Suzanne Sheer at a keyboard is music therapy for anyone within earshot.
The range of sounds coming from her Yamaha and through her low, sultry voice, – one that emotes tales of struggle, pain, loss and unrequited love – are the kind of stories you’ve read in countless classic novels.
Sheer plays the soundtrack to her life, one filled with the excitement of love only to be shattered by bad timing or the unfortunate circumstance. Still with each breath, it sounds like there is an beautiful end goal on the horizon and that through all the muck and misfortune, there’s hope.
It’s a sound that has found the Pittsburgh native in studio sessions with the likes of rapper Wiz Khalifa, doing the background vocals on a song called, “Without You,” one of Khalifa’s early mix tapes. However, Sheer decided to leave her black and yellow nest for Philadelphia for the opportunity to play on her own. Wasting little time upon arrival, it was an open mic night at Time (1315 Sansom St.) when Sheer knew she’d made the right decision.
“Right when I first moved here, I said I wanted to find a place to perform, I have to go do it, I’m in Philly,” said Sheer, 25. “So my best friend and I went to Time, because they have an open mic session there. And we walk in and the house band The Living Sample is playing and immediately I’m so intimidated because they were so incredible.”
Fast forward five years? Sheer says she’s friends with many members of that same group.
It’s easy to fit in when you’re naturally predisposed to creating great music. But an effort to do so doesn’t come without sacrifice. Sheer hasn’t yet been able to sustain being financially independent on just her music, and works two jobs, one in a cafe and the other as a part-time nanny to foot the bill to get studio time as she works on her upcoming album set to release later this year.
“It’s not if Suzanne is going to make it, it’s really just when,” said Brianna DeMayo, founder of Fishtown’s Taste Creators, a full-service marketing agency for up-and-coming artists. DeMayo has worked with Sheer since not long after her arrival to Philadelphia and says that in Sheer, there’s something special. “It’s not just that she’s naturally gifted, it’s how hard she works at it. Every free moment she’s working on her music, trying to grow her brand. It’s admirable to see and one of the reasons, for me personally, she’s been a pleasure to work with.”
In May, Sheer released her first single, Conditioned, which received notable buzz.
The kind of buzz that allows her to keep going and one that finds her at least 3-4 times a year on a flight to Los Angeles to work with her producer and manager.
“It’s very intense. I feel a lot sometimes even now that I’m living a weird double life,” said Sheer. “In Philly, I’m working like two jobs, while trying to kickstart a music career. So I’m doing that here and then I’m going out to Los Angeles to work with bigger labels and bigger artists and then coming back here to get back to work. So it’s a really intense grind in an attempt to have a career, but it’s not a career yet...but I go out to [LA] and the people I’m working with have the resources, have the best studios, best equipment. Just getting to record on various microphones, is something that gets me really excited.”
“I don’t really ever find myself feeling impatient with the process, or trying to be famous. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’d be nice to be financially independent just off my music, but I think so far everything that has happened with my music has happened very organically. Amazing things have happened, so it’s really just keeping the faith and plugging away. Sometimes I just wish I had more time.”
– Suzanne Sheer
Sheer’s foray into music started by listening to her dad play the family’s baby grand piano as a little girl. By the time she was 14, Sheer says she was playing songs by ear. By the time she got to high school, she was writing her own songs.
“I knew I wanted to go to school for music and try to perfect my craft and see if I could do this as a career,” said Sheer. Around 2010, [after I graduated], I ended up meeting this producer named Ricky P., and I started creating music and songs for him and the reaction I was getting from those songs was incredible. I was like ‘okay, I found it, I’m definitely going to keep doing this.’”
Sheer’s sound is readily equated to the likes of Adele or Amy Winehouse, the latter who gives her perhaps the biggest sense of pride. But despite it being an honor to be compared to those two so readily, Sheer says she knows where she stands apart.
“First of all, I have an Amy Winehouse tattoo, so anytime I’m compared to her I really get a sense of pride,” said Sheer, smiling. “Or Adele, I get Adele a lot. But it’s such a high honor, but I think people will see – especially when my album comes out – that I do have my own sound separate from all of that. I also think too that when people hear you they immediately compare you to what you sound like. It’s just what people do, but again it’s an honor when you hear names like that in comparison to your music.”
If there is any frustration in the steps to fame, Sheer hides it well. Instead she’ll insist that all of this is just another rung on the proverbial ladder in a journey to make it big. As she moves along, she finds that her growth in the business has been organic both in her music, her fans and the followers along for her ride.
“I don’t really ever find myself feeling impatient with the process, or trying to be famous,” said Sheer. “I mean don’t get me wrong, it’d be nice to be financially independent just off my music, but I think so far everything that has happened with my music has happened very organically. Amazing things have happened, so it’s really just keeping the faith and plugging away. Sometimes I just wish I had more time.”
And on her continuing her success here in Philly?
“For the last five years, I’ve just loved my life here in Philly,” Sheer said. “I’ve really been of the mindset that I can make it work here. But recently, with some of the success I’ve been having, I just know that if I [were] in LA where my manager and my producer were based, I know we’d be in the studio all day, every day making music. Now, I’m starting to feel like I truly need to figure this out and if that means making a move to make it happen, then I’m prepared to do that. But just that idea makes me sad, because I love it here. I adore Philly.”
Next up for Suzanne Sheer: LOVE Park’s Live at LOVE series brought to you by Philadelphia Parks and Rec, the Fairmont Park Commission, LOVE Park and Philadelphia Weekly | Aug. 23, noon-2pm. phila.gov/spotlight/love-park/