Interview with Austrian singer and painter Susanne Plahl - imparts freedom and gives room to show her emotion

"My hopes are that people finally detect that music is something which is worth to be honored and expressed in money and that music industry realizes that it cannot stick to a few old stars and completely let the rest die out."

Susanne Plahl: The Lightning Colours

Susanne Plahl was born in Vienna, Austria and started singing as a child and sang so loud that her neighbor’s two flights below them heard it and told her mother about it. Since she considered this as utter compliment Susanne was very proud of herself.  It was a game for to sing descant the main voice or another harmony along with tapes of the Beatles, The Who, Stones, Led Zeppelin or Janis Joplin. She grew up singing harmonies. One day found an ad of a band looking for a singer and since that very time, she live her life as an active singer on stage. Very soon a friend showed her “external living room” of all Blues musicians and aficionados in Vienna, the legendary “Papas Tapas”. This is the way Susanne stepped into the world of Blues and fell in love with this genre. Back then she started playing the Blues-harp and attended innumerous Blues concerts and thus got to know just as many Blues musicians. Very soon found herself on stage singing the Blues. It didn’t take long that she received engagements. Soon Susanne was surrounded by outstanding musicians as front woman and supported stars like Eric Burdon, Colosseum, Spencer Davis, Little Feet, Chicken Shack, Rare Earth, Mick Taylor, Mother's Finest, Molly Hatchet and Alvin Lee.

Blues imparts freedom for interpretation of a song, it gives much room to show emotion and expression, this is something she realized immediately. It’s THE perfect place for her as singer who loves showing passion and devotion in songs and therefore Blues will never ever loose it’s attraction to herself. Susanne Plahl continues her way of presenting her own songs on new album “COLOURS” (2015) with a diverse range of compositions in different genres emanating from blues and returning to it. And with the new line up of The Lightning Rod -and guest- she has found a great band to bring out the best in this album: Stephan Kutscher on guitar & voc, Constanze Höffinger on bass & voc, Christoph Kögler on keys & voc, Reinhard Höbart on drums and Susanne on the main vocals and harp. In the blues world, the song follows a different pattern (it is reduced to fewer notes) and rounds up the entire picture of this colourful album.              Photos © by Johannes Wahl 

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Blues for me is describing situations in life in a very expressive, outgoing and pure way. Honesty is an important feature in life and especially in that kind of music. Probably that is why I like it that much. I learned the Blues appears to be very simple and thus is sometimes under-estimated by musicians. Simple things turn out to be surprisingly difficult. For me it turned out technique is not more important than the right feeling towards this music.

How do you describe Susanne Plahl sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I think what describes us the most is versatile and authentical. My philosophy is music has to move at least one part of your body. Either your heart, your legs or your brain should be moved. If not, what kind of music are you listening to.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Well, it was not that important but very interesting and heartwarming. I cannot remember which band it was who I once supported with my band, anyway they were quite famous and after decades of routine they still were all exited back stage before their performance.

"I think what describes us the most is versatile and authentical. My philosophy is music has to move at least one part of your body. Either your heart, your legs or your brain should be moved. If not, what kind of music are you listening to." (Photo © by Johannes Wahl) 

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future?

There is little room to invent something new. Pioneers back then had so much more freedom to explore and found new styles. What you originate might already exist and don't you dare to take a short glance into the internet. That's why I avoid checking if for instance a title already exists as you can bet it does. You cannot throw away each idea for a song or the title for it because there is already existing a song with that name. My hopes are that people finally detect that music is something which is worth to be honored and expressed in money and that music industry realizes that it cannot stick to a few old stars and completely let the rest die out.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Radio stations would be far more versatile and open-minded than they are now. They would have the nerve to explore and educate themselves and their listeners. They would dig into the world of music and find every day something new what they would broadcast. It would be lively and interesting. The excuse that people don't like to listen to things they don't know is cheap as radio stations build peoples mind with what they are playing. It's under their control what people want to hear and I think they should be 100 percent more responsible than they are now.

What are the lines that connect the Blues from US & UK to Susanne Plahl music?

I can only talk about my personal crossing lines. When I was a kid I grew up with the Beatles, the Who which led to John Mayall, Eric Clapton and the British Blues. Then I started to go to innumerous local Blues gigs, listened to those magnificent local musicians and grew into it. The taught me about the roots and I learned more and more about the US scene. For me there is no pro and contra, I like both as always I like the mixture the most.

"Blues for me is describing situations in life in a very expressive, outgoing and pure way. Honesty is an important feature in life and especially in that kind of music." (Photo © by Johannes Wahl) 

Make an account of the case of local (Austrian) blues scene. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

When I was young the entire Viennese Blues scene was approximately in my age, when I started to attend concerts. Maybe +5 or 10 years older sometimes. Thanks the to first local live Blues band I listened to I stuck to the Blues and right now while I'm putting this ‘into words I realize it must have been fate as the bands name was "Hooked on Blues". They are still existing. I saw them in a pub called "Papas Tapas". It was sometimes nicknamed as the extended living room of the Blues scene as it wasn't that big, but really convenient and we loved it. I was really comfortable and whenever you felt like listening to some good Blues music it was almost guarantueed you would find it there. It was popular and existed for a long time and then all of a sudden it closed and for a while it felt like the Blues diaspora in Vienna. Nearby there is an even smaller pub called "Louisiana Blues Pub" and on Wednesdays they have a Blues jam session there. I can state those sessions can be really fruitful and I found the musicians of The Lightning Rod in those sessions. A friend went with me to a band called Mojo Blues Band in the Metropol about 25 years ago. I was impressed. They were famous then and they still are - I think they have been existing 30 freaking years altogether now. Mostly, when people don't have a clue about Blues music they have at least come across that very bands name. I bought two LP's from them which I still can call my own.

Since 10 years we have the Vienna Blues Spring festival taking place mostly in the "Reigen". In the first years the festival was sometimes lacking of audience which was such a shame as there were always great international and Austrian musicians playing. But the organizers were persistent and didn't give up. It attracted more and more people each year and have become really popular in the past years. It takes place for 5 weeks and if you suffer from endless hunger for Blues you are well off if you come to Vienna in April. There's another traditional location called Jazzland and unlike it's name you can also listen to Blues bands unless it's going into rocky style it's also situated in the center of Vienna. And if you go the South of Austria there are a few other locations for example the Bluegarage and I have the feeling the more you're heading west in Austria the less you will be able to listen to Blues bands. The local scene nowadays is vivid and alive and some of the musicians I met 25 years ago have meanwhile become wizards on their instruments. Nowadays, there are a few young Blues musicians and I feel so rewarded that three of them are in my band.

But when looking back and comparing the scene then and now, I have to say we need definately more young Bluesers. Interestingly enough I think the Blues scene no matter if young or not so young any more believes in CD's. If you want to produce your songs it's of course available on the internet, but a CD is real and comes across as professional and official. And if you want to have it extra official go for an LP if it wasn't a financial question as we're experiencing a vintage hype here and LP's are included. Of course, mp3's are so handy when you for instance want to send your music to someone quickly. But how satisfying is it when you send a friend for his birthday 13 mp3s along with an email or via dropbox instead of a CD wrapped up nicely? I can remember after a long stay in the US and Australia I came back and one of the first things I did is I attended a great Austrian Blues concert. And while they were playing like hell I felt in heaven (I should use this sentence for a song and told myself that I definitely don't need to go to other places if it comes down to the high quality quite a few musicians display here.

"I learned the Blues appears to be very simple and thus is sometimes under-estimated by musicians. Simple things turn out to be surprisingly difficult." (Ray Charles, Artwork by Susanne Plahl)

You are also a painter - would you tell a little bit about your artwork?

It is the magic moments of the expressions of musicians when they're so much in the presence while they're performing what I like to capture.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in Blues?

Well, of course I don't really know what the difference is, as I never experienced it from the male side, but I did sometimes have the feeling that if I were a man more things I stated and brought into bands would have been taken serious from the first place. What still irritates me but this is not restricted to Blues a man can afford to look ugly and still is admired when he knows how to play his instrument which should count anyway. A woman is always being judged on her looks at the same time, "even" if she plays and sings brilliant.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Woodstock. Not totally Blues but impressive.

Susanne Plahl - Official website

The Lightning Rod / Photo © by Johannes Wahl 

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