Freeing oneself from the grappling chains of love to submit to the ultimate freedom of internal female communion is the decadent trajectory of Sue Clayton, the new sonic persona created by songwriter, composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Morgan Kibby. Sue’s debut album Rookie was born in the endless and untouched horizons of Palm Desert where the diary in motion served as therapeutic and cosmic release for the newborn artist and Morgan, respectively. 7 years of Morgan’s private musings were channeled into the album as a love letter to herself, Sue, and her ritualistic passion for songwriting. Rookie is etched with lyrics written during Morgan’s past that she, and Sue, consider to be a prophetic manifestation of liquid confessions that hold utmost relevance in the artist’s present life. The album’s sonic landscape pays homage to the singer songwriter tradition while infusing elements of folk, country, and orchestral pop; home for Sue Clayton is in Austin, Laurel Canyon, Nashville and everywhere in-between. We follow Sue on a journey of pain and heartbreak, but also triumph and overcoming, as she proclaims on the track Palm Springs Cemetery, “I buy my own pink flowers now.” Discover more about Rookie through Morgan Kibby’s intimate and intrinsic interview with her dreamy persona Sue Clayton:
Morgan Kibby: Thank you for speaking with me Sue. I have to say your new work “Rookie” is a bit of a fever dream for a woman of a certain age it feels like... I’ll dive straight in: Do you feel the expanse of the Californian desert was a cosmically timed metaphor for your new songs?
Sue Clayton: My pleasure. There is an element of kismet, yes. I was mid life careening in Palm Springs, but I’m not in my 20s anymore. A broken heart is a novice state in comparison to the chasm of loss I felt in the face of a broken decade of partnership with my soulmate and best friend. A man I had built a sense of safety with for the first time in my entire life. A home. My compass was gone. But that was just the beginning. I was at a moment in life where I realized for all my decades on this planet, I barely understood what made me tick, or rather, I was denying myself its fullest expression. The colossal realization of that ignorance, that gymnastic contortion to make others happy was like cliff diving into a cenote. How was it possible to feel so alone but so frenetic and alive? Because I was connecting with myself. Without anyone defining that new skeleton. The desert- its endless horizon, its silence that does not answer you but holds you…It was the ultimate mirror.
MK: Where do music and the power of songwriting exist on our path to finding answers about our desires and our past?
SC: Once again they are inextricably bound, but strangely you have it in reverse in my case. A lot of the lyrics on this album I wrote many years ago… they made no sense at the time, just outflow, but all of a sudden when working on Rookie, I realized that they were words prophetic. It was almost like I had been telling my own future the whole time, lyrics as a crystal ball if you will. If only I had read them closer, paid attention, perhaps I could have changed the course. Regret is a real and feral animal.
MK: Do you feel you made a comfortable bed out of your regret? Your pain? Has sadness become a part of your identity? Do you make decisions now in order to feel safe? In order to hold onto that illusion of control, even though they may act to your detriment?
SC: You’re confusing a crushing moment in time, of which we all have many throughout life, currents, ebb and flows of the human experience which can be so painful… you’re confusing that I think with an ultimate commitment to living in pain. But I understand what you’re saying. I feel so deeply it terrifies me sometimes. I think we all make decisions in life to avoid hurt- for ourselves and for those we love. The courageous person, the one committed to joy, to an extraordinary life, is one that follows the body. It’s a tuning fork. It tells us where we need to go. It tells us where we need to be. And yeah, True North is changeable. We can ignore that and suffer the consequences, or we can surrender and choose faith. They snowball, so I find that the more I have chosen to commit to my gut, the easier it gets to check. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t bloody hurt once in a while. But time is a strange mistress.
MK: Let's talk about the concept of being a ‘rookie’ in life and in love. Is it better to be naive and forgiving, to feel and give love freely, or to be constantly on guard, to ensure no one can hurt you? Is it just as naive to believe you can protect yourself from the pain of your fate as it is to believe each love will be your last? Is it better to experience and be hurt, or to trade in the excitement of love for the comfort of knowing you can’t be betrayed?
SC: I don’t see exuberance and tapping into those rare moments of bliss, which let’s be honest, get a little bit more rare as we get older, as naive. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s freedom. I desire deep connection, not just love, more now than I ever have because it bears more weight now. I know its true value. Betrayal is inevitable both in small and large ways in life. But I will choose to feel everything over fear and stagnation.
MK: Does spending too much time alone with a broken heart, that manic state you were talking about earlier, make us delusional? Are our bursts of clarity true, or are they extensions of delusion?
SC: I mean… sure. But if you’re even remotely psychologically literate, emotionally intelligent, curious, one will take that clay and fucking throw a pot to drink out of. Once again, clarity has always resonated in my body. My belly, my heart, my hips, my breasts.. they are like tuning forks. I know when something is real because it’s physical.
MK: Do your artistic creations keep you company?
SC: Only whilst I’m making them.
MK: So then it follows to ask, do you find meaning in the small stuff of your life? How can something as simple as a glass of tequila get us through to the end of the day? How can beautiful clothes, a new haircut or a long drive make us feel better? Can we substitute these small joys for overarching happiness?
SC: Small joys are, aggregated, happiness don’t you think? Isn’t that the point? Nothing matters so everything matters. I’m an incredibly tactile, hedonistic, ritualistic person. The right glass for the right wine, a silk robe versus a cotton Kimono on the right day, flowers every Sunday from the market… these moments imbue the mundane with magic. And it’s bound to have a cumulative effect on one’s life.
MK: I’d like to talk about desire. How do you frame the female exploration of freedom versus romantic love? Is it possible to write from a place of happiness in love for you, or is heartbreak an essential tool in the act of creation? Do we have to know heartbreak to relate to our audience?
SC: First and foremost, desire is like water. It is essential. I personally cannot live without it anymore in my life. I desire desire in all the many forms it takes. But I choose to believe that desire, particularly in matters of the heart, is possible within a paradigm of female freedom that each of us are at liberty to define. Period. What works for me may not work for you. And freedom is not a reductive term for me. It is not a state of grace that asks for permission in love. If anything, female freedom is the top of the pyramid of partnership. It flows down the sides to nourish one’s self initially, then the other, and all the synapses that rewire daily between two people as love grows. It engenders more connection because it’s honest. As for writing from a place of pain versus heartbreak, both are vital. But ultimately Rookie, though it has some of the intimate moments of my life with a lover exposed, is really about the communion I experienced with myself for the first time as a woman. If anything, I hope people can relate to that most of all as it is ultimately what we are all left with: our inner workings. These songs are contextualized by love, but mostly they are about freeing myself.
Listen to the album Rookie now on spotify.com.