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Music Interview: Spencer Sutherland

Grant Walters Grant Walters Music Interview: Spencer Sutherland
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The Pickerington native brings his debut EP, "NONE of this has been about you," to a hometown tour stop at Express LIVE! on Sunday night

The R&B smolder of Spencer Sutherland’s debut EP, NONE of this has been about you, doesn’t exactly evoke the humble proclivity of suburban Columbus. But the Ohio native-turned-Los Angeleno received his formative musical education growing up in Pickerington, with much of the credit being owed to his family that insisted on spinning albums at home from an impressively wide spectrum of influences.

“I’ve been listening to music since I can remember, since I was old enough to make a sound,” he recalls during our phone interview earlier this week. “But, the thing that really cultivated it was that my parents would play Elvis and Marvin Gaye, and all these different artists – Green Day, Nirvana. You know, all kinds of music. I was constantly around all these artists. I feel like I’ve taken things from each without even really knowing it.”

It stands to reason that Sutherland’s repertoire is also an eclectic olio of soul, pop, rock, and alternative, which has steadily earned attention since his 2017 single, “Selfish” was chosen by iHeart Radio’s Elvis Duran as The Today Show’s Artist of the Month. NONE of this has been about you has accumulated five million global streams (and counting) since its release in March. 

On Sunday night, Sutherland is on the sold-out ticket for WNCI’s Summer in the City with headliner Lizzo, former Fifth Harmony chanteuse Ally Brooke, and fellow Columbusites Ghost Soul Trio

Last fall, Sutherland inked a recording contract with BMG. Things have changed dramatically since his earliest days as a performer when he was also his own public relations and booking agent. 

“When I was old enough to really realize that this was what I wanted to do for my career – maybe when I was a junior in high school – I started playing in restaurants in Pickerington and Gahanna and Downtown,” Sutherland says. “When I started, it was really me just calling restaurants. I didn’t have anybody helping me. I was using the Yellow Pages and was literally just calling every place. It was wild.”

As his cachet grew, so did the opportunities to forge partnerships that would have a long-lasting impact on his path. He met his current manager, Leslie Armour, and found a mentor in O.A.R.’s Jerry DiPizzo while he was still navigating the Columbus music scene.

“I wrote my first song ever with him, which was super cool,” Sutherland says. “He lived in North Columbus or something like that out there, but we went to his house and wrote a couple of songs. He’s the one who helped me understand, ‘hey, I’m a professional and this is what the industry’s like.’”

While his career is on the rise, Sutherland says that his own internal soul searching has been a necessary part of finding truth in this personal and professional identities. 

“It’s important to grow as a person no matter how big you get, or how old you are – to expand certain aspects of yourself. I hope to keep growing as a person when I’m eighty or ninety years old,” Sutherland says. “As an artist…[take] for instance, Bruno Mars. His first album compared to his last album is so different, but they’re both successful in their own way. But, I think when you see an artist evolve like that, they have to do that. They can’t always make the same sound, or the same message. They have to evolve, but still be them – it’s this weird fine line.”

Building an audience who believes in you and your experiences is also key.

“Just being authentic and being real – and I’ve learned being real makes other people connect with you so much more,” Sutherland affirms. “I wrote a couple of songs a few years ago – they were just pop songs. Average pop songs that could have been from any artist. And, they did okay. But, when I started really being authentic, everything started connecting and falling into place.

Sutherland’s fans have readily pointed out where they’ve found common ground with his material.

“I have a couple of songs – one of them’s called ‘Fine,’ which is about saying you’re fine when you’re not: ‘if you ask me how I’m doing I say fine,'” Sutherland explains. “People will come and say, ‘hey, I just want to let you know that I connect to this feeling, and this has really been helping me out through a really weird or rough time in my life. Thank you for writing about this and not just about meeting a hot girl,’ you know? It’s really cool they feel that connection.”

Practice also makes perfect. A prolific songwriter, Sutherland estimates that he’s composed a few hundred songs in the last year alone. Sometimes, his writing is methodical and focused, but he’s also willing to experiment and see where trial and error takes him creatively.

“I think it’s dependent on what kind of phase I’m in. Sometimes it’s, like, ‘okay, one song a day…’ And, sometimes I take some time with songs,” Sutherland says “It just depends on if I have a tour coming up and I have to get stuff done, or if I just want to focus on stuff. I really let my mood in life kind of drive that, and once again, it’s that authenticity taking over – which is really important. But, my thing is that even if I have the smallest of ideas, but it’s something that could work, I have to try it.”

If I have this idea for a song about a train that I saw – I have no idea what it’s going to be, but I have to try it or else I’ll be thinking about it for the next month. Whenever I have little ideas and stuff, I’ll keep a list in my head and go, ‘alright, let’s write a whole song about this little riff and see what happens.’ And, most of the time you don’t use it, because it’s just how writers and songs work – for every forty or fifty songs you write, one comes out. It’s a little of both – I think it just depends, you know?”

Sutherland plans on putting at least some of those songs to good use. A new EP to follow up NONE of this has been about you is scheduled for release this fall. 

“The new EP that’s coming out later this year is similar because it’s still very much me, and it’s the same writers and producers, and stuff.,” Sutherland notes. “But, I think there are some where the message is a little deeper, and there are some more fun tracks. It’s…it’s a little weirder. In a good way, I would say.”

While he seems to be settling in comfortably into his success, Sutherland is audibly excited to come back to Columbus this weekend.

“I can’t wait for this show. It feels so special. I know it’s not my headlining show, but it’s such a huge homecoming in its own way,” Sutherland says. “My roots are always going to be in Ohio, no matter where I go or what happens.”

It’s really just this feeling of crazy support and love. It’s this heartfelt vibe from supportive and loving people. They’re just good people. You know, it’s funny – I wanted to get out so bad after high school. I was, like, ‘oh, my God. I don’t want to be here. I want to go to L.A. so bad.’ And, then I got to L.A., and thought, ‘you know, I really didn’t have it that bad. That place was magical.’ I think Ohio has this magic energy that you can’t get anywhere else. Especially in my hometown.”

Spencer Sutherland takes the stage Sunday night with Lizzo, Ally Brooke, and Ghost Soul Trio as part of WNCI’s Summer in the City at Express LIVE!, 405 Neil Ave. in the Arena District. At press time, general admission tickets are sold out. Learn more about Spencer by visiting his official website, or follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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