Photo by Anthony Scarlati
Queen of the Hyphenates
We all know talented people, but Susan Ruth takes it off the hook. She has accomplished and created so much: Visual Artist, Singer/songwriter, Screenwriter, Writer, Actress, Podcaster… She is über talented and one of the coolest, most generous souls around… so when our very own Brad Koepenick met up with her, he wasn’t sure where to begin.
Wow, Susan! Let’s start with your songwriting (and your super cool band members). What got you into music, what are some highlights, and what’s the deal with the 2022 Appalachian Arts & Entertainment Awards?
Hi Brad…thank you, firstly, for being interested in speaking with me. I appreciate it!
I started writing music on a dare from my mom. I’d just graduated college and she insisted I enter a songwriting contest. I’d only ever written poetry, but she double-dog-dared, so what else could I do?
I received an “honorable mention” in the contest but took that song and performed it at an open-mic. The venue owner (Bill Pritchard) came up to me afterward and asked me to do a whole show. I told him I only had the one song. He said, “You better get writing!” I credit him and my mom with launching me into the realm of performing-songwriter.
I put together a band and toured, and made some records. How to Say Goodbye swept a bunch of well-known award things, including the Seattle Music Awards and XM Satellite (pre-Sirius) Awards, and that pushed me toward my next album, Surfacing to Breathe.
I recorded in New York with some of the greatest musicians and engineers, including folks like Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta, Godfrey Diamond, Kenny Asher and Declan Masterson. I was in heaven – as an indie musician, without a label, I couldn’t believe my luck!
My last album, All I Ever Wanted Was Everything, was indie-recorded in Nashville with greats like; Jeff King, Jim Kimball, Tommy Harden, Jim Hoke and Jason Webb. Again, LUCKY ME! A track from that album, “Promise Me Something,” caught the attention of Reba McEntire and she put it on her “Love Somebody” album (she re-titled it “Promise Me Love” for her record). Lonestar cut a couple of songs I wrote the same year, and I’ve had cuts on artists in multiple genres, including pop, AAA, Euro-dance, folk, Americana and some film and tv. It has been a wild ride, so far.
The Appalachian Arts & Entertainment Awards was a nice surprise. They’ve asked me to present the “Best Original Song” category, and to perform my song, “When I Sleep,” during their In Memoriam segment on April 9th, 2022.
Is that what gave you the confidence to start screenwriting? This is new for you, yet you’ve sold your first two projects. How’s THAT? What’s next?
I think every creative endeavor I do makes for a story-telling ouroboros. It all feeds into everything else, in cycles of doing and un-doing. Songs are like mini-movies, in my opinion, and so I thought I should give screenwriting a shot.
I wrote two short films and they were bought and (fingers crossed) I hope they get made. Thankfully, the folks that acquired the scripts make movies, so there’s at least a chance. I have no illusions about this business (navigating being a professional songwriter will shatter even the thickest rose-colored glasses) but I truly enjoy the writing process. And I love stories.
Like most Creatives, I have so many stories. In 2019, I did the Second City Conservatory program and that helped me get ideas flowing, and I’m working on a feature right now. It’s a process, right? But I’ve devoured film (and books) since I was little, and I’ve read a lot of scripts. I figure, I’ll keep growing and learning and with hard work, showing up (half the battle), and occasional lovely encounters with folks like you – we’ll see what happens. I’m hoping to dip my toes into the acting world, as well. I’ve done a couple of things here and there already, and continue to study the craft.
My friend Peter works on Coen Bros films, and he invited me on set during filming of Joel Coen’s adaptation of MacBeth. I was in awe watching Denzel Washington in his process. Frances McDormand wasn’t filming while I was there, but she said hello. I love her work. Inspiring all the way around. This town, amiright?
Happy 2022, Everyone!
Last thoughts and first thoughts:
Be kind. It’s a tricky planet.
I love HEY HUMAN podcast. You’ve produced hundreds of episodes. What prompted it and where’s it going?
Thank you! Full disclosure to anyone reading this, Brad, you were on the show (fantastic episode) and you’ve introduced me to some fabulous guests, too.
It’s a passion project, for sure. I’m almost to 300 episodes and nearly six years! The short version of why I started the show: After a horrific mass shooting, I was losing hope in humanity. I was sobbing and talking with my dad on the phone, desperately trying to make sense of why humans can be so cruel and horrible to each other.
My dad told me to look for the light and the good. 30 minutes later, after a bewildering, sobering, and deeply spiritual experience in a grocery store (the whole story is on heyhumanpodcast.com under “About” section), I realized I had to be part of the solution. Not in an ego-centric way, but in a how-can-I show-my-fellow-human-to-reach-toward-each-other way. I went back to my house and decided to start Hey Human podcast.
It wasn’t until another mass shooting a couple of months later that I set the show into motion. I have deep, organic conversations with humans from all walks of life and belief systems (famous, infamous and Every(wo)man). I believe by listening to these stories, we humans may actually find our way back to each other. I’ve cried on the show, laughed a whole lot, learned so much and I’m thankful for every opportunity to have these experiences. Plus, the show is ad-free so it’s uninterrupted, too.
I love your visual aesthetic. Where can we find your work and what’s up for new Susan Ruth artwork?
Yay! Thank you. You can find a bunch of my work at susanruth.com under the “Artwork” tab. I started painting on a whim one morning a decade ago, and I haven’t looked back.
I’m a self-taught (which basically means I sling paint intuitively, I guess) abstract gal – lots of color. Perhaps painting is in my DNA, though. I’m third-gen grandniece of American Symbolist painter Carl Gutherz. He was a badass (can I say badass?).
How do you stay focused and what are your takeaways from the past two years?
Focused. Oof. Great question.
I’m not sure that I do.
But when I have a commission, or a project, I’m pretty good at getting things done. I have to make allowances for my neurodivergence, though. I used to fight it, or feel bad, or weird about the way my brain works, but I’m leaning in. I think loving what you do helps a lot because it doesn’t feel like work. And having a sense of who you are keeps the bad voices away.
The “You Can’t” voices are jerks and liars and the older I get, the better I am at not opening their boxes. I think the past two years have shown me what and who is important to me and that it’s okay to rest, and be still, and to listen to the sound of your own heartbeat. I live a couple of blocks from the ocean in Santa Monica and that also helps me stay grounded.
Advice for 2022?
Say YES! My dad has two sayings I love, “Opportunity knocks, it doesn’t nag.” And “Never do anything for the first time.” In other words; show up, try, and do your best. And if you’re scared, pretend you’ve done it a million times before.
By Brad Koepenick
Brad is Co-Founder and President of SparkRise, a game changing SaaS platform that provides businesses with a way to engage with consumers while contributing to social good. He is also a Musician, Actor, Writer and is the Producer of feature films including Val Kilmer’s VAL (A24), Cinema Twain also with Val Kilmer, Shakespeare High and the subject of the award winning documentary Autistic Kids with Cameras, chronicling his work with Improvisation, Film-making, Animation and Storytelling for students on the autistic spectrum. Koepenick was awarded the “Hart Vision Award” (California Charter Teacher of the Year) and the monthly “Innovator Award” through the Professional Teachers Network.
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