Interview: Becky Sui Zhen

We get to know one of Melbourne’s busiest musicians.

If you live around Melbourne chances are you’ve heard of Becky Freeman.

If not, you may know her better as Sui Zhen, DJ Susan, Fox and Sui and Sui et Sui, NO ZU and Hot Palms. Yep, Becky Freeman is a pretty busy lady.

After slowly making a name for herself in Melbourne’s underground music scene, Becky’s first Australian LP was released last month under the title Secretly Susan. The melodic-pop songstress has been very busy not only making songs, but producing, editing and directing her own music videos. Secretly Susan sees Becky explore her alter ego Susan through a range of pop-synths and sweet sounds.

We were lucky to steal some time with Becky to talk Japanese lovers rock, recording and learn all about her alter egos.

Congrats on your new LP, tell us about the recording process.
In 2013 I got a grant from the Australian Council to produce new work. I had a lot of the songs mostly already written so I just set aside a good block of time to start working on them. In 2014 it was basically about listening to what I’d done as a collection then adding songs or changing ones I thought would work previously and didn’t any more. That’s how ‘Infinity Street’ came about. You go and record the songs and then you get time to reflect before another burst of writing and recording. I did this a bit before I felt happy about the finished product.

After such a long time you must be so excited to release it?
It’s a long time but it is kind of nice. That extra time allowed me to create the visual aspect for it, which is a whole other process that I apply myself to. That probably uses the same energy as music, so it is hard for me to do both at once, even though I might have ideas. 

Tell us about Susan, how did she come about? 
I was making the songs and I got these abstract ideas for videos and visuals, and I would write them down. By the end of recording there was quite a separation between the lyrical content and what the song meant to me personally, so I could look more objectively at it. I started to listen to the lyrics and develop this persona of someone who might sing those songs – even though it’s me. It sounds kind of weird…. By the end of it all I had this fully formed Susan person

Your music is inspired by ’80s Japanese lovers rock, what is it that draws you to that aspect of Japanese culture? Where did that fascination begin?
I feel like it was from visiting Japan… Obviously I was exposed to different producers and I started to think about what music I wanted to own more of. That just kind of informed the musical world and the sounds that I wanted to have. I guess I particularly like other cultures, or people that don’t speak English as their native language, making music in English. Maybe accidentally sometimes it can be more poetic, and I really like that.

You’ve directed, produced, starred in and edited your own music videos, where does that passion come from?
That passion has been around for a really long time. I studied film production at uni in my first degree, but music just became the thing that I chose. I started to get into music videos just recently and thought that maybe I could make music videos mean a bit more to me.

I get quite absorbed in the music videos, it might take me longer to make one than if I got someone else to make it, but it is worthwhile in the end because the feedback I get is so good and it is so personal.

Your videos are very visually colourful and auteristic. Do you think your next videos will follow the same style?
I think so, definitely for this album. Now that I have designed that world I feel like it is easier for me to generate ideas, because I have a format and it has its own little language. Maybe the next one will be a bit more collaborative again and a different world will emerge, we’ll see. A different woman maybe [laughs].

A new alter ego?
I think so! I have told some friends about this other alter ego I am scheming up and they say “Come on, everyone is just getting to know Susan, you can’t just abandon her.” But I have more alter egos to explore [laughs].

You have Big Sound coming up soon, are you looking forwards to that? Can we expect any more shows this year?
I am looking forwards to Big Sound, and definitely there will be more live shows. I will be doing album launch shows in November. Maybe there will be Susan vibes happening as well. Hopefully that will continue over summer and into next year, I’d like to get Susan out there and then start working on the next project. 

Secretly Susan is out now via Remote Control Records.


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