If you would have asked her 12 or 13 or 14 years ago, folk singer Suzie Brown would have voiced her very clear and very ambitious vision to become "a high-powered academic doctor with a corner office doing research," she talks candidly over a recent phone call with AXS.com. She held her aspirations high, but "it totally wasn’t the right thing for me," she says. "I’m so glad I had an open mind and followed my internal cues." Now, she lives a double life: for two weeks she's a singer, songwriter and musician pouring her heart out three minutes at a time; for the other two weeks, she's an Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant cardiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. "At my old job [in Philadelphia], I worked several days a week most of the time. It made for a lot of back and forth. The transitions were really hard," she admits. "When I took the job at Vanderbilt, I asked for a two-week on, two-week off schedule. When I’m working for two weeks, it’s pretty intense. Right now, I’m at work. This is my 11th day in a row. I’m definitely in it...but then I get to be home for two weeks."
"I still got stars in my eyes. I'm just looking at a different part of the sky," she intones on the rather heart-rending "Sometimes Your Dreams Find You," the acoustic, title track of her fifth studio album (out May 12). "Dreams do come true, sometimes you find your dreams, sometimes your dreams find you," she later affirms, threading together the core of the record, which explores the tightrope act of her life: the struggles, the staying up till five am with her two children and the high of giving it her all to make a living. "I felt like I was chasing maybes for a long time," she says of her pivotal 20s. "39 is when I had my first baby. I spent a long time trying to find my home. Then, I finally found it. It was worth the wait."
During her 2015 TEDMED talk, Brown discussed finding peace within her life. On Sometimes Your Dreams Find You, she examines how that plays out in her life now. "This new record is all about love and family. It reflects the state I’m in. There’s some pretty honest songs about what it’s like to have kids and how it’s all worth it. During the time at home, I spend time with my family and squeeze in music," she says.
"It's crazy what happens with a little time," she later recollects on the title track. "Back then, I thought I had to break the mold. Nothing worse to me than getting old. Now, I feel I'm just beginning, a different game I'm finally winning. You start winning when you stop keeping score." A rather lucky chance encounter would quickly send her down a path to penning such a sincere and empowering story. She first met her co-writer, a guy by the name of Korby Lenker, at "a holiday party of a mutual friend," she remembers. "We had a nice chat. He emailed me a couple weeks later to ask 'do you want to write sometime?' Both of our schedules were so crazy that we ended up booking a write for May, which was several months later."
"I had booked a tour for May. Little did I know, I was going to be pregnant with Chloe on that tour, but early pregnant. I was sick as a dog. We brought Josie, my first daughter, with us. She was one and a half at the time. I get the most sick at night, so basically, I would throw up and then have to play shows and hold it together. Then, I would go home and get up with Josie and get back in the car to drive to the next show. It was three weeks, and it was brutal. I got home and had one day off. Then, I worked 12 days in a row at the hospital," she expounds. "By the time those 12 days ended, I was useless, just toast and burnt out. But I had booked this co-write with Korby a couple days later. Not a single cell in my body wanted to go to that co-write. I felt like I had no creativity left. I was so tired. When you’re writing with somebody you’ve never written with before, it’s like a blind date. You feel pressure. So, I just showed up and chatted for awhile. I was talking about how you never know what your life is going to look like. You have these ideas of what you think you want your life to look like. Then, in my case, it looks totally different. But I’m so much happier."
And the rest is history. Brown offers up a rather intimate portrayal of motherhood, but even for someone without kids, the messages and thread lines are profound and commanding. "No punching in or out, can't hesitate or doubt," she wails on "Give." Then, later on "Don't We All Need Love," she reminisces about the lessons and defining moments with her own parents. "Mom and dad humored me when I bleached my hair and then dyed it green. Anytime they tried to sympathize, I would just roll my eyes," she avows. "Mom and dad saw my first heartbreak, and when they reached out, I pushed them away." It is from that incredibly raw and honest place which utterly connects Brown to the world and everyone else's stories, somehow becoming the listener, too. "I wrote that song with my friend Robby Hecht. I went over to his house to write. He had just gotten back from his grandmother’s funeral. He was saying that it was really tough on his dad," Brown explains of the song. "It was one of the first times he felt like he had to take care of his dad, seeing his parent wounded. As you get older, your relationship with your parents changes and transitions. I felt that in my own way. We wrote that song about first being a child and then growing up and having to be there for your parents."
On one especially affecting cut, "This Much" (premiering exclusively today), she recalls "spending nights up with my first daughter--now almost three years ago. It’s that feeling of being so exhausted and waiting of that first inkling of the sun to come up. You knew then reinforcements were coming. But it’s also about savoring every one of those moments and looking at this little creature and feeling your heart could explode," she says. "Then thinking, 'right now, she cries for me, she wants me.' Then, it’s 'one day, she’s going to turn to someone else but I was the first one to have this kind of love with her.' It’s also that no one can understand a mother’s love for their child. It’s beyond words. I finally got around to writing it just within the last year."
But Brown wasn't always ready to write her new record. "I had been in a writing rut because I was pregnant and had a toddler and was nauseated from being pregnant. I started to get in this bad headspace of feeling out of practice and being hesitant to book co-writes...because I was out of practice. Then, I would get even more out of practice and feel even more intimidated to write," she says. "I had my daughter Chloe in December . Six weeks later, my book club was meeting. Of course, I didn’t even know what book I was supposed to have read. But I just went to say hi to everybody. It turns out they had picked this book called ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert, and it’s all about creativity."
She continues, "I was there for this really great discussion. Basically, what Elizabeth says is artists make their art. She talks about what the definition of success is and that you should just make your art without regard to that. If I’m a songwriter, I just have to write songs, even if they’re bad. I decided for the rest of my maternity leave to write a song a week. I did it with my friend Jenee Halstead who lives in Boston. Every week, we got on FaceTime and played each other our new songs."
Everything was set in motion with the first song she wrote, called "Everything I Need is Here." The plucky, heartwarming song focuses on "how crazy but great" her life has become. "That song started this whole new wave of creativity. I started booking co-writes again. By the time spring came, I had this whole collection of songs," she says. "My husband Scot [Sax] and I were planning a tour for July. I figured 'I kind of have an album ready, maybe I should record it and have it ready for tour.' Scot and I recorded it at home in our studio. Now, I’m finally getting around to releasing it officially."
When it came down to producing the record, this particular moment features heavier pop-leaning production than most of the other songs. "It’s sort of a fun song, so we wanted to think of fun presentation of it. Scot came up with the guitar lick to introduce it. Then, I originally didn’t have the bridge in there. But we felt it needed some sort of break. I came up with that line 'my heart’s the size of a small planet filled with so much love, I can hardly stand it.' We had the idea of putting in audio of both of our kids talking and cooing. It evolved in the moment, and Scot played almost all the instruments."
With having recorded nearly "all the songs I wrote with a couple exceptions," she says, "I would say [I went through] maybe 15 songs. I recorded eight new ones. Then, I put on a duet with Scot, a song that he wrote that I love. I added an older song called ‘Sweet Tooth’ that’s a fan favorite I had never put on an official album."
Sax is found prominently on much of the record, adding suckle harmonies, as found on such tracks as "Give" and "Don't We All Need Love." But it's the earthy bookend, "Not Just Now and Then," which features him in a duet role. "Think I'm going to take it in. The thought of not losing. Think I'm going to take it in, that a loser can win," Brown sings. "Love finally made it back to me, again." Sax's compelling tenor is a satisfying counterbalance to Brown's caramel lead vocal, which conjures up an old school country spirit.
The cheeky "Sweet Tooth," in which she professes such things as "give me more of your sweet candy love" and "baby, because of you, I've got a sweet tooth," was written long before Brown and Sax made the decision to move to Music City. Brown explains, "I actually wrote that one in Nashville. Scot had a publishing deal at the time. His publisher sent him on a writing trip to Nashville, and I just came with him. I had never been to Nashville. Scot went off on his co-write. I was in the hotel and wrote a song. I have an actual sweet tooth and started writing down all the funny things about candy I could think of."
Admittedly, Brown had a panic attack that first Nashville trip "because I knew we had to move here," she says. "I was like 'oh my god, Scot, we have to move here.' I could tell Scot felt much more stimulated and among his people. There are so many amazing songwriters here. In Philadelphia, it’s not much of a songwriting town. There are great musicians there, though. But Scot didn’t have as many songwriting friends to play with. He was so excited. That alone made me so happy to see him so happy. On my part, I felt comfortable. It has such a relaxed vibe here. We live in East Nashville. It’s basically free, creative people and young families. It’s the perfect place for us. We’ve been in Nashville a little over three years."
In the process of writing and recording this record, Brown also hopes to pass on some of her wisdom to her two children, Josie and Chloe. "The biggest thing is I want them to know that success can take a lot of different forms. You don’t have to be a doctor or a lawyer to be 'successful.' I want them to know themselves and keep trying to know themselves better and figure out what will make them happy," she affirms. "I don’t want them to feel confined to go to an Ivy League school and get some big job, if that’s not what’s going to make them happy. I felt really trapped by that."
Sometimes Your Dreams Find You is now up for pre-order on iTunes.
Stay tuned to AXS.com for any and all updates.
Take a listen to "This Much" below: