"A friend asked me, 'Who will be singing on stage? Susan?'"
Much is made of the extraordinary clips that Becky Freeman, better known as Sui Zhen, the name her grandfather gave her, makes, but listening to her debut album, Secretly Susan, it's obvious that that attention to detail is matched by her painterly approach to sound. In then developing her ideas for the film clips to accompany the singles lifted from the album, the idea of an alter ego, blonde and blue-eyed, began to evolve.
"I started to look through my project folder because I do the designing myself so I start a design folder quite early, and I started to save images of mannequins for that kind of feeling of feminine simulacra. The first video treatment I wrote, for Infinity Street, I was saying 'Susan', but I hadn't thought of Susan as a character. It was just a way to devise another story."
"The world will be there, and the feeling and the mood will be in the setting that I create through props."
Freeman is currently developing ways to bring everything about the album into the context of its live performance, including the chrysanthemums that adorn the cover.
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"It's just that link, through the artwork, into that world, and I like that projection of Susan, the alter ego, to have that within a space as well. So there's a bit more work involved and a better experience for people, but it's harder to repeat sometimes unless I've got a lot of resources, and being an independent artist that's really difficult."
In recreating the world of the Secretly Susan album on the stage, don't expect to see 'Susan', even though the alter ego provided Freeman with a way to distance herself from the album to allow her some perspective, some objectivity.
"A friend asked me, 'Who will be singing on stage? Susan?' No, I couldn't possibly because I need to perform it, just as me. The world will be there, and the feeling and the mood will be in the setting that I create through props and whatnot, but I couldn't imagine wearing a wig or contact lenses! I need to have that moment for myself."
While some songs are deeply personal — Never Gone, for instance, was written for her grandfather, who passed away in 2012 — or draw on a relationship of that time, others are explorations into the worlds of 'what if?', reflecting Freeman's interest in science fiction.
"There are a lot of things that are kind of surreal or dream-like about our day-to-day lives these days, so some songs are just inspired by my own imagination. One of the songs I wrote as if it was something I wanted someone to write about me — that's Take It All Back — and the opening track, Teenage Years; that's just purely me being nostalgic and not afraid to be nostalgic about my childhood and visiting my parents' house in northwest Sydney. I lived in a street called Rivendell Way, I read Lord Of The Rings, there was a creek running through it," Freeman chuckles, "and I thought it was pretty special — I'm living in Lord Of The Rings."