. I love the kiss at the end – that cracks me up! (Laughs!)
A song I absolutely adore is Damage. It’s got that wonderful country ‘devil at the crossroads’ feel to it, and it’s interesting that you mentioned yours and KT’s own separate styles. Where does that country influence come from?
I don’t know. I’ve always had a little bit of that in me. Mike Chapman always threatened to do a country album with me because he said my country voice is quite nice. You hear it on If You Can’t Give Me Love and Stumblin’ in, and actually Truth As My Weapon – that goes a little bit country too. I don’t know where that came from. I had a poem that I didn’t finish that was sitting on the ground and it was called Damage. KT saw it, started playing and it just became a song. That’s one of my favourite songs too because of what it says.
I also love the line in the song ‘When God made men, she was only joking’ - it’s just that real tongue-in-cheek humour. And again, this is an empowering track! But it did make me wonder to what extent it has improved for women in music. Right back in 1973 you were considered a pioneer as you paved the way for bands like The Runaways and The Go Gos. Do you think things have changed for women and do you think the industry does enough to spearhead the incredibly talented female artists that we have?
I don’t know if it’s changed enough. My take on it is that this is not an easy job and it’s gone a little bit the way I didn’t want it to go when you see a lack of clothing on a lot of female artists which I don’t particularly like. That’s because I think that they think they are in charge of their image but really they’re acting out the male fantasy. So I’d like to see it go back to something a little less ‘soft porn videos’ that they do edge towards. It’s certainly not as unusual anymore. You see a lot of female musicians now which is terrific! But I think if you’re going to pick up an instrument – I’m talking about musicians now - do it seriously. If you’re going to play, play! Don’t play at playing. Play your instrument! That’s the advice I would give any woman. There’s nothing worse for me than to pick it up and not really learn it. If you’re going to do it, do it. I am a serious bass player and I always was. I didn’t play at it, I played it. It is a little bit easier now because there are so many women around, but they always say I kicked down the door. Okay, I did, but to be honest I didn’t see the door. I just did what I did. I didn’t know it was unusual. My dad was a musician and he didn’t bring us up to think that we couldn’t do whatever we wanted to do. When you watch the documentary and I saw all the women coming up, all of them – Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, Kathy Valentine, Tina Weymouth, Donita Sparks, Lita Ford, Joan Jett – they all said the same thing, that they wouldn’t have done what they did had it not been for me doing it first. When I saw this in the documentary I was just in tears because I didn’t know I was doing that. I don’t lie about it, I had no idea what I was doing. I was just being me. It wasn’t until looking way back and seeing the documentary that I realised, yes, I guess I changed things. I guess I did, and I’ll take that to my grave and humbly say thank you!
One thing I would like to pick up on is the gorgeous production of the album. There is something so incredibly bright and fresh to the sound and there is a very live feel to this record. I actually felt that I was in the room with you which is an amazing experience. To what extent is this something that you were trying to achieve?
I can honestly say that we didn’t have any discussion about any of that. What we did was just organic. We sat on the floor and we talked and we wrote. It was as easy as that. We just let the songs speak for themselves. But when we finished Shine A Light, we were unusually on the patio and it was a sunny day. We were out there writing and we went through that big discussion about how fame doesn’t change you, it changes people around you. So we wrote this song and we put it down on our little recorder and I’ll always remember that KT went “Number one?” and I said “Yeah, number one!”. We both agreed on our favourite song. It’s just stinkingly commercial!
It was your son Richard Tuckey who served as producer. I think the first time Richard and yourself worked together professionally was on the No Control record in 2019, but it now appears that he is becoming a stable part of the Suzi Quatro team. To what extent do you think that’s a fair thing to say?
It was just fun at first. He wanted to write with me, he’s been in bands his whole life and I said “Okay, what have you got?” and he showed me some riffs that I thought I could work with. Then we went in to make some demos. We were having fun. On my on the third demo I turned to my son and the engineer and said “We’re making an album”. And they said “We are!”. All of a sudden it got serious. So we did the No Control album and it charted everywhere and we did The Devil In Me during the pandemic and that charted everywhere. He produced Uncovered, my covers EP, and he produced Face To Face. In fact, I was speaking with KT, at which point Richard had been on the first three tracks and had played on the demos, and I asked her if she wanted him to come in and she said yes. I also asked her if she wanted Richard to put some electric on bits and pieces and she said “You tell Richard to take those tracks and to do whatever he thinks is necessary and in fact I’m officially asking Richard to produce the album!”. I was so excited I tried not to be over the top. I pretended that there was somebody at the door so I could hang up and tell Richard! (Laughs!). He’s done a good job, he hasn’t overproduced it and he was very kid gloves. He listened to each track very carefully and he didn’t add what he didn’t need to add. So yes, he is part of the team and we have Butterfly Productions (www.butterflystudio84.com - Ed).
I think one incredible quality, that you have already briefly touched on, is well your voices work together, and for me particularly the amazing vocal harmonies that are there. And it’s a real partnership in the sense that we, the fans, get to hear both of your voices. As someone who is used to being the only voice how much did you enjoy sharing those vocals and singing with someone else?
It was again organic. What happened was that we had the album completed and it was time for vocals and she had to go back to the States so I suggested to her “Why don’t I do the following: why don’t I sing all the songs, send you that and then you choose what you want to sing?”. So she had all the vocals and she came back into the studio for her turn to put the vocals down. For Shine A Light, she said “I’ve studied these, that first verse, that’s yours – just because it is!” and I said “Okay”. She then said “I’ve taken this verse” and I said “Okay”. So I let her chop and choose. She was really good at deciding who owned a particular part of the song. That was a good way to do it and I saw where she was coming from. And yes, the opening verse is my verse and the second verse is her verse. It just worked! We did a lot of stuff together where we added the harmonies but it just fell into place. I love her voice, she loves my voice and we respect each other as artists and people.
This amazing and magical collaboration has resulted in the album Face To Face and just the most incredible music. Of course, it all comes down to scheduling and a whole host of other things but how much would you like to actually perform some shows with KT, and how realistic a proposition is that?
Well, if this album does what I think it’s going to do of course they’re going to want us to do some gigs together. We will approach that when we come to it. We’re not against that at all and it would be terrific! In fact, she has played an acoustic version of Shine A Light on stage already and I’m now adding it to my shows where I will be doing the full band version. It’s feasible and I think we probably will do something together. That would be great! To do a gig with all those songs? Oh my God! It would be brilliant!
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an absolutely stunning album Face To Face really is. The strength of the songwriting is simply incredible, and the life and vibrancy that exists within this record does so as a result of friendship, respect, passion as well as an honesty that results from Suzi and KT daring to be vulnerable and baring their souls. Their voices work together exquisitely and it is with the highest of recommendations that we invite you grab a copy and experience this wonderful album for yourself. To find out more, and to secure tickets for Suzi’s November UK tour, head over to www.suziquatro.com. In the meantime, enjoy the video to Shine A Light below.