February 17, 2010
Andra Suchy spent her childhood on a farm near Mandan, North Dakota, the daughter of two talented singers. By the time she was in grade school, she was performing in concerts and festivals with her family. These days she sings with several groups in the Twin Cities area, including the all-girl trio The Dollys. She also works as a back-up singer and as a jingle singer on commercials for White Castle, Target, and others. More recently, she has been appearing on A Prairie Home Companion and has become a regular duet partner of Garrison Keillor. Andra's solo CD is called Patchwork Story.
Tell us a bit about Patchwork Story
Patchwork Story is my first solo recording. I feel silly saying it that waymy husband, Andrew, produced, co-engineered and, before that, was present every step of the way, including songwriting. I guess I should say "our recording" and not "my recording." I had been writing songs in other bands I had been a part of, but started saving some for my own future project. The span of time passed over a few different musical stages for me, so the songs seemed to me to fit together like a patchwork quilt. Not all the same, but still me.
How long was the process from start to finish for Patchwork Story?
Well, from the very first song written, I guess maybe five or six years. As a seed in the back of my mind? Much, much longer. Once we really got down to business … the meat of the recording and mixing took around a year.
Patchwork Story is a self-published release. What's your advice about the art of marketing and releasing a self-published recording?
I just did everything in sight that seemed like progress; no doubt I made many mistakes in that respect because I didn't know what I was doing, but I was lucky enough to be surrounded by encouraging people with a collective wealth of knowledge they were willing to share. I guess you could say I just kept doing the next step. I spent a lot of money at the post office!
Does writing songs come easily to you? What is your process for creating a song and then choosing musicians and others to help bring it to life?
I guess songwriting does come easy when I apply myself, but sometimes I get distracted and have to really sit myself down and do it. That doesn't mean they are all great songs, but staying in the practice is important. I have to remind myself to make the time and keep my ideas organized. Technology now makes it so much easier to do things like spontaneously record a song idea on my laptop or phone. I worry less about that "Oh I had it and lost it" thing. I usually start the song, and Andrew will either edit what I have or contribute to it. It is a great asset to have another brain and pair of ears. He also has a great vision for the instrumentation that we will use recording it. I think playing songs live for a while really helps me grow the song and let it tell me how to record it, but they are all different and occasionally you get that magic when a song is brand new and it just sort of falls out of you. We try not to force any instrument in there just because it would be cool, but usually add in sounds that seemed to be there in our minds.
You performed “Little Heart” on the show. Please tell us about the song.
We played "Little Heart" September 5, 2009. That is a new song and possibly the title track for the project we are working on now. That song was inspired by my grandparents' and great grandparents’ struggles and triumphs farming and raising their families in sometimes very harsh conditions, but with great amounts of courage, creativity and love. The Little Heart Creek is very close to their farm where I grew up and where my dad grew up South of Mandan, ND, and there are also references to a cemetery west of Mandan where my grandparents on my Mom's side are buried not far from where she grew up. I learned many lessons from their fortitude and strength.
What is your favorite song that you performed on "A Prairie Home Companion"?
That might be too difficult to answer. I cannot choose only one, so ... in no particular order:
You have done jingles and commercials for several national brands. Tell us about the experience.
Well, my first was when I was 18 in Bismarck for Eide Ford. I think they still play it! A year or two later, when I was living in Minneapolis, I started sending out demos like crazy but got no real response. Then I got a call from a friend who was working as a composer at a studio. From there it started to pick up quite a bit. I remember feeling really self-conscious, especially since … the jingle business can get a little nuts. I learned to lose my inhibitions and fully invest myself, even if I felt stupid doing whatever it was I was supposed to do because the companies that hire your are really only looking out for their vision of the finished product, not if you feel silly. It has given me a thick skin and most of the time I really enjoy the work and get to sing or speak in ways I wouldn't get to ordinarily. Now Andrew and I do them from our home studio for people all over the world.
You have performed on records with Soul Asylum and the Honeydogs as well as collaborated with Hookers & Blow and The Dollys. Any stories from these collaborations?
I was thrilled to get the call to sing on the Soul Asylum record. I have loved them since I was in high school in Mandan, and at that time I don't even think I knew they were a Minneapolis band! It was very surreal to be in the studio with them. I had to pinch myself! Dave [Pirner] is great to work with. Andrew and I also play in his solo band The Volunteers.
Kind of the same with the Honeydogs. I was really into their music before I knew them personally, so, again, it was one of those fluttery tummy feelings to be in the studio singing on their records.
I love singing in The Dollys because it is such a special experience to get to sing in three-part harmony with women you are so close to. You move both simultaneously as a unit and also individually. I get chills sometimes. You can't make that harmony by yourself and that is where the love is.
Tell us you favorite Prairie Home memory – either as a guest performer or a listener.
As a listener, I remember driving home with Andrew from a gig in Lutsen. It was a beautiful, sunny North Shore day, and my dad was a guest on the show. It was wonderful to get to hear him sing his songs on the radio as we drove along Lake Superior.
As a performer, I remember walking through the stage door for rehearsal on one of my first Prairie Home shows and there was Garrison on the stage going over songs with none other than EMMYLOU HARRIS! My mind couldn't believe my eyes … couldn't process the information. Then Garrison saw me and brought me over to meet her and to sing with her. She gave me a kiss on the cheek. That was beyond my comprehension factor at that moment, but some survival or emergency-light instinct took over, and I just opened my mouth and sang. It was incredible, and I will never forget it.
When we were in Nashville I rode in the car with Garrison to the venue and he turned to me and asked if I had been there before. I hadn't, and said so. He then handed me a twenty and had the car drop me off at the Country Music Hall of Fame and told me to be back in an hour. It was such a sweet gesture, and the Hall Of Fame is amazing! It added so much humility and depth to the experience of singing at the Ryman.
Tell us about the first album or cd that you purchased.
U2's The Joshua Tree because I loved (and still do) every song on the record. Heart's "Bad Animals” was right in there, too. I loved those strong woman singers.
I started buying my own records kind of late. My parents had quite a bit to keep me occupied. Of theirs I loved all the stuff by The Beach Boys, Paul Simon, Johnny Horton, Linda Ronstadt, and Carly Simon. I think I wore out the grooves on a couple of those.
What was the most recent song you listened to or purchased?
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss's Raising Sand
Are you working on any new songs or a new release?
Yes, I am! No specific dates yet, but it's rollin' now, and the end is in sight.
- Marcia Ball
- Suzy Bogguss
- Philip Brunelle
- Archive Fun: Iris DeMent
- Pat Donohue
- Pat Donohue
- Mike Dowling
- Archive Fun: Bob Dylan
- Archive Fun: Emmylou Harris
- The Hopeful Gospel Quartet
- Ledward Kaapana
- Tom Keith
- Laurie Lewis
- Patty Loveless
- Heather Masse
- Jay Ungar and Molly Mason
- Delbert McClinton
- The Nashville Bluegrass Band
- Tracy Nelson
- Mollie Obrien
- Peter Ostroushko
- Peter Ostroushko
- Paula Poundstone
- Tim Russell
- Sue Scott
- Jo Serrapera
- Ricky Skaggs
- Ralph Stanley II
- Jearlyn Steele
- Andra Suchy
- Andra Suchy
- Inga Swearingen
- Richard Thompson
- April Verch
- Rhonda Vincent
- Sara Watkins
- Archive Fun: Gillian Welch
- Robin & Linda Williams
- Robin & Linda Williams
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).