We had the chance to sit down and chat with one of the all-time great guitarists and blues singers in this country, Sue Foley, or otherwise known as The Ice Queen. Her new album The Ice Queen is currently the #1 album on the Canadian Folk/Roots/Blues Chart for the 2nd week in a row. Read on below to learn more about Sue Foley, her music career, and what she will be up to in 2018!
photo by Hailey Voorand for Nas Media
We know that you recently released your label debut CD, “The Ice Queen.” Can you tell us a little bit about the album and your creative process/inspiration behind it?
Well, the inspiration behind it is hard to explain. I’d written these songs in the fall of 2015 and it was sort of while we were going into winter while I was up in Canada. So the album kind of got influenced by the weather I think. There’s a lot of references to stuff like that. I think the feel of it gets wintery in a lot of ways. It kind of gets dark and then gets light again.
I had written these songs and I actually had a whole other concept for the album, I was going to call it “North” because of that sort of theme. Then I wrote The Ice Queen, and it was one of the last songs I’d written and I was talking to the producer Mike Flannigan and he said you’ve got to call the album The Ice Queen. The album as a whole, The Ice Queen represents that wintery vibe and also just my Canadian roots because I live in the South a lot, I go to the states a lot, and they know me as the Canadian blues musician. It’s a part of my identity.
I also have a favourite guitar player named Albert Collins who plays a fender telecaster like me. He’s passed on now but he’s one of my favourites and they called him the Ice Man. So I’m sort of ripping that off too. Conceptually that’s kind of where it’s at.
What is it like to finally work with your idols Jimmie Vaughan and Billy Gibbons?
Working with them was unbelievable because every time I play with them I learn so much. I think about what they’ve done and their body of work and I get intimidated sometimes like a kid. But the fact that they validated me means so much. They are so highly regarded and are such important figures in both blues and rock and roll. I’m just tickled everyday that I’m in that group, it’s been amazing. Playing with them and having them on the album was amazing. We pick songs that I think really suited them so it stayed with the concept, it didn’t take over the concept of the album with the special guests. It stays within the framework of the record. It really worked out good.
What do you need to have around you and/or a location that you need to be in for you to start your songwriting/producing process?
I think I need space around me. I don’t mean physical space, I mean space in my mind. I can write anywhere and in any environment; at home, on the road, but its more like my mind has to have space around it. Right now I’m really busy promoting an album and playing gigs and planning stuff, so my mind is really full of all this stuff. So I’m not writing right now. There’s too much garbage in my head. For me to write I have to put all the garbage aside and find space and have time to ruminate. Then it will just come.
What is one thing that your fans don’t know about you?
There’s probably a few! Well, I’m pretty basic. Im really healthy and I’m into health and taking care of myself and I go to yoga. I’m not what you think of a blues musician! I’m a white woman who’s 50, so my life is a certain way. But I really love my work and Im really work centric. But yeah, they probably don’t know I get up in the morning, go to yoga and stuff like that. I drink green drinks, then I go to gigs.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring young female musicians?
Grow a shell. In my business in Rock and Roll and Blues you can’t be too girly, unfortunately. You have to curb that. At least if you’re feminine you at least have to have a pretty tough shell around you. There’s a lot of stuff you’re going to need to bat away and get over. Even with all the changes lately in the media and things that have come to light, the music business is a certain way. You’ve got to be tough. You have to be happy with who you are and comfortable around men. You need to learn to assert yourself. That’s probably what I would try to say, you need to assert yourself. That takes a while, it really does.
How has your music evolved since you first started singing and songwriting?
It has evolved with me. I think music and life are intertwined. The way I’ve evolved is the way my music has evolved. With age comes more self knowledge. I think when you get more self knowledge you get more knowledge of everything. It’s an interesting thing that knowing more about yourself, helps you know more about the whole world. That kind of compassionate look at yourself gives you a compassionate look at the world so you actually have more to give. When I was 20 I didn’t know anything, I mean, I just barely knew myself. I was good but I didn’t know how to connect with the bigger picture. You need to be able to have access to what they call “universal mind” and “personal mind”. They’re the same thing, you have to know deeply inside yourself in order to know deeply whats going on out there. I know more now. Im better, and I know more.
Who is your biggest music inspiration? Who do you have a lot of respect for?
My biggest musical inspiration is a lady named Memphis Minnie. She was a guitar player and singer/songwriter in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. She recorded over 200 sides and she was sort of a controversial figure in music but her songs were covered by artists like Bonnie Raitt and Led Zeppelin. She was really influential but she remains sort of obscure because her career ended before the folk and blues music revival of the 60’s took hold. She was inactive those years so she got looked over, and then she died in 1973. Her songs are incredible, her story is remarkable. She was way ahead of her time. She was a lead guitar player in the 1930’s, she wrote some insanely great songs, travelled around, and she was innovative. I think she’s one of the most fascinating people. I always tip my hat to her at every show and tell the crowd about her and do some of her songs because I think she’s so important. She’s my favourite. There’s a lot of people to choose from but I can nail it down to Memphis Minnie.
What is one song that never gets old for you, no matter how many times you hear it?
Careless love by Bessie Smith. They call her “The Empress of the Blues”. She was a huge blues star in the 1920’s. They even made a movie about her on HBO and Queen Latifah starred as her. She’s a really important figure in blues and early jazz. I always refer back to her music because Bessie Smith was so influential and she played with Louis Armstrong who was hugely influential. Billie Holiday was really influenced by Bessie Smith, Nina Simon was influenced was influenced by Bessie Smith. So really anybody that was influenced by Billie Holiday was influenced by Bessie Smith. That’s the way I kind of look at things, like I always go back and see that Frank Sinatra was influenced by Billie Holiday and like who was Billie Holiday influenced by? She was influenced by Bessie Smith. Everything sort of leads back there for me. All of her songs I love and I play Careless Love in my show sometimes. Every time it comes on I love it. She’s just so great.
What are your future plans for 2018? Do you plan on going on tour?
Yes! We’ll be on tour in Europe at the end of May and I’m heading to Austin, Texas next week. We’ll be back in Ontario in July and August for some dates, festivals, and stuff like that. I’ll just be on the road. I think when you put out a new album, you’re obligated to get out there and tour it. It’s a labour of love for me anyway. I love to play so that’s what I’ll be doing.