Denver singer-songwriter Teresa Suydam says it’s important for her to create a sense of belonging and inclusivity in her music.
With that spirit in mind, Suydam filmed a video for her track “Take Me to the Water.” In the song, Rachel White — who is hard of hearing — signs alongside Sudyam as the two women sit along a riverbank.
Suydam, who is neither deaf nor hard of hearing, adds that it is important for her to create music and experiences that include as many people as possible, no matter what their individual abilities might be. Filming the video was a challenge for her and her videographer, who had never done a project like that before.
“We were making things up on the fly,” Suydam says. “We were like, ‘How will we both be in the shot at the same time?’ or ‘Will we be singing and signing at the same time, or how will we even do this?’ It was a fun process of trying to figure out how to best represent it.”
She says the idea sprang from her time as an instructor at Swallow Hill Music in Denver. She taught music to young kids, and she included bits of sign language in the lessons.
“It’s interactive and good for their ears,” she says. “So many kids didn’t know about sign language, and their brains are like little sponges. … Everyone needs to know this in some capacity, even if we are able to hear if we suddenly lose our voice.”
Suydam wants to create a series of similar videos in the spirit of inclusivity. That belief springs, in part, from her desire to see more representation of women in the music industry, especially as a woman of color working in the largely white Denver music scene.
She is half Filipino and half First Nations Ojibwe and has found that being a woman in the music industry can be challenging, because it seems sometimes like she isn’t taken seriously as a musician, particularly on the technical, business side of the job. She recalls, for example, being a member of a band with men and women members, and the people doing the sound check would only interact with the men in the band on stage.
“I do feel supported and loved by people in the Denver scene, but sometimes it feels just like they're giving me a pat on the back, or a ‘How cute that you decided to go solo' type of thing,” she says. “But I'm my own business, and I'm taking it seriously. I'm in it to win it, and I'm breaking into the scene in my own way.”
She adds that her issues are sometimes compounded by working in pop music, which she says is unusual for a woman of color in Denver's music scene, particularly a person with First Nations heritage.
“I’m what you call an ‘urban Native,’” she says. “I grew up in cities and suburban areas and not on a reservation, so it’s like ‘Where do I fit in?’ I don’t feel Native; I don't feel Caucasian, white. I’m still trying to figure it out.”
She adds that representation can be about 90 percent of the battle for her and other female artists.
“There are so many talented and up-and-coming female musicians and artists,” she says. ‘They just don’t know where to go unless there is a special event of some sort.”
Suydam is currently branching out into solo music, but she is a founding member of Emma Mayes and the HIP and was also a member of the nine-piece all female-identifying a cappella group LARK, and has collaborated with electronic-music production duo Mom N Dad. She’s also participated in Rebelles Night at the Lion’s Lair — a women-focused music event — and appeared on the Politico music compilation last year.
“Take Me to the Water” is the first single off Suydam’s self-released, self-titled debut EP, which was released in early March. The piano-driven five-track album includes a mix of acoustic and electric sounds, including guitar and electric violin. The more angular, harsh electric sounds sit low in the mix, which imparts an uncomfortable dreaminess to the songs and an underlying sense of anxiety. The swirling piano line on “Night Terror” — written about an actual night terror — evokes the Second Circle of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. It’s a perfect sound for the subject of night terrors.
The closing track, “Superhero,” serves as an umbrella of sorts that connects the other songs thematically, she says.
“It’s a story about becoming your own superhero,” she says. “In the beginning, you place a bet on yourself. And then you go to the waters. That’s where the night terrors start to happen, and then you want to escape them, and you realize while escaping that you’ve become your own superhero.”
Suydam listens to J-pop and K-pop bands to relax, and says those genres come through in her music along with influences from early 2000s pop-punk outfits like My Chemical Romance and Panic! At the Disco, metal band Evanescence — the powerful vocals of Amy Lee, in particular — and Regina Spektor.
A self-identified nerd, Suydam says songs on her EP take inspiration from the soundtracks of anime shows like Naruto, Inuyasha and Full Metal Alchemist and Hayao Miyazaki movies like Spirited Away that she watched as a child.
“Most of the theme songs and ending songs are just like epic songs,” she says. “They are epic and inspirational, and they just make you feel all the feels. That’s what I really like, and the quick builds of emotion that are able to happen in two minutes in those intros and outros.”
Moving forward, Suydam says she plans on writing 500 songs before the end of 2021. In early March, she was at about 25, so she has a ways to go to make that goal. It’s a way to find herself as a songwriter.
“As I keep writing, I’m just not going to limit myself, and add whatever elements that I want,” she says. “This is kind of how I’m going to make my way into music. I’m not going to set up any roadblocks for myself that I’ve encountered before.
The new EP is available on Bandcamp. Check out Teresa Suydam's website for more information. Support her at Patreon.