The Miami-based songwriter, producer, and fashionista known as Suzi Analogue lives with synesthesia, a neurological condition that causes one sensory pathway (i.e., hearing) to influence another (vision). In her case, music and visual expression are one and the same. That explains why she gravitates to such innovative pieces of studio equipment, such as Critter & Guitari's ETC video synthesizer, which turns audio input into live visuals, as well as other uniquely responsive gadgets like the StudioFeed SUBPAC – a vest powered with subwoofers. True to her stage name, she's harbored a lifelong obsession with samplers, synthesizers, and drum machines – all analog, of course – and anything else with knobs she can tweak. She also has a history of speaking out on the working conditions of women in the male-dominated music industry, and uses her position as a successful touring DJ to help young women of color develop the skills necessary to succeed in the studio.
How did your lifelong obsession with music hardware begin?
My mom had a record player that was all-in-one. I was fascinated with the fact that it could play a record, a cassette, and the radio. I was obsessed with playing music, as in the different machines you could play music on – the boomboxes, the home stereo systems, the Walkmans, the CD players. When I was nine or 10 and I had to go the mall, because they had all the new releases. I had a karaoke machine that had two decks, so I was making my own karaoke mixtapes and experimenting with dubbing tapes on blank cassettes. I actually still have the machine; I'm looking at it right now. I could input a microphone and I could sing over an instrumental [piece]. In this process of becoming obsessed with technology, I found out I had a knack for communicating with it. If there was something wrong, I was able to maneuver it. I was never taught electronics as a kid, but I've always had a strong sense of communicating with electronics. Simultaneously, I was getting things to fuel my interest, like a Casio keyboard with all these wacky sounds. I grew to love the sound, the aesthetic of it, and I went down a rabbit hole from there.
I think young musicianship is often interesting, from a gear perspective, because kids are really good at making do with the best available instruments and equipment.
Yard sales were big, growing up. My mom would take me thrifting on the weekend. I came by the Casio at a yard sale and became obsessed with it, like I was already obsessed with the karaoke machine. I had never been to a music studio, but I grew up doing choir so I knew the importance of recorded music. I listened to a lot of gospel music. In the '90s, it was a big deal to have your church choir recorded on a CD.
I assume you eventually moved on to messing around with DAWs on your PC?
Yes. Personal computers were really expensive at the time. Eventually my mom got me my own personal computer. I made a lot of music pen pals from chat rooms, and I had software like Cakewalk, [Magix] Sound Forge, and GoldWave. Those were the first DAWs that I worked on, but I was still experimenting. I couldn't figure out how to get my audio from my keyboard and digitize it. It was so early on that it was a luxury to digitize audio. It wasn't until the era of the laptop that I was able to figure it out. I got a Mac at the end of high school, and that's when I was able to put it all together. I wanted to use a certain kind of mic, and I wanted to use pedals. I wanted the more analog ways of making sound, but I wanted to also digitize it. It's taken two decades, but I'm finally where I can say, "Cool, this is what I was after." I'm using synthesizers and recording digital – I've wanted to do this since I was a kid, but I finally have the tools now.
Do you value the tactile experience of tweaking knobs on a synthesizer and playing a keyboard rather than working strictly with software?
Yeah, that's important to me. I grew up performing live music through gospel choir and both my parents loved jazz. I grew up with "jazz musicians are the best musicians in the world"-type parents. I'm half a computer kid and half straight analog, because with my parent's generation I saw that hands-on musicianship. I realized I was obsessed with electronic sounds, sounds powered by synthesizers. When I was in church I would lose interest in the piano after a while, because you can't do anything with it. From the Casio, I knew there was the option to manipulate sound further, based on electronic communication. Having that awareness is what inspires me. Synthesizers naturally speak to me, because I'm not limited to an acoustic existence.
What do you love about synthesizers? Is it those crazy noises that don't stay between the lines – the messy sounds?
They're never the same twice. If you record a synthesizer, you can't really get it like that again. It's all about time and space. That's what I love about it. It keeps everything fresh and fun.
You're sponsored by some awesome companies, like Moog Music, Teenage Engineering, and the DJ software company Serato. What are some of your favorite machines right now?
I've got the new Moog DFAM [Drummer From Another Mother]. That's been really fun! It's a synth that's more percussion. I guess you could call it a drum machine, but it's modeled as a synth. And I have the Moog Mother-32; I can patch the DFAM into the Mother. That's a whole loopy experience. I've also been using the [TC Helicon] Ditto Mic Looper. You press it, it loops, and you choose the level. I love the idea of repeating patterns. I'm always experimenting with how I can make a sound last longer; maybe that comes from my frustration with pianos being so limiting. I use a video synth from Critter & Guitari. Sometimes, when I'm playing, I'll run the audio to the synth. I have synesthesia, so it helps me when I'm making music. I like the black and white one because I already see all these colors and such, so the black and white one helps me focus on the movement of the sound. I hook it up to my television, or sometimes I use a projector in my studio. Other than that, I have the ROLI Seaboard Block [soft, pressure-responsive keyboard controller]. It's not necessarily a synthesizer, but the tactility is very futuristic – it has five dimensions of touch, so you can slide, strike, or tap it. Of course, I have the [Teenage Engineering] OP-1. That's my buddy; it's my go-to when I'm on the road and I can only fit one piece of additional equipment. I'll take the OP-1 because the battery is pretty strong and it powers up easily. It acts as a MIDI controller, as well as a synth. Another thing that helps me in the studio is running all of my music through SUBPACs. When I have someone with me, they'll wear one too so we can feel the beat of what we're playing. It makes me happy, because when I was a kid I was always like, "How do I make this more real?" Now I have all these devices to help me see the sound, and I can feel the sound very humanly. My controllers respond to me.
What's your studio setup like?
My studio is in my house in Miami Beach. It's the first time I've had a designated, separate space for a studio. In every house I've lived in, I've tried to work it into another room or corner space somewhere. I feel like I'm just getting started. I just flew into San Francisco and visited a studio called Tiny Telephone [Tape Op #10], and the engineer there, Maryam [Qudus] – she works with tUnE-yArDs [#88] – she and her partner have a home studio. I asked her how long it took to get her studio like that, and she said it took about four years. I'm only entering year two of having my studio, and I'm still figuring so much out, but I'm happy about the pieces I have now. I use them all. I really try to take my time to make sure I like what I have; I don't want to have anything sitting there. I don't want to be a wasteful creator and hoard gear I don't use. I'll give it to the next person who might want it. But I'm still looking to get a few more pieces to round out my studio experiment.
What musical projects are you working on?
I just finished up a bunch of remixes and I'm working on finishing a film score. I've been working on it throughout the year, but I've touring and performing around the world, so I'm hoping I'll have time to sit down and actually finish it. I love working on the road, but I prefer to finish everything in the studio. I'm hoping it works out with the timing. I also [recently] got some music into a video game for the first time.
You've spoken in the past about how women in the studio are encouraged to be involved vocally, but not on the engineering and production. Messing with recording equipment and the techy side of music production has historically been a boys-only club. How does it feel to crash the party?
It feels good, because I know my stuff. I've taken my time to learn about the greats, as well as the different recording processes. It feels like I'm naturally on my life path. But then I come to find out it's a boy's club. It's an issue, but in my own collective, Never Normal Soundsystem, we have four women composers, producers, and writers. These are people I've mentored who are working on their emerging artistry. I know it's a great time for change to occur. I'm also working with my collective, (F)empower, down here in Miami. We want to create a workshop in inner-city schools for young girls of color to learn how to produce. I've worked with similar programs in New York, but I think Miami's ready to have a moment like that because I've seen a slight uptick in women DJing here. How are these girls going to tell their stories? That's what I do – I tell my story. These girls are going to be able to access the skills they need to tell their stories with recorded music. I'm seeing this happen from all angles – from the overground to the underground – and I know that in the decades to come there is going to be better representation, at least at the basic level of women being able to tell their stories through music. If they have the technical skills to do that, even better. To me, that's what's important. I didn't want to make music because guys were doing it; I wanted to make music so I could do it whenever I needed to. I want young girls to feel like that as well – if they need to hit record, they can hit record and get it all out.