Suzie Gilb is no stranger to the taverns and music venues around the south side of St. Louis. She's a regular performer on the scattershot mosaic floor of the Venice Cafe, where audiences may not blink an eye at her songs, which often pair her acerbic wit with her R-rated lexicon.
In Gilb's delivery, the word "shit" carries much more than just its scatological weight; the four-letter word encompasses behaviors, moods and actions. You'll hear it scattered throughout the songs she plays under the name Suzie Cue with such regularity that you'd be forgiven for thinking that her curse words appear as part of some autonomic process.
So when Gilb wants to share her songs with a wider audience, she has to do some judicious editing of her lyrics — or abandon whole songs altogether.
"I just played a show this weekend that was somewhat family friendly, and I went through my repertoire of songs. 'Ain't That Some Shit,' 'Fuck Off' — can't play that!" she says, laughing.
Those two songs appear on the latest Suzie Cue release, The Bridges Were Already Burning, and their titles give away much of the rancor that Gilb expresses on parts of the EP. While these recordings were initially intended to be scratch recordings for a full-band album (which is currently being readied for release), she found that these versions told a story by themselves.
"I'm sort of an old-school album fan, and these days people are more interested in putting out singles," Gilb says. So, to set a definitive start and stop to the release, Gilb crafted two brief but loaded snippets, "Intro" and "Outro," which are a little more delicate than some of the other songs. She says that they serve both as guideposts and as summaries for what comes in between.
"When I went to do the tracklist, I thought of how to make it sound like a cohesive story, in a way that flows and makes sense with the music," she explains.
That storyline, such as it is, is more a rumination and excavation of a few failed relationships.
"The title is The Bridges Were Already Burning, so the theme for me was about having these toxic relationships in your life that you need to get rid of," Gilb says. She notes that a few of these relationships were romantic, though not all. And in the course of writing and recording these songs, bridges that were seemingly burnt were reconstructed.
"In the process of making this record, I ended up re-connecting with my ex and old bandmate Steve [Lickenbrock, who leads the Traveling Sound Machine], and he'll be a special guest on the album release show," Gilb says.
That release show, on May 11 at Off Broadway, will feature her full band, including a rhythm section and horn players. But for Bridges, Gilb kept a stripped-down approach that will be similar to her solo sets and open mic appearances of yore. And while she's responsible for all the sounds on the EP, Gilb still wanted a more fleshed-out sound (something she achieved to nice effect on 2017's So It Goes EP).
"I recorded it myself at home, and for this album too it's a little more elaborate, as far as the arrangements are concerned," Gilb says. She also attempted to bring more orchestration and different instrumentation into the fold, using Garageband software to bring in string and synth sounds as a subtle bed to her voice-and-guitar approach. "I'm so used to writing for a small handful of instruments that it was fun to try something new," Gilb explains.
But at their core, Suzie Cue's songs are based around Gilb's expression, no matter the music that supports it, and in singing this set of songs, Gilb has found some comfort in revisiting these imperfect partnerships.
"I find them really cathartic, especially 'Ain't That Some Shit,'" she says. "That's the most intense and honest song on the album. About half the album is about one person. I knew it would hurt his feelings, but it needed to be said, but I felt like I was talking about him behind his back when I would play it live."
Gilb, of course, couldn't resist twisting the knife and shared the song with its subject. His response wasn't quite what she expected.
"As my final fuck-you, mic-drop moment, I texted him a shitty voice memo of that song," Gilb recalls. "He said, 'Well, that really hurt my feelings, but it might be the best song you've ever written.'"
Playing these songs live has shown Gilb the translatability of her situation and created some common ground with her audiences.
"I've had several people come up to me after my set and say, "I've totally been that person in that situation," she says. The bluntness of her language and the conviction of her delivery are very much part of the experience.
"People want to sugarcoat it or make it poetic," she says of pain and trauma, "but sometimes it's just shitty."