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MP3 Susie Hug - A Is For Album

Acoustic melodic pop-rock from ex-Katydids singer/songwriter, produced by Fran Healy, with Travis in backing band.

11 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Acoustic, POP: with Live-band Production

PRE-HALLOWEEN GIG - After a week co-producing [with Adam Seymour] some Rie Fu songs in London, Susie Hug & Rie Fu will both play short acoustic sets - Oct. 30th on VivaDiva Night at https://www.tradebit.com



The Travis messageboard is a busy place. Fans share gossip they''ve heard about the band''s new, or last, records; discuss the advisability of in-studio webcams; compare lists of Top Ten shows; rubbish rumours, start new ones, laugh at this or that haircut or style faux-pas.
Very often, they talk about songs. Which ones are best live, are easiest to sing when you''re drunk, make you cry/smile/sick. Which of the umpteen songs that have poured from (usually) Fran Healy is the best overlooked gem. Here we''re talking b-sides - the place where good bands put interesting covers, or new versions of old songs, or stray numbers that there just wasn''t room for on the album.
Two songs crop up a lot: ''Unbelievers'', which was on the single ''Happy'', and ''Reason'', which was on CD2 of ''More Than Us''. Travis fans love those songs. They''re magic. But Travis didn''t write them. Susie Hug did. And now they''re coming out in their own right, on her album. About bloody time.
Susie Hug is a Japanese-American, born in Tokyo, raised in San Diego, who has lived in the UK for quite a while. She used to be in a band called the Katydids, who released two albums on Warners in the early Nineties. Back then she also wrote and played with The Blue Aeroplanes and Mighty Lemon Drops. A film school graduate, she has directed videos, including one for ''Hysteria Undbound'', the debut single from the late lamented Strangelove. She released an EP, ''Papayas'' on a Hawaiian label, White Termite Records (still available on the internet via Candy Ear). ''It sounds like a demo. I was going through my Guided By Voices phase, minute-and-a-half songs,'' she explains. She''s sung on an album by ex-Pop Group person CC Sager, that has come out on cult Glasgow indie label Creeping Bent. She''s worked with Japanese singer/songwriter Rie Fu and Californian singer/songwriter Lily Wilson, recording tracks at the Chateau Marmont.
But ''A Is For Album'' is her first solo record. It has been produced by Fran Healy, and features all of Travis as the backing band. It is to be released on Hug''s own label, BowArrowRecords. To be totally honest, Healy has also paid for the recording. Susie Hug can pay him back as and when. Doesn''t really matter. What mattered was getting those songs out there.
''When I first heard her music it made the hairs on my arms stand up,'' says Healy. ''I don''t know what the hell in a song makes that happen, but it did. That''s why we covered her songs, and that''s why I wanted to go into the studio with her.'' Pushed as to what it might be in her songwriting that affects Healy so, Hug reluctantly comes up with: ''I like my songs to have phrasing, and rhymes, and sound good, and have them twist and turn.
I''m quite private, so I don''t even allow myself to understand what they''re about.'' She appreciates that that sounds a bit pretentious.

Hug met Healy through her husband, Adam Seymour. It was the 1996, and Travis had relocated from Glasgow to London. When not playing with The Pretenders, Adam does a bit of production for young bands. Having been introduced by Travis''s newly-found AandR man, Healy went over to their house to work on some demos for what would be the first Travis album. Adam gave Healy some of his wife''s music, and Healy was smitten. ''I didn''t really have any ambition to do anything with the songs,'' Hug admits. She enjoyed writing songs but that was about it. But Healy''s enthusiasm was unstoppable.
''Her demos were too scratchy,'' Healy remembers. ''Four-track and lo-fi and brilliant but they''d never get played on a radio in a million years. Something at the core of the songs was so brilliant, it was crying out for something a bit more hi-fi.''
After covering two of her songs, Healy announced he wanted to make an album with her. Hug was reticent. Why? What was the catch? He''d never even produced a record before. What if he ballsed it up? But eventually she was minded to trust him. After all, the first Katydids album had been produced by Nick Lowe - being produced by other singer/songwriters, by people who had a personal understanding of voices (and what voices did), and songs (and how songs got here), must surely be a good person in whom to entrust recording, no?
In August 2000, not long after their now-legendary appearance at that year''s V festival, Travis had two weeks off. It was their first break in, like, two years. They opted to spend their holiday in the studio making Hug''s record. Everyone trooped into Rak Studios. They made a virtue of the economy of time and money. Songs were laid down largely live, with minimal pre-recording faffing and discussion. Occasionally Healy got the collywobbles - what did he think he was playing at? He was a singer, and a songwriter, not a producer. Luckily, Nigel Godrich - who had worked on the band''s ''The Man Who'' - was in the studio next door, making The Divine Comedy''s ''Regeneration''. Whenever Healy burst in, going, ''what do I do, what do I do?'', Godrich would steady his nerves. ''Just move ahead,'' said the man who''d survived the making of Kid A and Amnesiac, ''don''t move back or stop, always keep moving ahead'' So they did. In ten days they got it down. And then Travis went back to the dayjobs. And got stuck there. For over two years Susie Hug''s album was recorded but unmixed.
Fran Healy pleaded with her to trust him, and wait for him. So she did. Mind you, she did crack at one point a couple of years ago. She travelled to LA to have a go at mixing the songs with someone else. Those mixes didn''t work out, although she did get to meet George Lazenby - one of the engineers was renting the Hollywood home of the one-time James Bond.
Finally, in 2003, Healy had time to sit down with Hug and mix ''A Is For Album''. In the interim, his experience producing her album had sufficiently emboldened him to produce the fourth Travis album. But that''s a story for another day. Today is Susie Hug''s day.
''A Is For Album'' is brimful with sparking songs. ''Amazed'' is the last one that made the cut. Hug: ''It''s supposed to be a bit psychedelic, leaning towards San Francisco. My songs can be sweet-sounding but this is edgier. I always want to play rock''n''roll, so maybe this is a little less poppy. It''s about being confused by women. Guys have said that this song really summed up their relationship. They''ve reacted emotionally to it.''

The rolling, loping ''Animal Friends'' is a favourite of Travis''s manager. ''It sounds like a cute song, but I think it''s a bit sleazy too. There''s a dark side to it. If the melody has too much sweetness, I like to cut it somehow with a dark edge. Then again, you could just see it as a song about being an animal lover.''
''Fable'' features Healy on backing vocals. ''It''s about jealousy. Fran and I sang that at our AandR man''s wedding (Hug is now signed to Sony Music Publishing). I wasn''t sure if it was appropriate, but even after I''d explained the jist of the song to the couple, they still wanted us to play it. They both have a good sense of humour. There''s a bit of an old Japanese nursery rhyme in there. I''d heard this melody when I was a kid and it just came back to me when I was doing the song. My mum thought that was a bit freaky that I''d remembered it.''
''Green To Gold'' is a beautiful, stately song that offers plenty of room for Hug''s bell-clear voice to ring out. ''It was written in the run-up to the millennium. I dreamt that one. No, really. I had read the story about McCartney and ''Yesterday'' and blah blah blah, and so I was a bit sceptical. But it''s true, the words just came out. Maybe in ten years time I''ll understand where it came from.''
It will, however, only take the casual listener roughly three-and-a-half minutes to understand that Susie Hug is a brilliant songwriter.
''She''s one of those folk who just shines a bit brighter,'' considers Healy. ''Her stuff makes me cry. She''s the real thing. She''s always done this, and she''s just kept doing it, writing and writing and writing. And she''s got tonnes of great songs - still unrecorded. It was a total privilege to work with her.''
And if he''s really lucky, one day she''ll cover one of his songs.

-Craig McLean, April 2004

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