When you’re stationed in front of your computer for hours on end, even the slightest break of routine is something to look forward to. At least this was how it was supposed to work out: having a pleasurable , Wednesday-afternoon conversation with Sue Scrofa frontwoman Alyssa Crisswell at a local North Hollywood coffee shop she had suggested was just what I needed to escape from the mind-numbing, everyday task of plugging computer chargers and going through copious amounts of press releases. But as fate would have it, my body decided to get a cold. Thus, I had no other choice but to conduct it as a telephone interview.
As I explained my discontent to Crisswell, she was kind in understanding the sudden change of setting. So as I proceeded to rearrange my notes with the purpose of turning it into that of a typical Q & A, the conversation instantly turned candid. She excuses herself and says, “Oh wait. My cat is drinking my leftover smoothie”. As I thought about how that can logistically happen – if a smoothie is inside a sealed cup – I proceeded to ask her about the cat motif present in their sophomore release White Cat. “I have two cats. I’m a crazy cat lady – although, some people think that the name of the band has to do with cats – but it actually means pig in latin.”
I’ve never been one to appreciate the feline species, let alone understand the bond betweens humans and cats. But as she explained, I instantly found a deeper and more significant emotion behind her words. “I didn’t have any brothers and sisters growing up. I just had a cat.”, she reassures. It all correlates to the high value Alyssa gives to the concept of family, so much so that they were actually part of the recording process early on. “The first album [Alabamulance] was recorded by myself using a Tascam eight track stereo tape player, and my parents actually play on that record”, she says. “The artwork in our latest release was actually painted by my dad”.
Sue Scrofa was conceived with modest intentions in rural Birmingham, Alabama. It began as a vehicle for Crisswell's solo songwriting exploits. But like that of a drifting soul, the project has evolved through ongoing stages...and different settings. It can all be attributed to Alyssa’s unwearying work ethic and persistence. “I’ve been doing the project for a long time, and it has spanned to three different cities", she says. "It started in Boston, at Emerson when I went to college. I moved to Alabama where I met two of the other band members. And then we moved to Los Angeles together”.
Even if she’s now a bit more settled in terms of location, Crisswell continues to make sacrifices for the sake of maintaining the Sue Scrofa name intact. “For White Cat, I had to drive ninety minutes to get to my engineers’ [Shane Jewell] house – twice a week", she says. "Both working full time jobs. It makes it really difficult. I really want to do this for a living, so you have to find a happy medium between these things”.
Early Sue Scrofa records do have what she describes as a “lo-fi sentiment with some electronic effects”. But today’s Sue Scrofa has a more defined sound – it still transmits a sunny and lackadaisical disposition, but the production quality has an enhanced amount of bounce and kick. The band’s sound is still built around gradually strumming guitars, but the swinging uptempo tracks now have more of a glare… a rhythmic oomph. Some of that early quirk has been shaved off in favor of a more polished, hook driven sound that will definitely satisfy the palate of the mainstream listener. One thing that remains is Crisswell’s love for twang. “It still has a very overt country vibe”, she says. “I just can’t help it. I’m from Alabama, I guess. That’s the way we play guitar and strum”.
What fairly distinguishes Sue Scrofa’s home grown blend of toe’ tappin folk rock is the fluctuating vocal inflection found in Crisswell’s voice. She does look up to country leaning artists like Loretta Lynn and Neko Case, but I also find that her vocal harmonizing also falls along the lines of nineties singer-songwriters like Tanya Donnelly and Sarah Shannon. “It’s interesting you mention that because one of our new songs is totally nineties”, she laughs. It’s really more of a happy accident in terms of influence, as Crisswell herself is starting to delve into the raw directness of that particular era. “It sounds very straightforward – just natural and really strong voices. Strong singers.”
Crisswell seems meekly content with all they have achieved, but she’s more than aware that there’s a lot of road that hasn’t been tread. “I’d love to do a proper West Coast tour, and especially an East Coast tour – that’s where were from”, she underlines. Still, we’re excited about this year - getting our music out there and meeting other bands”.
To my surprise, Crisswell is very outspoken and impetuous. She radiates with a warmth and timeless grace, perhaps a quality she still carries from her humble upbringing. As I explained to her the disadvantages of doing a phone interview and how its’ outcome will depend of the subject matter’s willingness to speak, she was quick to crack one on me. “I hope it makes your life easier. And now you have to edit this girl babbling through her whole interview about her cats”, she quips. I was quick to reassure to her that it happens. To which she responded, “It doesn’t happen. It happened today”. Perhaps the day didn't turn out as I originally envisioned, but I can’t deny that she kept me entertained. - Juan Edgardo Rodríguez