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20Q: Catching up with musician Susan Aquila

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Greg Little
Thursday, March 2, 2017

Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.

Susan Aquila

Based in New York City, electric violinist/singer Susan Aquila is no stranger to the Rock County-area music scene. In fact, she'll be performing a special concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11, with the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra at Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus (see more on Page 5C).

Since 2013, Aquila has released four albums including 2013's “Intervention” and both “Broken Angel” and “Sooper Gurl” in 2014. According to her website, Aquila's latest album, 2016's “Miss Conduct,” garnered five Grammy Award nominations including Album of the Year, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album.

Aquila has performed and recorded with such music icons as Paul McCartney, Elton John, Billy Joel, Deep Purple, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Jay Z, Frank Sinatra Jr., Johnny Mathis, Barry Manilow and more. While touring in 2015, she appeared with such acts as Lita Ford, Tantric and Soil.

Along with guitarist (and Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra music director) Rob Tomaro, Aquila's band includes bassist Tony Wisniewski and drummer Jerzy Piotrewski.  

For more, visit SusanAquilaMusic.com, Facebook.com/Susan.Aquila.3, Twitter.com/@SusanAquilaBand and YouTube.com/User/SusanAquilaMusic.

1. At what age did you first pick up the violin? I was introduced to the violin in the third grade by a school music program. I wanted to play cello, but my parents thought it was unladylike, so they chose violin for me.

2. Rob Tomaro, the music director for the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra, is your guitarist and songwriter. How did that collaboration come to be? I met Rob through a dinner invitation from a mutual friend in New York City. I mentioned I just came from a meeting where the music director asked for an electric violin piece that contained a Christmas carol. Can you believe Rob had such a thing? We premiered it at the Tilles Center in New York and then with the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra. We have worked together ever since.

3. Do you play any instruments aside from electric violin? I play violin, viola and voice. That's enough for now, but I would like to learn guitar someday.

4. Have you received any awards or recognition for your music? We have received seven Grammy nominations for the “Broken Angel” and “Miss Conduct” albums. I also won a few music competitions when I was still in school.

5. What do you consider your essential tools for performing? It is essential to be extremely prepared in order to perform well. I like to make sure everything is learned in my body so I can concentrate on the emotional aspect I want to convey rather than worrying about notes.

6. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? I always like to have some treats before I play. Usually chocolate.

7. You incorporate historical photos and video into your music videos for “Cajun Queen” and “The Wall.” Are you into history, or is there another story behind that? “The Wall” has a dual meaning. It's about emotional walls, but the song refers to the Berlin Wall. It vividly describes some moments in history, so it seemed fitting to include some pictures. I love to travel and learn about the history of places I visit.

8. One of your songs is titled “Sooper Gurl.” If you could choose, what would be your superpower? My superpower would be to be able to duplicate myself so I can be in two places at the same time. There are just not enough hours in a day.

9. You've performed or collaborated with some big names in rock music. Has there been any particular experience that stands out with you either for professional or personal reasons? The “Last Play at Shea” with Billy Joel was a turning point for me. I was one of several violinists. It was so intense playing for 55,000 screaming people. Paul McCartney was the special guest. Although it was incredible, I realized I wanted to be up front and express myself. I started to develop myself as a soloist the next day.

10. Do you attend class reunions? I have not been to any reunions. I always look forward; I never look back.

11. What is the wallpaper on your cellphone right now? I am so boring! I have the wallpaper that was on the phone when I got it.

12. In the video for “No Where,” you're seen driving a sweet green Mustang. Was that your car? Oh that car … yummy! It belongs to a friend, Andy Dunn, who graciously let me drive the car for the video. I was so scared I would wreck it.

13. Do you style your stage show after another performer, or would you rather not be compared to other artists? I try to style my show in a style that is natural to me. I like to merge my love of sports with my love of music, so we have a pretty energetic show. I may borrow an element from another artist, but I always rework it to fit me.

14. You recently auditioned for “America's Got Talent.” Talk about the experience. It was a crazy experience. We were invited by the producer to audition. In the first round, my tracks didn't work and I had to sing, dance and play violin acapella. I didn't know I could do that. I got a callback and had the best time performing.

15. Share your favorite movie quote and the film it's from. “All About Eve” is my favorite movie. My favorite quote is the classic Bette Davis line, “Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night.” This describes being in show business perfectly.

16. Can you appreciate the irony of performing in a Rockford, Illinois, bar one night and with a symphony orchestra the next? It's more insane than ironic. I love playing and singing rock in a bar, and I love performing on stage in the classical genre. They don't seem like they go together, but I can't imagine my life without being able to do both.

17. In your music video for “No Where,” you appear in a lake with your electric violin around your neck. Weren't you worried about being electrocuted? Ha Ha! When we shoot video, we perform to a track. We are not playing live, so I am not plugged in. I was more worried about slipping and getting the violin wet. That would have ruined it.

18. What is the best advice you've ever received about performing? My colleague and improv electric violin coach once said music is 'a journey, not a destination'. I love this. There is always more to learn, and sometimes it feels so overwhelming to have to learn so much. It made me realize I can relax and learn at my own pace.

19. What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you on stage? I hate performing sick. There have been shows with buckets on the side for me to throw up in when I had the flu. It is horrible, but you get through it.

20. If you weren't a musician, what would you be doing with your life? If I couldn't be a musician, I would go into the health care industry. I have an autoimmune disease, and my doctors have really made a difference in the quality of my life.

If you're involved in the arts and entertainment community and think you or someone you know would be a great subject for 20Q, send an email to kicks Editor Greg Little at glittle@gazettextra.com.



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