Bruce Sudano ‘s New Work Digs Into Stories of Humanity
In late January, Bruce Sudano released his first new song since the album Ode to a Nightingale with the very mobile, compelling piece “Make the World Go Away” alongside a dance-driven video. The subject matter might have surprised some, the idea that we all need to occasionally withdraw from the world to establish boundaries and become more energetic again. Reaching a chorus of many voices, the song embodies a “shedding” of old elements to reach a freer state.
Coming up on April 14th, 2023, Sudano will release another new song “Two Bleeding Hearts” as a duet with Valerie Simpson, the theme of which is the sudden explosive tension that can break into a relationship. Another song we’ve had an early peek at, “Cardboard World” tells the story of a person committed to enacting change in the world and carrying with them the light and shadow of such a commitment. All three new songs are very much close-up studies of human emotional states and kick off an era of new songs wherein Sudano will be focusing on personal, but also very human stories for his upcoming album. We spoke with Bruce Sudano about the shift in mood from Ode to a Nightingale to these pieces about the human condition and what he hopes audiences will experience through these songs.
Americana Highways: Last time we spoke, with Ode to a Nightingale, you seemed to express the feeling that a dawn might be coming, that things might be getting more hopeful. I feel like these new songs are even more outward-turning and engaging with humanity. “Make the World Go Away” is like that.
Bruce Sudano: Yes, I think so. “Make the World Go Away” is a song of the moment. In some sense, I view it as a prayer. We all have these subtle stresses of everyday life coming at us from every direction. We don’t even realize that we have this tug going on. I try to take that message and wrap it in a rhythm and emotion that could make you move and groove through it. That was kind of how I addressed that issue.
With the song “Two Bleeding Hearts,” I’m really excited about it because it’s such a thrill for me because of getting to do this duet with Valerie Simpson. She’s long been an inspirational person to me in terms of her artistry as a singer and songwriter. She wrote “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “I’m Every Woman”! When I wrote this song and knew it should be a duet, for some reason I landed on Valerie. I thought I’d just ask. She said that she loved it and wanted to do it.
We shot the video for that at The Sugar Bar, Valerie’s restaurant and club in New York. They have live music there all the time, so a few weeks ago, we met there and went into the club in the afternoon. We performed the song for the video, and this particular night was their open-mic night, so we hung around and sang the song live for the audience, too. That was pretty amazing! When we finished the song, there was applause, then the whole room in harmony started singing, “Two bleeding hearts and a wounded love…” It was like church. It was pretty magical.
The story of that song is that it’s about a situation in a relationship where things seem to be fine and moving along nicely. It kind of relates to the idea of these subtle pressures. Then, all of the sudden, over the stupidest thing that someone said or did, there’s an explosion in the relationship. One goes to this room and the other goes to that room, and who’s going to make the first move and put down their pride? Who’s willing to say “Sorry” first, and who’s willing to forgive?
AH: I hadn’t thought of the relationship between those two songs, but now I see it. It’s the same pressures creeping in and finding the cracks in our lives to cause damage.
BS: That leads to the blow up! Maybe I didn’t realize that myself, but there it is.
AH: That’s what feels so true about “Two Bleeding Hearts.” We can feel like things are fine in a relationship, with no clouds on the horizon, but it’s a surprising thing that happens, the sudden blow up. The visual imagery in that song is really powerful, but is relatively direct.
BS: There was a similar feeling to how we produced it; it’s really simple. I’m on guitar, Valerie’s on piano, little bit of drum, little bit of bass. There’s nothing else but our two voices to keep that simplicity and let the message resonate.
AH: I also found “Make the World Go Away” to be a pretty brave subject because there’s a social assumption that isolating or drawing back from the world is always a negative thing. This song contradicts that and suggests that we need to set boundaries sometimes. It’s refreshing to hear that.
BS: Absolutely. In the bridge for the song, I say, “Make a getaway.” I’m basically saying, “Find a place to regroup and get yourself back together.” Buried in the middle of the song is the remedy to the situation, along with creating a feeling for the song that was up. I didn’t want the song to feel dark. I wanted the song to help lift the weight off your shoulders. But you definitely have to set boundaries because if you don’t set them, people will knowingly or unknowningly, walk over that boundary. It’s just the way that people are.
You need to protect yourself, your emotions, and your mind. It’s part of surviving. It goes back to the whole idea that if you’re not whole or together, how you can you even help somebody else? We all want to be in the position where we can reach out and a lot of people need help right now. We need to maintain a sense of compassion in how we navigate the world.
AH: The song mentions things that I associate with energy level and depletion, like looking at the news, hearing about difficult things going on. Like with a bank account, small expenditures of energy add up to more than you realize and you’re in a weaker state.
BS: Sometimes we don’t even recognize it ourselves because we’re so wound up in going, and doing, and living our lives. We all get up and go. It goes back to setting those boundaries and being self-aware. Sometimes if you don’t take that moment to get away and assess, which could just be taking a few minutes in a room by yourself, you won’t be aware.
This is somewhat unrelated, but I live in LA and in Milan, and in Milan, I live across the street from a church. A few times a week, I’ll go for a walk and I’ll stop in this church from the 1500s. There’s no service going on, but I’ll sit there for 20 or 30 minutes. I just talk to God and listen. It’s amazing how much comes to me and I realize there’s so much going on. It’s like I shed things and I begin to think about things as a letting go and a receiving that I really find helpful.
It helps me when I write as well. I usually don’t know what I’m going to write about. I don’t usually say, “I want to write about this or about that.” I assimilate life, then I got to a piano or a guitar, and I just sing. Every now and then, I get a little something. I realize, “There’s a spark of inspiration. There’s something there.” That’s when I take it and apply craft to it. How do I say in a creative way?
AH: I can relate to this in some respects because I find that I really have to take time in the morning before I do other things. It’s made a big difference in my life to commit to that. Modern people find that difficult, but I think in other times and places, people have been more aware of the need for it.
BS: Absolutely. That’s an excellent practice, for sure. It’s an essential practice for us as human beings and it’s unfortunate that gets lost. I also feel the same way about music. For the culture at large, music doesn’t have the same place in people’s lives that it used to have. I think there’s a big part of the culture who is missing out on the benefits of the things music can bring to your soul, to your spirit, to uplift you and help you let go of things. These are essential struggles that we have with this culture these days.
AH: This all ties in because with “Make the World Go Away,” the way that it builds up and has multiple voices on the chorus feels like a communal thing. The repetition there is almost like a protective thing. That’s where the positivity comes in even more.
BS: It’s almost like a mantra. The song was produced by Ken Lewis. We had a discussion about how long to go on the end, where it breaks down to the harmonies. I wanted it to be a little shorter, and he said, “No, I think it needs to keep going. People really need to build to that breakdown.” I acquiesced to his vision, and he was instrumental in making that chorus continue for so long to create that feeling exactly as you describe it.
AH: That works really beautifully with the video that you put together. The video never feels repetitive, even though it’s mostly in an enclosed space. But you also bring in the cameos of other human beings as guest visuals who seem to express different mental states and emotions.
BS: You’re reading it exactly right. That’s exactly what we were trying to convey. The central character is dealing with his own issues, and then shedding them into his dance. That’s all part of the overall point that we hoped to convey, that all these people, from all these walks of life, size, shape, and color, are all part of the human condition. We all deal with it, and we all have to shed it in every way that we can. The woman who made the video, Kira Mazur, is a refugee from Ukraine. I said that I wanted the video to be Fellini-esque in terms of how it felt. I wanted it to feel human, to be real, and to feel quirky while conveying these messages.
AH: The song “Cardboard World” has an interesting magic to it because the mood is neither negative nor super upbeat. It stays in this middle zone where there are ups and downs but the central figure holds onto their determination.
BS: You’re one of the first people outside my circle to hear the song, so I’m interested to hear your take on it. It’s really the song of a strong, independent woman, who is inspirational because she stands up for the things that she believes in. It relates to activism and being committed to causes. It requires sacrifice in one’s own life to be able to this. Hopefully there will be people who recognize themselves in it, or that it’s something that they aspire to achieve.
The whole thing about the cardboard world is that you can use the simple things to affect change. You don’t need millions of dollars. Within your own little world, there are small things that you can do to effect change, with something as simple as cardboard. You use what you have in your hands to speak your truth.
AH: Cardboard is even something that you see in protest movements because it’s light enough to carry and it can express so much. I did get the sense from the song that this is someone who has their guiding lights, and they are pretty much unshakeable. And that does have an effect on their own lives, but you take the good with the bad. That’s a choice, to be committed.
BS: Absolutely. It is most definitely a choice, and it takes courage, at the same time, to walk that walk. It takes commitment and courage.
AH: Can you give us any hints about the album coming up?
BS: The album is going to be called Talkin’ Ugly Truth, Tellin’ Pretty Lies. We’re working on a song with that title right now. It’s going to be a very human record, very in the moment. It will have very human stories. It’s personal on a lot of levels and it’s also about humanity. It’s stories of humanity.
Find more information on Bruce Sudano here on his website: https://www.brucesudano.com/
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Interview: Bruce Sudano Looks Towards The Dawn with Ode To a Nightingale EP