Drama, Detroit and AM Radio. An Interview with Suzanne Sledge and Andrew Cylar From 68-75

68-75 uptop 1000

*Photo courtesy of Sean Marshall Studios.

If you follow this site at all, you’ll be fully aware that the blues are the foundation of who I am personally. There is no better genre of music that expresses real emotion and encapsulates the human spirit than the blues. Music is supposed to breath and for me, the blues happens to also be music’s heartbeat. Having said that, we’ve talked quite a bit about Atlanta based 68-75. The band has a soulful sound that portrays itself as a blues based rock band. This band is a perfect example of one that knows how to work hard, create an emotional journey and draw in a listener. What more could you want?

Listen to the entire 68-75 interview below:
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Today we welcome Suzanne Sledge and Andrew Cylar to the site. Suzanne is the vocalist for the blues inspired rock group 68-75, which is armed with guitarist Andrew. First off Suzanne, Andrew, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today and welcome to the Unsung Melody family.

Suzanne: Thank you so much.

Andrew: Thanks for having us.

Let’s start with the band itself. I know you’ve had a lot of different members over the years. How did the current incarnation of the band come together?

Andrew: The way that it works, typically speaking, we always try to keep tabs on people that we like the way that they play. They kind of have an affinity for what we’re doing or we’ve heard something that they’ve done. The drummer (Matt Kotheimer) is from Chicago. So we just found out about him through some friends who run a drum collective in town. Matt Sickles, he’s on bass, he’s played with a number of blues bands. The Breeze Kings. He’s played with Susan Tedeschi and he was recommended to us by Steve McPeaks, who played on our record. So that’s how that came together.

Awesome! It’s always good to have someone from Chicago. The blues scene there is incredible.

Andrew: Oh yeah!

Suzanne: No doubt.

One would assume the name 68-75 harkens back to an era of music that is still dear to so many. Why do you feel that music and that style of music still speaks to so many?

Andrew: If you look at those years and you can kind of say that three major records outside of that, you can look at The Beach Boys with Pet Sounds, I think that was ’67. You look at Hendrix and you look at what the Beatles did with Sgt. Peppers and what I think happened, when those records came out, it was like everyone really got creative. If you look at what was going on, and not just rock music, but jazz music and all genres. People started to try and blend genres together, just think of the amazing records that came out during that period. Think about Miles Davis, with what he was doing with Bitches Brew. Talk about Santana and Abraxas. It was as if everyone was raising the bar and on top of that, the listening audience was giving the artists the freedom to be more creative. It seems like they were just more accepting of a wider variety of music. More accepting of people being creative and unique. We just go on, Nina Simone. We love Stone The Crows. We love Cream. We love Humble Pie.

Suzanne: Jerry Reed.

Andrew: Jerry Reed. There’s just so much good stuff going on during that period. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance, but without getting too long winded, just walking into the Filmore out in San Francisco, they have a room up there where you can go in and look at some of the old concert posters. It’s amazing the amount of talent that they would have on every single bill. Like a Tuesday night, Wednesday night. It was just incredible.

I think that era also speaks, not only an evolution of the music, but also a reflection of our society too as things started to change as well.

Andrew: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I wholeheartedly agree.

Suzanne: No doubt.

Andrew: Not to mention, you bring up that point too, on both sides of the pond, when people were listening to that music, I think they were listening to it thinking that the world was changing and they were excited about it.

Absolutely. Speaking of the style of music we’re discussing; You recently released a new album titled Stay On The Ride. We reviewed the album here on the site and we certainly enjoyed it. Tell me a bit about the writing process for this record.

Suzanne: Well, Andrew and I don’t really have a set working process. It kind of changes from song to song. There will be times when he will have a series of riffs and he will send me things that I will work on over a period of time. Sometimes there will be a phrase that will come into my head and I will bring it to him and say that we need to build something around this because it’s interesting. I don’t want to call it a slapdash process, because that’s not right, but we don’t really have consistent methods. We just know that we can create songs over and over again. So, it’s kind of however we can come up with it at the time. (laughter)

Andrew: Yes. It’s definitely more organic as far as the way it happens.

You talk about how something inspires you to being writing around a riff, one of the songs that I feel has resonated with a lot of people is the track Detroit. That song feels really real and the emotions are there about hard times. Give us a little insight into that song.

Suzanne: Well, it’s kind of an odd story. My husband and I were on a plane coming back from Hawaii. He’s was on a business trip and took me along with him. We were on a plane to Detroit, going back to Atlanta and I got incredibly ill. (laughter) Because there was a cabin pressure change. The first thing was, I was sick as a dog and we were waiting to take off and I was literally sitting; The opening line of the song is F’ed up in Detroit, head in my hands and I’m crashing, it was because I was getting a migraine because of the sinus pressure. So what I did, instead of writing about something as boring as that. I kind of turned it into this existentialist rambling, which is far more interesting and provokes far more thought than a sinus headache. (laughter)

I would have to agree.

Suzanne: Yeah. (laughter) So that’s kind of what happened. A lot of times thing will be seemingly unrelated and somehow I’m able to pull them in together to make it some song. It’s kind of like It’s Only Tuesday. That’s another song that started out as something else and it evolved into it being kind of an anthem for a loser, desperate, broke type of situation and as an adult, how are you going to deal with that. It didn’t start out that way, but it kind of morphed into that. If you could take poetic license I guess, or just creativity, sometimes the situations are rather mundane and I just start spinning them and they become these dramas. (laughter)

Hey whatever works! I’m not here to judge, I’m just here to enjoy the end result.

Suzanne: It’s interesting though, I always have to laugh a little bit when people are really affected by that track because I know the origin of it and I spun something around it. It’s really funny, I was literally there thinking, “Oh my God. I don’t know how I’m going to get home and not be sick as a dog.” But we got a song out of it, so it was great. (laughter)

It’s always good to take a bad situation and turn it into something good.

Suzanne: Yeah! It’s incredible though how many people have taken up that song and they feel very strongly about it.

Andrew tell me a bit about your background and how you landed as a blues guitarist.

Andrew: That’s interesting because I never really considered myself to be a blues guitarist. I listen to a lot of different things. In fact that’s one of the things that Suzanne and I have in common, as we both listen to so many different things. Really though, when we get together, we’re always trying to keep it fairly simple. As far as what we have to work with. Even in the recording, we end up recording fairly quickly. We fund the projects completely ourselves, so we don’t have a lot of overdubs. (laughter) I don’t think we’ve done any backing vocal parts. We try to get as close to the original riff and the spark that made the song and then maybe we’ll add some parts like hammond or piano or a guitar solo. Even those things, I’m trying in the best of my ability, to serve the song and not really do anything more than that.

Suzanne: And an interesting side note, Andrew played in a lot of alternative bands beforehand that were amazing, but the interesting thing is that I feel like no matter what you are doing; If it’s the blues or whatever, it’s in your DNA. So it’s going to come out at some point. It’s going to come out in the playing and for me I just feel like that is a natural extension of who he really is. Even though we both appreciate lots of different types of music. Like the other day, we were just raving over The Black Angels. We were both talking about how much we love that record and it’s completely removed from anything that we do, but it doesn’t matter because it still hits you in the gut. It’s still a very emotional, kind of spacey, psychedelic record that we can both get with. I’m sure you’re the same way. There are plenty of things that you might listen to and enjoy, but maybe as a musician, you don’t necessarily want to go in that gear. I’m a huge PJ Harvey fan and people like that. Stuff that’s very angular, but I don’t want to play that type of stuff because that’s not where my head is. But I do have an appreciation for it and I am certain that it seeps into what you do. Whether you are conscious of it or not, but for me I just feel like working with Andrew for so long, the reason that he plays that so well is that it’s just part of his genetic makeup.

Right. I kind of feel the same way. I’ll sit down with a guitar, I’ll pick it up. Rock is what I feel like I enjoy the most, but when I start playing, rock is normally the last thing that comes out of me. I don’t really know how to explain that, but I know exactly what you’re saying.

Suzanne: Yeah. There is a natural set point, I believe. Unless people are just human ping pong balls and really can do lots of different things. Musicians will discover, at some point, a natural set point. Because I was literally and this is no exaggeration; when I was younger, I was an Indie kid. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about the blues, but as I got a bit older and I changed my senses in terms of being a musician, you know on an unconscious level, what you will gravitate towards. My stuff was also blues based stuff. I found out pretty quickly that I was not going to be the flavor of the day type of thing. Whatever I wanted to do was probably never going to be particularly fashionable, but you have to get past that and stick to your guns. Knowing that is right for you. You hope that will pay off at some point.

I don’t think many people realize just how hard you work to garner a little attention and shed a little light on your band. You guys don’t play 200 dates a year like other bands, but you’re still getting exposure, seemingly worldwide. How much of a struggle is it for you to open doors?

Suzanne: Well honestly, I will tell you that being the maven of social media at this point, because that’s the way that things are done now. Especially in our demographic, it is a must, but Facebook has been a Godsend to us.

Andrew: Absolutely.

Suzanne: We would not be where we are without it. So shoutout to Mark Zuckerberg. Because it’s the truth. We have been able to go at warped speed in terms of, not just locally, but worldwide and what I can tell you is that right now, somewhere in the world; be it America, the UK or Australia, Stay on the Ride is being played somewhere every single day. My understanding is that coming out of nowhere, with no funding, no support, no label; what we have been able to accomplish is pretty impressive for just social media. We’re very fortunate right now, because there is a 70’s hard rock explosion going on everywhere. All you have to do is follow the path and the path is go where you are wanted. As you can see with Greg Napier’s show (WMMT on Sunday nights), he’s been an incredible supporter of 68-75. I would say for the past six to seven months we’ve been on his show. It’s just really opened doors for him, as well as us. It’s very difficult these days. People can make a living. You will live on the road, but you will probably not get rich anymore. Those days are gone. We would certainly like to step up the tour dates and play a lot more. It’s so much work these days to keep up with the social media, chase leads for press, chase airplay, it’s a full time job. Then you’ve got to balance rehearsal time and carve out time to write. Then you have everything else, while trying to not become stale in the process. It’s huge. I don’t know how people do it sometimes.

Andrew: The other thing that I would add too is that we’ve been really fortunate, Suzanne touched on it, the fact that even just through social media, we’ve been able to find other people who are just as passionate about the music we love and the things that they’re doing. We find DJ’s who are willing to give us a shot and play the music and actually get behind us. We’ve met bands from all over. We’ve got friends in the UK, Budapest, we’ve got people all over. It’s really cool because they’re listening to us and then they’re also turning us onto their music and it’s really a great conversation. That’s something that we would definitely not have been able to have 10 years ago.

The one big thing that I think social media has done is it’s really shrunk the world. It’s made it a much smaller place and you’re able to find people wherever that have the same interests as you. So that’s a unique take and I appreciate that.

Suzanne: It’s also allowed you to find, people speak of community, that was not really available 10-12 years ago or either it was harder to knit the ends together to find those things. It would have been a much more deliberate process. What I can say is, what I’m seeing is with bands that are successful, namely like Vintage Trouble and Rival Sons; they’re very hands on with their fans and friends and all the social media stuff. That’s a huge part of how they’ve gotten where they are. They are great bands, but they days of being a rock star over. If you don’t make a little bit of time, give people five minutes of your time to answer questions or be available, they notice that. That will reflect in your sales, your social media traffic and many things. You really have to be very hands on and wear many, many hats these days to get something off the ground. I think when people realize the amount of work that is involved, just on a very basic level, it can be overwhelming for a lot of people.

I think that a lot of that has to do with the fact that there are so many things out there that are offered. So many choices, that if someone doesn’t get the satisfaction of saying I’m a part of this or they wouldn’t touch my hand or say hello, that they will find someone who they will connect with. So I think that has a lot to do with the fact that the rock star style of doing things is dead and gone.

Suzanne: It can not exist because everything now is so dependent on more of a grassroots approach. People don’t want that anyway, they want people to be approachable. One of my favorite people in the world is JD Simo and he is every inch the rockstar, but you can bet your bottom dollar when he gets off that stage, he is one of the sweetest people and approachable people that you will ever want to meet and that’s the way that things are done. Not this, I don’t have time to talk to you mentality.

Really, it should never have been that way. Because if you have a passion and someone is there sharing that passion with you, obviously you have something in common. So you should share that.

Suzanne: Yeah I agree with that. Nothing was more heartbreaking for me, as I still feel like I’m on both sides of the fence. I’m just as big of a music fan, Greg Napier and I were having this conversation the other night, I’m still this huge music fan as well as a musician. So it’s a little bit of a weird thing to be in, but the division, the walls have been broken down and you just have to be more of a regular person. People kind of want to see both sides of the coin, but they want to feel like they are a part of what you’re doing in the process. I think that’s what engenders loyalty these days.

I think that’s a big part of why crowdsourcing, like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, have taken off. Because if you can feel a part of something, you’re going to want to share it. You’re going to kind of become a troop on the ground, if you will for whatever project you’re involved with.

Suzanne: Yes, exactly. People are more than happy and people have very busy lives these days, but it seems like they love being a part of something like that on a grassroots level. They are more than willing to devote their time, so if that is the case and they’re in your corner, you owe it to them. To give them a few minutes of your time. Answer a question. Take time to reply to a private message. Talk to them for a few minutes. It’s not going to hurt you and most of the time, those people will wind up making some sales and fans for you. Because they say, “Hey, these people are really nice. They’ll talk to me and they make great music.” So they love that.

I always end on a random question. We talked about some awesome bands that you have turned me onto earlier. So Andrew I’ll start with you; If I turned the key on your car right now, what would start playing?

Andrew: We just talked about Black Angels, but you’re probably going to find Humble Pie. The new live release that they just re-issued. There’s just a ton of stuff. I’ve got a live B.B. King that I’ve got in my carousel right now. Believe it or not, there’s an AM station that I’ve started listening to, 1690 in Atlanta. They play a lot of like old and obscure records that I listen to, so it could be any number of things.

Suzanne: I’m kind of all over the map. I can pick up things and be obsessed with stuff for a little while. For a little while I was listening to nothing but St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Right now, what’s stuck in my car is Doyle Bramhall’s record Welcome. Which came out a good 12-14 years ago. I remember Andrew and I talking about it, thinking it was amazing then. I’ve got Mad Dogs and Englishmen (Joe Cocker) in there. Then sometimes I’ll turn on something like the Black Angels or PJ Harvey, or Tom Waits, or anybody. The thing that knits all of it together when it seemingly does not go together, is that it always makes you feel something. If it’s purely intellectual and there is nothing going on. I’m not going to listen to a math equation. I will listen to something that is heartfelt and it may not be perfect, but it doesn’t need to be.

Awesome. I appreciate your time very much and hopefully we’ll get caught up on the road here really soon.

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