guitarist/transgender rights activist
Interview & Review by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
Photos by Heydemann art of photography, Nanaimo BC Canada
SUZY WEDGE was born in Turkey, Istanbul as Cihan Unal in 1983 and moved to Canada in 2006 for music education. She attended Vancouver Island University, Jazz Studies Program as a guitar major. On December 31st 2008, new years eve, she realized that she was actually a woman. She changed her name to Suzy Wedge and in January, 2009 formed the surf-rock trio Suzy Wedge & the Waves.
"So now I am a transsexual girl", says Suzy. "I live full time as a girl. I go shopping and have fun with my friends. I am so much happier living as a woman. Also I am so proud that I am a trans woman. I read a lot about transgender issues and afterwards, I decided to become transgender activist musician. My aim is to make people free from all the discriminations against transgender people and create a society in which all transgender people are free."
Suzy Wedge and the Waves is based in Nanaimo BC Canada. Dustin plays bass, and Paul plays drums.
Suzy actively participates in a revolutionary movement that feels society needs a rapid change in order to be totally free from all the discriminations against transgender people. "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual rights and issues has developed a lot by now", Suzy notes, "but Transgender rights and issues were left behind." Suzy brings these to the front.
Suzy combines her ideas with Garage punk attitude and Surf rock music that is her revolutionary vehicle. Her compositional themes are sex change, fear that creates transphobia, gender (im)migration, transgression, prejudices against transgender persons, moving beyond the gender binary...
Review & Interview
Guitarist SUZY WEDGE - who specializes in the genre of vintage rock know as "Surf" - captures all the signature sounds - the trebly bite, staccato riffs, dive-bomb slides & vintage reverb of classic surf-guitar rock. Along with her trusty sidemen - drummer Paul and bassist Dustin - SUZY WEDGE & THE WAVES offer up a most danceable & energetic version of west-coast inspired instrumental guitar-bass-drum surfdom. I daresay their sound could provide the soundtrack for any number of wild & fun-filled pulp fiction, biker, beach pre-Beatles era type teen films.
I listened to Suzy's music via her live club show video's on her myspace page. The band's sound is infectiously upbeat. It's fun to see a young crowd so into the surf-sound - a testimony to the power of it's appeal. And yes, Suzy & Co. even cover The Venture's classic "Wipeout" in their show - with drummer Paul making the most out of its famous drum-breaks..
Also an activist for transgender-rights issues, Suzy the musical artists speaks her mind, heart & soul through her talented fingers - which dance with virtuosity across the fretboard of her strat.
When done (as it often is) in a harmonic minor key, Surf music has the ability to connote a dark, exotic, almost ominous sound-mood. Suzy's Turkish roots may be one ingredient in her ability to excel in this more mysterious, intriguing, aspect of the Surf guitar style of playing - as she taps into those minor key sounds also associated with Middle Eastern music. - Robert Urban, URBAN PRODUCTIONS ,NYC
- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
I use an American Vintage 62 Fender Jaguar electric guitar and sometimes I use the Highway One Fender Stratocaster in my shows. I use the Jaguar for recording.
- Any special/favorite amps/instrument tones/effects/approaches/techniques you've used/discovered in recording and/or performance that you really like?
I like the clean reverb sound of Surf, because the tone of the surf guitar sounds like it is coming from the depths of my soul. I use Boss’s digital reverb, it is the only pedal I use. I use fender Jaguar more often lately. It has versatile beautiful sound and short scale frets. I use Fender amps for its clean sound.
Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth? Sounds like you are a fan of Surf Music ala Ventures and early Beach Boys...
I am influenced by Dick Dale and Link Wray as guitar players. Dick Dale is the king of the surf guitar. Link Wray is the king of Wild Guitar. I am also influenced by some surf bands such as Los Straitjackets, Satan’s Pilgrims, Man or Astro-man ?, the Route 66 Killers, the Ghastly Ones, the Galaxy Trio, Gein and the Graverobbers, the Space Cossacks, the Shadows, the Bambi Molesters, the Trashwomen… I also listen to a lot of jazz players such as Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall, Lee Morgan… I am surf rock guitar player though, and I never consider myself as a Jazz guitar player. I am learning jazz guitar for education and fun. I apply jazz theory to my surf music too
There’s a few angles on that. For sheer joy and spiritual ecstasy, nothing can or will compare to field seats (22nd row) for the opening night of the KISS reunion: June 28, 1996 at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. I was able to track down a single ticket through a broker, which was OK because I had no one to go with me anyway. However, for pure surprise at being utterly blown away by a performer who I did not expect would blow me away when I saw him, that goes to Billy Squier on his “Here And Now” tour.
- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc? Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?
I compose music every day and play my own surf originals as well as Surf Rock standards with my band “Suzy Wedge and the Waves”. I am also a Jazz studies guitar major student at Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo B.C. Canada. My drummer Paul is also in the jazz program, and my bass player Dustin is classical music student. Basically, we are all classmates as well as roommates. Paul and I play in several jazz combos at the University. Moreover I am into teaching surf guitar too.
- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?
Yeah, I wrote songs such as "Revolution Surf", transgression, fear and transgender riot. I like them as they all represent the transgender revolution surf music that I’ve been playing for a while. ‘ Revolution Surf’ is about my band Suzy Wedge and the Waves who want to make a world free from all the discriminations against transgender people, in order to do that we need a revolution.
‘ Fear’ is about transphobia because fear creates hate, from verbal insults to hate crimes against transgender people.
‘ Transgression’ is about transgender people who move beyond the current gender binary that Western society categorizes humans; male/masculine and female/feminine. Transgender people are those who have ‘transgressed’ transcended and moved beyond this category, beyond this binary.
‘ Transgender Riot’ is about the rebellion transgender people participate in every day in order to change the society, make it a progressive community free from discrimination.
I also wrote a song called ‘Hidden Emotions’. This song is about all the oppressions that transgender people feel in the society, all of the obstacles that they encounter in everyday life. For many years, the transgender people of the world have hidden themselves because of the transphobia and discrimination they would have faced.
Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a transgender player in the mostly straight music world... and/or within the larger LGBT music community - especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
Surf music has a macho kind of scene. Most of the instrumental surf bands are male dominated bands. If you are a woman in the music world, you are more likely to be looked down on by male musicians. In every kind of music there is discrimination and sexism towards girl musicians. I am not happy about that at all. People who come to our shows with a lot of prejudices against trans people, before they leave the show, they feel like they are educated and I know, while they are watching us, they question themselves, and their views on transgender people. I can only hope that their life and their point of view changes and they come to thank us all the time.
I feel like I am starting some kind of revolution. I want to influence and inform people with transgender surf rock music and about transgender revolution. I am here to stop all the discriminations against transgender people. Transgender people are left behind, my goal is to put transgender people in front.
- For an openly out glbt player - how do you think the overall music scene differ today
from years ago?
There are more and more trans players starting bands and playing their music I know there are trans bands such as Lipstick Conspiracy, Lisa Jackson and Girl Friday, The Cliks. I consider myself a transsexual girl. I was born in the wrong body so I use the term transgender because it sounds more political and general for me. LGBT players are much more accepted in the mainstream or underground music world than before. There is a lot of support, but there are few trans players around. I am predicting that in near future, trans players will be far more accepted in the general music scene. That’s what I am fighting for. That will be revolution.
- Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?
Guitar is my life. My guitar has always followed me wherever I go. It is the mirror of my inner desires and emotions. When I share my music with people, I feel like I am in a totally different dimension. When I play surf rock guitar, I feel like I am surfing. I imagine the Waves in the ocean. Surf guitar is really important for me. It is like playing as an orchestra: playing melody, chords and the rhythm at the same time. It needs a lot of concentration and expression. And each note I play on guitar has many different meanings for me as a transgender girl guitar player.
How is the overall music scene in your Nanaimo, BC Canada locale?
First of all there is great surf rock scene here although Nanaimo is a pretty small city. We have a small but passionate group of fans here. A lot of people are supporting us though, West coast people enjoy surf rock music a lot. During and after the shows our audience are always very enthusiastic, drinking and dancing and coming and tell me; “whatever you play, we love it”.
- Tell us about this issue you've spoken about (to quote you) "I am recently banned from giving any political speeches at the Cambie bar. But they allow us to play our music."
In 15th of April, we were headliner, I gave a political speech about transgender issues and explained the meanings of some of my songs I wrote about transgender revolution at the Cambie bar. After that show, I was banned from giving any speeches about transgender issues at the same bar. My band became the most controversial act in Nanaimo music scene . Transgender musicians also inform the society. There has to be freedom of speech. After this event, I wrote a song called "Sabotage". Because they do not allow me to give speech anymore.
- Any advice for new, upcoming openly transgender musical artists?
They should form bands to play the music which they most enjoy and express themselves, challenge the gender binary which limits and divides people. Now there is developing transgender rock movement going on. Before us, there were a lot of different music movements, there were punk rockers, metalheads, indie rockers, emos but now there is transgender rockers. We are the pioneers of this period.
- What are your current and future musical projects? Including any new cds, touring and other promotions.
We re about to finish our first album which I plan it to come out in the summer. It will be concept album which all of the songs are going to be my own originals. The main theme of the album is the transgender revolution that I inform people about for a while. Furthermore, I want to tour all the west coast, play our music and share with people in the near future.
Hear & see SUZY WEDGE & THE WAVES vidoes/music at:: www.myspace.com/suzywaw
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