Chad Sugg, a singer/songwriter from Tennessee, has found success and debatably a second home on the road (while touring) and online (releasing videos and original music).
As much attention as he has garnered through his popular covers on YouTube, his artistry as a songwriter is where he really distinguishes himself. Sugg’s new album “Nightwindows” is out now on iTunes, Spotify and his website. The album is stripped down and takes the listener into the mind of an honest, inspired and evolving human.
Below is my interview via e-mail with the singer/songwriter.
Brett Steinberg: What inspired the name and album art for your new album, “Nightwindows”?
Chad Sugg: Ha. Actually, the power went out at our house, and some guys were literally working on the power lines outside our house after a bad storm. I happened to take the photo and thought it was cool and forgot about it. Then I started writing the album and felt the songs moving toward a direction that felt like the album was supposed to be listened to at night. I ended up putting the two together, then wrote the closing track on the album, which is called Nightwindows – and it all just fit.
B: I hear a larger amount of folk and even country influences in “Nightwindows,” like during the songs “I Get Around” and “Home.” What artists were you listening to around the time of the recording process? How do your favorite artists influence your songwriting?
Yeah, I don’t know where that came from. I mean, I do enjoy country music, but I think the inspiration for the harmonies on “Home” came from the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash. As for “I Get Around,” that was directly inspired by a really old Bright Eyes song. The funny part is, at the time, I wasn’t listening to anything that sounded like the album I ended up writing. I’ve been listening to a bunch of pop and rock stuff – The Waitresses, Spoon, the 1975. So, I don’t know why I ended up writing such a stripped down album.
What main emotions or experiences do you seem to draw back to when writing music? Do they always change, or are there reoccurring themes you gravitate towards?
That’s somewhat difficult to put into words, but I’d say I draw from current emotions and then put those into both fictional and real experiences. I guess a good way to put it would be to say I take my normal life and turn it into a movie in my mind. And yeah, I do draw from past experiences a lot too.
The thing is, there are reccurring themes, but at different stages of life (I’ve been making music professionally for almost 11 years now) these same themes mean vastly different things. I’m almost 30 – so the “love” I’m writing about these days is much different than the version from when I was 19.
What is the songwriting process like for you?
It differs. Sometimes, I’ll come up with a lyric and go from there, but most of the time I just grab my acoustic and kind of go for it. I used to wrap up songs pretty quickly as far as writing went, but nowadays, I spend more time with them and making sure they’re even worthy of sharing outside my own walls.
Although there are many positive moments on the album, like the song “A Change in Scenery,” many of your songs seem to be about running away and making sense of longing, fears and even isolation at times. “Like the Movies” carries the sense that music is refuge from the monotony of life. How has songwriting been an outlet for you? How much of your sanity relies on being able express your thoughts through this medium?
Writing music has been, and continues to be, a necessity for my personal identity and sanity. And really, not just the writing, but the release of music as well. If I weren’t sharing these songs with people and hearing that they relate, it just wouldn’t mean as much to me. I suppose my music is how I prove to myself that I’m not alone in my fears, insecurities and hopes.
You’ve put out quite a few albums and have pursued music under the moniker of Backseat Goodbye as well. How do you keep things fresh and make every album feel like something new and exciting?
Having both of my projects, Backseat Goodbye and the Chad Sugg stuff, are great. Some may not see the difference in the projects since they’re both just me… But to me, the difference is very, very large. I think having both is how I get to keep things fresh in my own head. Jim Henson (yeah, the muppet man) famously said that great things in life happen in cycles of 7 years. I think this is my way of keeping things familiar yet different and staying true to that cycle.
In your formative years, what about music struck you to then become an artist yourself?
Rebellion. I was a good kid, like, a really good kid. Stayed out of trouble, quiet, kept to myself – as I got older I found out that’s called being an introvert. However, maybe it wasn’t rebellion, but the need to feel rebellious for once. I was doing everything I was supposed to and had been forever. Then I got to college, and I ended up feeling like maybe the usual path wasn’t meant for me.
Can you name one point in your life where you needed music and it helped you immensely in that moment? Can you now name a moment when you realized your music was there in the same way for someone else?
High school was a very important time for me needing music. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” to sing over and over in my head as I walked the halls through school in those years. Looking back, it’s easy to see I was depressed (severely so, at times), and listening to/discovering music was a big way for me to see myself through all of that.
The moments of my career when people say my music has genuinely helped them through a hard time still surprise and humble me to this day. I mean, I understand it, and I hear what they’re saying – also, I’m totally proud and glad my music helped that much… However, it’s always one of those “pinch me” moments, even after all these years.
Why music as a career?
It honestly just sort of happened. When I first started releasing music as Backseat Goodbye, it was a dedicated hobby. I released four albums before anything took off. The goal was to turn it into a career, but it took a lot of work and a lot of me ignoring people saying “Dude, you’re crazy.”
Once it did take off, it did so in a big way. I quit my job, dropped out of college, and went for it. I started touring pretty much full-time and took it very seriously. Promoters and booking agents knew me because of my music, but they liked me because I worked non-stop. I don’t know why, but I just like progressing as a person. I don’t like sitting still. So music as a career has allowed me to stay busy in a lot of ways.
What is your main piece of advice for an independent artist in this digital age of streaming and the Internet? What’s the best way to make a living in music as an indie artist?
It’s rough. It has huge payoffs if it’s what you REALLY love and enjoy, but you’re never guaranteed tomorrow in this industry. The industry has been unsure of itself for the past 3 – 5 years now, and it’s scary. Streaming is great for discovery and from the listener’s perspective, but for the artists the reality of it is much more blurry – especially with earnings from it all.
I think a big shift is coming for artists. With sites like Facebook charging us so people who like our pages will actually see our posts, and streaming being such an unsure income, I think artists are going to start cutting out the middle men. I’ll still 100 percent be using social media as I always have, but actually later this year I’ll be attempting to cut out the middle men in a very big way.
All that being said, ALBUMS ARE STILL IMPORTANT, and ALBUMS STILL SELL. People hear that albums aren’t selling well, but the truth is that’s compared to the freaking 1970s and 1980s, when every album went platinum. Digital albums and CDs/Vinyl are still doing well. So if you want to make a living, release albums, make them available everywhere, and tour, tour, tour.
I believe you self-engineer and produce your own music. Many songs on the new album are stripped down and raw with an indie vibe, especially in “I’m Not Missing You.” What do you get out of, and want to evoke, by keeping it minimalistic?
Yeah, I still self-record/produce/engineer all of my own stuff. This was the first album I’ve ever done this stripped down though. It’s been a long time since I’ve had an album with this much of an acoustic presence, and I really wanted to get back to that. Luckily, people are really digging it so far – because it could’ve gone really bad.
There’s literally (and I do mean literally) no melodyne or auto-tune on my vocals, and literally 95 percent of the main vocals and acoustic on the album were recorded in one take, “live” in my studio. It wasn’t easy to pull off, and it took a few takes for each, but it paid off. Also, my next Backseat Goodbye record is going to be the complete opposite, very full and loud, so I wanted this to be the first step in really showing the difference to my fans of what my separate projects will eventually sound like down the road.
What’s your biggest hope for what people will get out of your new album “Nightwindows”?
I hope that it feels honest, and helps the people listening be a bit more honest with themselves. It all just goes back to hoping these songs can make people feel something. That’s what it’s always, really about, being okay with being imperfectly human.