A self-described “glamorous girl next door,” singer-songwriter Suai (Flash, Dec/Jan ’09) is prepping her as-yet-untitled Universal Motown debut to unveil “The Perfect Girl.” “It’s [a song] about how I’m presented in this very retouched way,” says the artist. “People see that and think, ‘She’s got it together.’ But actually love is missing, and that would make me perfect.” Here Suai talks about how much is too much, the song that makes her cry and the proper way to make a Starbucks caramel macchiato.
GIANT: How did you get started with music?
My mom’s a musician and a singer-songwriter. So she pretty much gave me a gentle nudging toward it straight out of the womb. I wanted to learn to play piano at seven. I started writing my own songs at fourteen.
What was it about?
It was about a boy [laughs] just like all my songs. It was a song talking about how guys misperceive me and how I want them to perceive me and what I needed them to be. My friends liked it and my mom did, too.
How did you transition to becoming a performer?
I sang for the first time in my elementary school auditorium. It only had two hundred and fifty seats, but it felt like a stadium. That was my very first time performing in front of people. Over the years, I went through teenagerisms, and I wanted to be a doctor, a child psychologist, a pediatrician. I wanted to do all these different things, and I even had my fifteen-year plan. I thought I was gonna go to the University of Michigan and apply to state medical school. None of that happened. I got more and more into the performing arts. I was in plays. I was in band. I danced a little, and music just felt right.
Talk about your record.
It is done all the way, kind of. It’s been done all the way a few times before. I signed in ’05, and we’ve been recording since then. The direction has changed a few times. We’ve cut so many good songs that just won’t make the album. It’s a tug of war between me and the label. Things that I really want to be on there aren’t on there, and things that I kinda don’t want to be on there are on there. It’s a very solid effort on my behalf. They say that this is the hardest album to make because this is your first one, and it’s your entire life leading up to now. So when I was signed, I was nineteen. I was just this emotional teenager getting out of high school, becoming a voting adult. So the songs were very emotional. Now, I’ve turned twenty-one, and I wanna just have fun, so the songs have kind of gone on that road with me.
I know, right? I thought about that. Is that a bad thing?
Makes my job a bit easier. Do you approach your songwriting the same way?
Yeah. You know, I’ve never tried to write from anybody else’s perspective but mine. The times that I have been most honest are the songs that people love.
What would be an example of that?
“The Perfect Girl.” It’s my favorite song on the album. And it’s my most sincere song that I’ve ever written. I was even afraid to submit it to the label for the album because I’m like, “Alright, if this song goes out and gets on the album, everybody is going to see me for exactly what I am.” Which is not bad. But I’m exposing myself….I cry sometimes when I practice it at home.
Is there any part of you that you want to close off?
Yes, there is. I think that’s why I am the way I am now. Growing up in Detroit, seeing things and experiencing things both outside and inside my home, a lot of artists do talk about those struggles that they went through as a kid-what they had to do to get where they are now. I don’t know why, but I just made a conscious effort not to talk about those things. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it. Not at all. It’s made me who I am, but I’d rather not focus on it and just be the Suai that I am now and that I’m going to be.
You also worked at Starbucks, right?
Yes. Hallelujah! That’s a company very near and dear to my heart. It’s funny because people think that I worked there before all of this. But I actually was hired at Starbucks after I’d gotten my deal, probably about eight months after I got a recording deal. I was at home every day. We weren’t continuously recording, so I’d have a month or two off where I’d just spend my advance online, shopping. Boxes and boxes would be coming to the house. I was spending more than I was taking in. I got the job because I was just bored sitting at home.
What’s the best drink you can make?
Oh, man. I used to like to make a caramel macchiato–the correct way! I’ve had some co-workers–and I won’t name their names–but they insisted on not making it the right way. They were basically making caramel lattes. I was like, “Come on, guys. We got to make this standard. We’ve got to make caramel macchiatos.” You put in your caramel syrup and then your steamed milk and then your shots on the top with a half-inch of foam. They were putting the shots in the bottom of the cup and then pouring the milk in. That’s a caramel latte. These people want their shots dumped in the top. I don’t know if it changes their equilibrium. I don’t know what it does. But I want to do it right for them because it’s $4.35 for a grande.
If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
Jumping, like the movie Jumper. I’m always running late. Always. I don’t care if I wake up on time, I’ll still just do something to where I’m always five to fifteen minutes late. If I could jump places like the movie… It’s the driving to the place that makes me late. I don’t like driving. I’m so over it now that I’m twenty-two. If I could jump, that’d be dope. I’d jump to vacation spots. I’d jump to rehearsals. I’d jump to my bed.