For years Suzie Ungerleider kept her musical aspirations a secret.
“It was really something I wanted to do from a really young age. I had been thinking about it for so many years,” Ungerleider said. “I just never got the guts to do anything about it.”
By her mid-20s, Ungerleider decided to act on her musical urges and recorded a cassette of seven alternative-country songs.
“I just made that leap,” she said.
It would be a leap the Vancouverite would not regret because shortly after the release of the cassette, Ungerleider received so much positive feedback that she quit her job as a clerk and moved to Toronto to pursue a career in music.
“I am glad I did it because I met so many incredible people,” Ungerleider said about moving to the Ontario capital.
Since relocating to Toronto in the late 1990s, Ungerleider has released multiple albums and earned numerous accolades as an alternative-country singer.
On Friday, Nov. 14 Ungerleider, who’s stage name is Oh Susanna, will perform at Char’s Landing. The three-time Juno Award nominee’s show in Port Alberni is one of the final stops on her tour through Alberta and British Columbia.
“I haven’t been to Port Alberni since I was in Grade 7,” she said. “We went on some exchange trip and my teacher was like ‘you kids need to know what it is like in a logging and paper mill community.’ So I am looking forward to seeing how much it has changed and how much it has stayed the same too.”
Ungerleider was born in Northampton, Mass., and moved to Vancouver when she was less than a year old after her father, a professor, landed a job at the University of British Columbia.
Last month Ungerleider released her seventh record, Namedropper. The album, which was largely funded through donations on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter, features a number of songs writing by other artists, such as Ron Sexsmith, Jim Cuddy, Joel Plaskett and Old Man Luedecke and performed by Ungerleider.
“Sometimes I felt like it was a challenge for me to sing because I was so used to writing for myself and singing my own songs,” Ungerleider explained. “With these songs, I was trying to sing in melodies that I wouldn’t be used to doing.”
Shortly after the album was mixed and had been scheduled to be released, Ungerleider suffered a major setback and had to push back the release date.
“We had just recorded it and had just finished mixing it and then I got diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said.
Ungerleider explained that she felt somewhat guilty for having to push Namedropper’s release back.
“Your brain goes through these funny places where really in the scheme of things everyone is going to be forgiving and supportive but at first you think ‘I am going to let everyone down’,” she said.
“I guess that is the feeling I had; that I was letting people down somehow by having health issues.”
One of the biggest challenges that Ungerleider faced during her recovery was the initial switch in mentality.
“My life is going in a completely different direction…than what I expected,” she said. “That was more the challenge; just that shift in thinking in what I was going to be doing in the next year or two and thinking much more about my personal life rather than the album.”
During the course of her career, Ungerleider has won a number of awards including 2007 Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Songwriter. However, it is her very first award, a 1998 Genie for Best Original Song that she is most proud of. “It’s very magical because it was right when I was starting and then I got to go this really fancy award show will all these actors and it was really fun,” she said.
“It was a very special experience. I got to ride in a limo. I think because it was the first thing that came, it was really special. The first things that happen to you sometimes resonate the deepest.”
Oh Susanna performs from 8-10 p.m. on Nov. 14 at Char’s Landing. Tickets are $12 in advance at Char’s, Gayle’s Fashions and Rollin Art Centre, or $15 at the door. For more info please call 250-730-1636. Char’s is located at 4815 Argyle St. at Fifth Avenue.
Nicholas Pescod writes about arts and entertainment for the Nanaimo News Bulletin.