Quick Q & A with Susie Burke and David Surette

Susie Burke and David Surette

Susie Burke and David Surette are beloved New England musicians who have been haunting venues in the seacoast area of New Hampshire and Maine for a couple of decades. They raised a family which includes Isa Burke, one of the talented trio, Lula Wiles. Susie’s velvety voice and David’s exceptional playing on anything with strings makes for a terrific evening of great live music.

You can find out more about Susie and David on their website. Catch this video of a lively song by Susie and David. You can listen to a special tune by Susie and David accompanied by their two daughters here.


Do you remember the first time you played together? Was it magic from the get go?
David: We started playing together in the mid-80s, as friends and part of the Seacoast folk scene centered around Portsmouth. I would bring my mandolin to sit in on her gigs. It was really fun right from the beginning. Susie is a wonderful singer and musician to work with.
Susie: To be honest, it did work well right from the start. We have similar musical sensibilities. As a singer you want to hear certain things from your lead player, and David played the kinds of things my ear was wanting.
How would you describe your shows to someone who has never seen you play before?
Susie: We are in the folk/acoustic big tent, with traditional, original and carefully chosen contemporary songs. We love many genres, so while a lot of it sounds perfectly folky, we may add a swing tune or a standard. And David’s instrumental skills shine throughout.
David: We do a pretty wide-ranging folk show, centered around good songs and good presentations of those songs. With some picking, too! We like to keep it spontaneous and real. We have been writing more lately as well, so we are playing more original material than we used to.
We want to know about your latest CD Waiting for the Sun. Was it fun to record?
David: It was a great experience recording this record, a musical high point for us. We recorded at Chris Magruder’s Thundering Sky studio in our home town of South Berwick, ME. We had some of our best musical pals with us, and our kids sang and played on it, too. How lucky can you get? When you add in the increasing focus on original music, it really feels like it was a very personal, heartfelt project, as well as an absolute gas to do it!
Maybe it’s me but I was surprised to see a John Mayer song on the record (“Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967”). How did that song come onto your radar?
Susie: We are all John Mayer fans in our family. His CDs are road trip favorites, along with The Wood Brothers and The Avett Brothers. The family had given me the CD, Born and Raised, which I love. Our daughter Julianna told us she thought I should sing ‘Walt Grace.” It was a great suggestion. It is such a good song.
Do you have any favorite tracks on the album? If so, what are they?
David: I really like Susie’s blues tune, “Give Me Some Hope;” it’s a fun one to stretch out on. Also two of the tracks the girls are on with us, “April With The Flying Bow” and the John Mayer tune.
Susie: Singing with my girls was just such a rich and beautiful thing. The three songs they sing on, “Walt Grace,” “April,” and “I Don’t Want To Love You” are special to me.
What makes a “good song”?
David: I think there should be something compelling about it, whether it’s a melody, a guitar part, a lyric. Something that adds urgency to your listening. There are so many different ways to get to that point. I like good structure, but I also like spots where a song or tune can open up into something else for a while.
Susie: I am quite focused on lyrics, and I want to feel something. And I also agree with David that there are other elements that can draw you in -– a musical riff or motif, a mood, rhythmic groove, humor, unabashed joy.
Along those lines, do you spend much time listening to new (or old) music and determining whether you could / should add it to your repertoire?
David: Well, so much is fair game! I listen to music all the time. I go in bursts. Lately there’s been a lot of Carter Family stuff. I think it’s good to have a lot of stuff in your repertoire that you don’t do all the time, too, so you can bust out a few surprises in a concert or a jam session.
Susie: I run a singing weekly singing class in our studio, and I am on the prowl for songs for that. And I will pick a CD or artist and do some repeated listening. I heard the Californua Honeydrops at a festival this summer and bought two of their recordings. They are an r and b type band, but who knows? Maybe one of their tunes will find its way into our repertoire.
David, do you have a favorite stringed instrument these days? Do you go through periods of time where you’re more mando and less guitar, for instance?
David: I try to keep up on both of them. I might have a need to practice some certain things for a gig or recording, but aside from that, I just try to make sure I keep some kind of balance. It’s nice that the techniques are so similar, they really keep each other sharp, as opposed to someone who maybe plays a horn and piano.
Are you an instrument collector? Do you covet any particular kind of instrument that has not yet made it into your collection?
David: I am not a collector, but I love good instruments. I have a very small amount of very good instruments. I have my eye out for a nice concert ukulele, and a nice-sounding banjo-mandolin (it could happen!).
Tell us about your talented daughters! You must be proud!
David and Susie: We are so very proud of Isa and Julianna. They are beautiful, amazing singers and musicians, and lovely young women as well, which makes us proudest of all. Family gigs with them are just a blast. We are hoping Jules is going to come down and join us at the Me & Thee gig with Lula Wiles, who, by the way, are doing so well and sounding so great!

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