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Suzanne Brindamour  

singer, songwriter, guitarist, U.S.A.

Photo: Charles Steck, U.S.A.

My name is Suzanne Brindamour Tolford. I was born in Maryland, USA, as the youngest of five children. As a child, I went by the name Susu Tolford. I struggled with low self-esteem, loneliness and abandonment issues. I spent a lot of time in my room, playing guitar and making up music that I wanted no one to hear. Although my mother had a lovely voice, I couldn't sing a note.

Today, I use the name Suzanne Brindamour. I am a confident singer/songwriter and composer. I am social, outgoing and love to share my music. There is about as much "Susu" left in me as the small percentage of people who still call me that. Basically, after 20 plus years, I have grown into the self-assured musician that a part of me as a child thought, just maybe, I could be.

There was music in the house as I was growing up. My mother sang and my father played the piano. However, it was my three older brothers' guitar playing that sparked my involvement in music. The boys would jam, singing songs like "Ohio" (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young) "Willing," (Little Feat) and "Dear Abbie" (John Prine). I have fond memories of us all gathering in the family room, singing songs. When I was 12, my parents gave me my first guitar. I took some lessons in classical guitar at school. I taught myself piano, playing by ear. At times I would figure out parts of songs that interested me, but mostly I made up my own music.

At age 13 I tried out for the school musical, singing Simon and Garfunkle's "59th Bridge Street Song" for the audition. I think the bridge would have collapsed upon hearing me. It was such a catastrophe that I returned to keeping my musical endeavors private.
Then I entered the awkward teen years, very unsure of myself and lonely. I had glasses and braces and walked the halls at school unnoticed. I listened to music by Dan Fogelberg, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens and Lionel Riche, to name a few. My picking style was heavily influenced by Fogelberg.

Suzanne Brindamour
performing in 2000.

At 19, I started writing my own songs after falling in love. I recorded these with my guitar and raw voice in the basement of my parents' house, using my brothers' rudimentary equipment. I recorded the songs only so that I would remember them. I didn't let anyone hear them.

At 20, I moved to Phoenix to study graphic art at Arizona State University. I grew up being as much of an artist as I was a musician. I responded to an interesting newspaper advertisement that said, in a cryptic way, that the advertiser was seeking musicians who didn't do drugs. I qualified. The man who put in the ad, Frank Zelasny (Kid Trousers), asked me on the phone if I was a singer because I sounded like one from my speaking voice. For some reason I said "yes." When I was about to play him the basement tape, I confessed that I wasn't really a singer. He listened anyway and told me I had a beautiful voice and invited me to join the band: "Kid Trousers & Wisdom Bricks".

Kid Trousers played drums and sang. Mark Matson played keyboard and Shawn McClure played electric guitar. I played acoustic guitar and sang back up mostly. I wrote a song called "Why", for which I sang the lead. We recorded it in a 24-track studio. This and one of Trousers' songs was played on the Phoenix radio station "K Storm" (KSTM).

After one semester at the university I dropped out -something I am amazed my parents let me do- to focus on the band. I became a receptionist/secretary to support myself. I learned how to arrange and record songs. As my voice grew stronger, so too did my desire to write music and my belief that all things were possible. Within the year, I got together with the other two band mates, without Trousers, to write songs about injustices and despair.

    Common Ground in the mid 80´s.

This was something that wasn't allowed in the all-positive Kid Trousers band.
We parted ways with Trousers and became Common Ground.

I bought a keyboard and switched between keyboard and acoustic 12-string guitar. Mark and I sang. We wrote and recorded songs, but never performed. Our backgrounds and musical influences were diverse, but we came together well. We worshiped bands like Toto, Mr. Mister, Level 42 and Rush. We were like a family and spent a year playing, writing and growing together. Even when Mark moved an hour away, Shawn and I would drive north every weekend to play music together. We'd climb the same rocky hill behind the house, sometimes bringing our instruments. The lovely setting of northern Arizona provided great musical inspiration. We did our best to record songs born out of that inspiration despite our meager musical gear. With Mark's 4-track machine we recorded "The Bomb Song", a fictitious tragic story of a village that gets bombed. The three of us sang it in the bathroom because it provided great reverb. We kept having to re-do our vocal track because we were laughing at the absurdity of singing next to the toilet.

In January of 1987, I returned to Maryland because Common Ground had disbanded and my mother was ill. Months after moving home, she died of ovarian cancer. Enduring her suffering and death was the inspiration for the song "Waiting in the Wings." It was years later before I could put those feelings into words. This painful experience was a catalyst for change in my music and life. It began when repressed feelings came raging to the surface. I had so much anger two years after my mother's death that, when provoked, I would throw things in the grocery store where I worked as a cashier. Once I sent a frozen food dinner hurling toward a customer who had angered me. Fortunately, he had already left and was on the other side of the window. Amazingly, I didn't lose my job but I felt like I was losing my mind. I put myself into therapy and began a path toward self-discovery and self-love by unearthing a lot of crap. Gradually, I became more confident.

Suzanne Brindamour, 1989,
performing solo for the first time.

I also continued to nurture my musical talent. Terrified, I sang in public for the first time in 1989. I performed a few original songs during an outdoor festival at a convalescent home. My audience was small: a few friends, passersby and elderly patients wheeled out in their beds. No microphone stand was available so we taped two microphones to a camera tripod. The scene looked ridiculous as I sat, played my guitar and sang along with my drum machine to a somewhat unconscious audience. It was partly disastrous, but partly spectacular and victorious because I had the nerve to do it.

The next year, I worked as an intern for Channel Nine, a CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C. My role was to assist a producer in creating features for the magazine format television show "Capital Edition", which documented stories of interesting people in the metropolitan area.

Although I was scared and intimidated, I approached the producers with a song I had written for the host's farewell tribute, "You Will Be Missed" They loved the idea, so I recorded the song, using all sequenced keyboard parts and myself on vocals. It was used on the show and was my first musical composition for television.

In 1991, I finally completed a communications degree that I had begun after my mother died. Then, while working in video production, I pursued work as a composer, writing musical scores for video productions. I had taught myself how to write multiple tracks using the keyboard, including sounds such as drums, piano, flute and horns. Having skills as a video editor allowed me to edit scenes from a murder movie, which I then scored and sent to FOX's, "America's Most Wanted" Persistence and effort paid off and I was hired to write dramatic background music for a couple of episodes.
Finding it difficult to get steady work composing, I took a job as Assistant Production Director at WFRE/WFMD Radio in Frederick, Maryland, in 1993. There, the Production Director and I wrote, produced and voiced commercials. It was enjoyable, mostly because it provided an incredible creative outlet. One of the more humorous ad campaigns I wrote entitled "Honeypot and Little Possum" won the ADDY award for best radio campaign in the four state area.

After a year and a half, I yearned to return to music. And because I had recently married, I was able to. The stability of my husband's income allowed me to purchase new equipment to write music and synchronize it to video. I spent eight difficult months marketing myself but not getting work. My luck changed and I composed scores for the television program, "National Geographic Explorer", and a Mercedes Benz promotional film. It was hard to believe I was getting paid to sit at home and write music, with my cat seated in my lap. It was not only enjoyable-it was professionally rewarding. Several productions I scored won awards, including a POLLIE (for best political ad), an Axiom, Telly and Silver Screen Award (for an industrial film).

Occasionally I would be hired to voice commercials and one client thought that if I could 'act' with my voice, I could do it on camera. I played some small parts in a few training videos. Then after being hired to write the music for an interactive science video by another client, I was asked to be the on-camera co-host. "You Be the Chemist" was distributed to thousands of schools across the US for use in 4th grade classrooms.

Unfortunately, my marriage did not last long and after a lengthy, agonizing separation, we divorced in 1998. This ordeal provided inspiration for songs, including "The Last Thing". The situation forced me to cope and grow. I began volunteering at the Circle of Hope Therapeutic Riding Center, where I was presented with a wonderful professional opportunity - to produce a promotional video ... for absolutely no pay. Producing was something I had always wanted to do, so I gladly undertook the project. My diverse work experience allowed me to also direct, co-write, voice the narration, assist in the sound design and write the musical score for "A Gift of Hope".

    Bassist Willard Morris and Suzanne Brindamour performing at Seattle's Best Cafe, September, 2000.

I wrote a business plan and looked for investors to finance my first CD. Friends and family and the owner of Il Forno restaurant, where I worked part-time, came forth with checks in hand. I was very touched by their faith in me. Various musicians volunteered their time and talents. My sister, with some help from our sister-in-law, did the artwork for the cover. The photographs were taken by friends or by me. My brother did the layout and design of the CD. It took a village.

Wanting to keep the sound acoustic, I added only a hint of electronic keyboard on the song, "Waiting in the Wings" for a haunting quality. I enlisted electric guitarists, a bassist, pianist, drummer/percussionist, violinist, and the cellist from "Larry Said So" to play on the 11 songs of the CD. After nine months in the studio, my first CD was born.

The self-titled, self-produced CD "Suzanne Brindamour" was released in November 1999 on Splash Records, a small label that provided some funding. I told a friend, "I could die now." It was so fulfilling to have some of my music in a permanent form. Of course, I've since raised the bar. Now I don't want to die until I have recorded at least three more CDs, half the world has heard them, and I own a condo in the Bahamas!

The CD was done but the hard work was only beginning. I labored to the point of exhaustion to get newspaper coverage, performances, and whatever I could to promote the CD and get it in stores. A few stores began selling it on consignment, then the regional buyer of a big chain fell in love with my music and helped me get national distribution. The CD received great reviews in newspapers and airplay on radio stations in Washington DC, Arizona, Massachusetts, and the Netherlands as well as on the Web. For a while, I was one of the top 10 artists in the U.S. on the international Internet music site, "MP3"...

...It was around that time that myself and another singer/songwriter, Kim Connell, formed a group called "Larry Said So" We both played acoustic guitars, and added a bassist and a cellist. At this point, performing still frightened me and it was easier to hide behind my band mates. When Kim moved out of state I was devastated. Then I made the decision to focus on my career as a solo artist. I let go of the idea that I needed anyone else in order to pursue my musical passion. There was nothing I loved more than writing songs and I was determined to combat my fears of inadequacy and put my material out there.

The greatest validation came when one of my songs from the CD "Dear Sevda" was used in the soundtrack of a Warner Brothers television series, "Popstars", which also aired on MTV. This was a reality show in which young women were auditioning to become popstars. It's ironic, not only because that is also my dream, but because the song-used to win sympathy for the beautiful, talented girls who didn't make the cut-was written about a Bosnian refugee, and dear friend, that I have been supporting and corresponding with for six years.

I wrote most of the songs on the album within two years of the recordings, although "Over" was written ten years earlier. The first and second verses and the chorus of that song reflected my feelings after my first serious relationship. The third verse completed the song ten years later when another affair ended in heartbreak. During the song "No Pride In Pity", I express the anguish of difficult times and the desire to overcome them. Some learn as little girls that a prince will arrive, build us a castle and make us happy for the rest of our lives. I've struggled my whole life to make things happen for myself, by myself. Many also believe as children that bad things happen because we are being punished for doing something wrong. These thoughts are expressed in the following lyrics:

"Sometimes it just all falls around you,
and you wonder if it's payback for some recent peccadillo;
and sometimes I wish I was building my own castles,
but instead I'm too damn busy beating fists into my pillow."

When I express my angst in a song, I like to offer a glimmer of hope, perhaps a solution or some encouragement. Otherwise, it would be too much of a downer.

Some of my lyrics embarrass me. I can be honest while I'm writing my songs alone in my living room, but when people are listening-something I didn't think about then-it's a different story. When I first played my CD for people I would cough through some of the lyrics of the first song.
The first line is:
"quite a few men say they want me
I've allowed too many men to touch me."

I'm more comfortable with modesty and certainly don't want to be perceived as a tramp. The private side of me would like to have included a silly disclaimer explaining that I don't think all men want me, it was just at this particular time there were several that did and when I say "touch me" I don't mean "sleep with me"; and don't think I'm easy - after all, I was a virgin until I was 22!

When I wrote these songs I had no idea that I would have young fans. I believe performing artists have a responsibility to youngsters and material on the radio should be written with that in mind.

Left to Right: Suzanne Brindamour with vocalist, Lauren Chrissos on the "Best Buy Ernie Ball Heroes Tour", September, 2000.

Recently I've had the fortune of seeing how music can impact the lives of children. A year ago, I got a part-time job at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. as musician-in-residence. I wheel a cart of instruments around the hospital and help children get their mind off their illness. I have seen kids go from tears to smiles after striking the keyboard, get their frustrations out on the drums, reveal themselves through song, and find peace while I sing to them. A boy of 10 who had never played guitar learned to play three songs by the time he checked out after eight weeks. During my weekly workshop with teenagers in the psychiatric ward, they write songs, laugh, and express their angst. The rewards are unequalled for me.

Over the years I've learned that when we are truly ready to give, we in turn receive. I've learned to love myself and to have faith in myself. I've learned that it's better to face fears and find yourself a little uncomfortable than to stay in a safe place. I've learned that when you do what you love and share the gifts you've been given, things can fall wonderfully into place. Through song I hope to encourage others to find their path, seek fulfillment and know self-love.

If I am to achieve this, there are still dragons to slay: residual insecurities, balancing making a living with pursuing a dream, and the hurdle of breaking into an extremely difficult industry. Despite my trepidation, in the year 2002, I find myself in a magical place, so fortunate to be doing what I love. I'm sharing music with children, composing for radio and television, writing songs and performing. I've got a new batch of songs for my next CD and although I hope to find a record company to back me, I'm going to do it, with or without the help. I'm going on faith; I'm going to get that condominium in the Bahamas :)

Excerpts from Arts Dialogue, February 2002, pages 12 - 15

Suzanne Brindamour 1999

Review by Judith McNeil, 2003.

I began listening to Suzanne about the time my elderly mother was attempting to die for a second time by refusing to eat. At first the album was a gentle soothing hum in the background then the lyrics started to jump out at me. 'We're connected' I thought. And yes we are. I'm my mother's first born and this crazy behaviour could just as easily become mine. 'So how can I tell you I love's breaking my heart' And it is. This behaviour my mother indulges in is breaking my heart. 'But I'll stick to my guns. Even if I'm the last one standing' And so I will Mother. Even if it means putting you into the rest-home. You are not going to drag me down in that hole you are in.

As a musician myself I had then to listen more to the instrumentation and loved the way the electric guitar talked to me during the first track with the quiet echoes of the cello before the drum took over, 'beautiful, more beautiful'. I too have written songs about lingering. we all do, we musicians. We linger for lovers calls, for political change, over the prolonged death of a loved one. But while we are there we can't help creating. Even if it just accumulates into an exasperating drum roll.

'Sometimes the edges all just fall around you' She definitely is a Poet, this woman and despite what she sings, there is art in anger. In her anger as she moves us through her journeying from love to war to survival. And one is reminded that that is all there is.

'Like branches to a tree, ocean is to earth' And mothers are to daughters and no doubt fathers are to sons and the cello is the earth and the guitar, like the wind, expressing a six-shooter of emotions or at least I think that's what she said. My main criticism is that sometimes it is hard to catch her lyrics. It's that gentle southern drawl. Oh well. One can't have everything.

But thanks Suzanne. Now my mother is safe and I've managed to put together my first music review.

Suzanne Brindamour is available for performing either solo or with a full band
and you can order her self-titled CD, Suzanne Brindamour from

Listen to some music via her web site:

Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands