When she was starting out, Suad didn't see herself as a solo artist – she rather drifted towards that path. Now she is ready to release her debut album “Waves”, a journey beginning from dark and moody pop songs and moving to brooding piano ballads to indie rock anthems, with lyrical themes revolving around her self-doubt and fears. Although Suad’s road has been long, all these years she has been both the best kept secret of the Finnish singer-songwriter scene and a praised artist in the indie music media.
"Oh my god!", Suad nearly shouts. She cannot believe that it's been over 16 years since the release of the first album that she sang on. That record was Uusi Fantasia's (the name translates to New Fantasy) debut album “Top Ten” on which Suad was asked to perform on the tracks Faija and Fantasia.
Uusi Fantasia borrowed its name from a short-lived prog band Fantasia, whose only album is one of the holy grails of record collectors. Unlike its “ancestor”, Uusi Fantasia played not prog but Scandinavian blend of retro funk and disco. While making the songs, Suad befriended Mikko Viljakainen alias Vilunki 3000, an underground icon whose one of many projects Uusi Fantasia was.
Learning the skill of magical fairies
Suad, born Suad Khalifa, loved to sing and knew she could sing but didn't have any plans regarding a career in music. Her first musical memory is holding a copy of Michael Jackson's “Thriller” at her grandparents in North Karelia. The album's art stunned her and she fell right away for the sensibility in Jackson's vocal rendition.
"Of course the album is full of outstanding songs", Suad says.
As a child Suad first practiced the violin, then the clarinet. She also reminisces playing the piano that her family had at home.
"Then I started dancing and left music behind."
Music made a comeback in her life during high school. Suad had a burning sensation for making music but she didn't know how to do it. She thought songwriting was a privileged craft only entitled for some rare breed of artists, "magical fairies", as she describes. She didn't think there was any way or chance that she could actually write songs.
When I wrote my first song I had a clear and strong feeling that this is what I want to do.
When high school ended Suad still decided to pursue a career in music. She started her studies at the Pop & Jazz Conservatory in Jyväskylä, almost 300 kilometres from Helsinki.
"I was quite lonely there. I had no social life, no friends."
But she was surrounded by people there, peers making music on a daily basis. Combined with her piano and guitar lessons, Suad figured out quickly that songs are in fact just notes and tones laid out one after the other.
"When I wrote my first song I had a clear and strong feeling that this is what I want to do. I was so excited. And still am."
Debutant with a veteran's catalogue
While Suad's debut album is about to be released in January, her track record is far from your average up and coming debutant. Labels such as Tellé, the now defunct Norwegian cult company and the former home of Röyksopp, Leng, the London-based balearic disco imprint, and Weird World, the sub-label of Domino Records, have all released albums featuring Suad's voice.
"I haven't thought about that before! I'm a bit scatterbrained and I don't think that much about many things I should and could."
I'm trying to learn to enjoy my accomplishments more. I tend to worry about things that are still undone.
In 2018, Stereogum praised Suad’s gig as one of “one of the most memorable sets from any Finnish artist” on Flow Festival weekend – even though she didn't even perform at the actual festival but a warm-up show at an intimate club. A year later the situation was corrected, when Suad performed at Flow Festival's beloved Balloon Stage, having released only an EP and a couple of singles. The latest single, the self-released White Lies became Radio Helsinki's most played track of the year, leaving the likes of Lizzo and Aldous Harding behind.
"I've been lucky. I feel grateful about these things. I'm trying to learn to enjoy my accomplishments more. I tend to worry about things that are still undone. Sometimes I question myself about having actually achieved anything."
Hello darkness my old friend
In August 2019, when Suad spoke to the Finnish broadcasting company Yle's youth media YleX, she said her debut album was missing only a finishing touch. And now, one and a half years later the album is finally being released.
"The home stretch has been long. I'm not defending my slowness, but I foster the idea of working with the songs as long as they take. It's been a learning process as well", Suad says.
The musical style of “Waves” is dramatic, atmospheric and dark, piano driven indie pop. Making the album was a deeply personal process for Suad, but she doesn't want to discuss the meaning of the individual songs too much, as she wants every listener to be entitled to his/her own interpretation.
I view myself as a rather happy person, but I cannot write a song about the rays of sun. It's easy and important for me to process the sombre feelings with music.
The lyrics revolve around fear of the unknown and self-doubt. But instead of wallowing in deep waters and gloomy topics, Suad faces the fears boldly in search of hope and a better version of herself.
"I've thought about why I write such dark songs. Is there something wrong with me?", Suad jokes.
"I view myself as a rather happy person, but I cannot write a song about the rays of sun. It's easy and important for me to process the sombre feelings with music. These songs have helped me to realize that love exists in a lot of places I didn't know. I feel I know myself better than before."
Musicianship based on cosmic connections
When Suad decided to pursue her dreams regarding her musical career, she definitely did not want to be a solo artist. But the lonely time in Jyväskylä drove her towards it accidentally. When she moved back to Helsinki, she started surrounding herself with trustworthy musicians.
"Now I'm a solo artist, but I have my own band."
The musicians playing on “Waves” are a gallery of esteemed Finnish indie and underground figures. Suad met the drummer Henri Lindström when touring with Jaakko Eino Kalevi's group. Although she doesn't quite remember how or when she met the keyboardist Tapio Viitasaari (known from his work with bands such as Joensuu 1685 and The Hearing) for the first time, but she remembers that there was a deep connection and mutual understanding when they started playing together.
I have a cosmic connection with these guys. They are unique musicians with exquisite sensibility.
And then there's Tommi Toijonen, whose guitar playing blew Suad away first on a Barefoot Brothers show. The Finnish underground legends Tuomo Puranen (of K-X-P and Op:l Bastards fame) and Vilunki 3000 (the multi-instrumentalist known from many of the bands mentioned here: Uusi Fantasia, Op:l Bastards, Barefoot Brothers and countless more) finalize the line-up.
"I have a cosmic connection with these guys. They are unique musicians with exquisite sensibility. I'm blessed to have had Vilunki by my side all these years."
Suad’s Waves is released on Svart Records on the 22nd of January 2021. Suad is also one of Finland's Eurosonic showcase artists for 2021.