After feeling a bit buzzy with adrenaline, a shapeshifting organism of sorts graces the dark stages of major cities across the country each frigid night, emboldened by the idea of transformation. When she finally appears, she basks under the glow of the spotlight, settling into her movements onstage in front of the onlooking audience that chants her name passionately. Moving like water, she embraces her full range of physical freedom in unison with the instrumentation, her billowy vocals filling the chambers of the room and her blonde bangs waving in unison with the fog. Her rockstar-esque aura and dynamic stage presence is undeniable—accompanied by a slew of fur jackets, leather pants, or sheer outfits she adorns each night. This enigma is none other than London singer-songwriter and multi-hyphenate Suki Waterhouse who dually transforms in her daily life from musician to actress and model.
Suki has just hunkered down in Philadelphia on her tour bus a couple hours ago, being in Montreal the mere day before in a snow-covered vision that she describes as “stunning.” The 31-year-old is in the midst of her 22-show sold-out, “The Coolest Place in the World” tour, that commenced in Santa Ana and will end with a two-day stint in Los Angeles. “You get a little sense of each city in this tiny little way,” she beams, noting some of her favorite tour stops in Chicago, Portland, and Detroit due to the wild and contagious energy of the crowds.
While Suki is no stranger to the tour landscape—opening up for Father John Misty during a string of shows in 2022, she only performed for a little over a year and a half before embarking on her solo tour. “It’s so strange on tour when you wake up on the bus,” she says. “You kind of have a bus hangover, even though there’s nothing about this tour that’s rock-n-roll in that kind of sense. I’m just kind of aiming for survival over actual hangovers. You’ve just got to drag yourself and enter the venue and find a shower and feel completely disoriented, and you’re in and out of the city in under 12 hours really.” In the hours between, Suki scours streaming services for the most mind-numbing reality television she can find to calm herself down following the adrenaline high of a show, or she finds solace in the simple pleasures of doing her laundry and catching up on FaceTime with loved ones.
Suki’s recent undertakings extend beyond her musical journey, starring as English keyboardist Karen Sirko in the highly-anticipated Amazon Prime limited series Daisy Jones & The Six (based on the novel of the same name by Taylor Jenkins Reid), that follows the ephemeral rise and breakup of a fictionalized rock band of musicians. The behind-the-scenes dramatics of the band’s backstory are told through a series of documentary-style interviews with the band members, managers, and others. Suki joins a star-studded cast alongside Riley Keough, who plays titular character and female vocalist Daisy Jones, Sam Claflin as troubled lead singer Billy Dunne, and Camila Morrone as Billy’s wife, Camila Dunne.
The filming process of Daisy Jones & The Six was halted due to COVID-induced delays that added three months to the production, an unintended bonus for the cast at the time. “In terms of being able to be a band,” Suki shares, “we would not have been as comfortable had it just been the three months that it was supposed to be for filming. We were all gutted when it stopped, but we got an extra huge amount of time that we used to keep playing and doing more research.”
To prepare for her role, Suki took piano lessons for four months, three hours a day just for the audition of her character Karen. “I thought to myself, well, selfishly, ‘This is going to be so good for just me and my life as well for writing my music.’ They wanted very well-trained musicians to play the songs and be a band, which is a huge undertaking, even though a lot of us did play music. We would spend every day together at Sound City Studios which was where Fleetwood Mac actually met. That’s where the band came together. The dynamics of what was playing out in the show was also playing out in real time. We became really close but it started off as strangers in a room. We would sit and watch a lot of rock documentaries and live performances. For Karen, I kind of had her down as this female Bill Nighy character that was sort of quiet. That became an important character point for her.”
As Oscar Wilde once put it, “life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” which was congruously put into play in Suki’s life during post-production process. “The record was out just by the end of filming the show, and I went from Daisy Jones straight to Los Angeles, where I did an album release show that night,” Suki says. “It was just so strange, and I never would have thought a few months later I’d be on a two month tour opening for Father John Misty. So, yeah, it was basically reliving Daisy Jones & The Six,” she laughs.
The ten-episode miniseries itself feels reminiscent of a 70s fever dream replete with high-waisted jeans, cowboy boots, retro crop tops, and of course feathered hair. Many watchers and readers may liken the story to the real-life romance and relationship of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac—which somewhat inspired the novel, along with other quintessential rock bands who dealt with the tumult of entangling the personal and the professional.
Suki’s character Karen is one of the only women in the male-dominated rock band (before Daisy comes along), largely serving as a figure who challenges the status quo and societal expectations of women in music, who are often forced to choose between their career and personal lives. “I was looking at some of these prolific women in rock like Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, and how they never got to have children and all the men in the band did,” Suki emphasizes. “It’s fucking irritating. It’s just weird and really annoying how we have to start thinking about these things, usually by the time we are in our 30s. I’m really enjoying being in my 30s mentally, and Julia Fox said on TikTok the other day how being in your 20s is being in the fucking trenches. It’s a nightmare. But then there’s that other part of your life that also suddenly comes upon you really quickly.”
Time, as they’ll say, reveals all things. Looking back, music has long been Suki’s love. She was just 13 when she began writing songs, eventually making the commitment to release music professionally in 2016 with her first single, “Brutally.” She reflects, “I had close working relationships with musicians throughout my teens and 20s and I’d made a lot of songs in that time, but I’m very glad I wasn’t putting them out. I definitely hadn’t found the sound and I was waiting a long time to really have a song that felt like ‘I need to put this out.’ That happened to me when I wrote “Brutally,” which is where it all started.”
From there, Suki only released a song or two every year until 2022, with singles like the indie-pop track “Johanna” or brooding anthem of past love, “Nostalgia.” Suki became increasingly wrought with panic about releasing music, a sentiment she expresses as a common phenomenon—her bandmate also retaining an unreleased catalog of hundreds of songs. She reflects on the challenge of diversification from modeling and acting, the latter of which has seen her appear in dozens of projects, from the romantic-comedy Love, Rosie alongside Lily Collins and Sam Claflin, to the Sam Levinson flick, Assassination Nation; to the modeling end, she has served as the official face of Burberry and Redken, and posed for brands like H&M and Alice + Olivia, among others.
“I thought to myself,” she says, “‘Am I allowed to do other things with my life?’ I had these examples in front of me that gave me confirmation that it wasn’t okay to put out music. When I first put out ‘Brutally,’ the press in England said it was a failed song because it wasn’t in the top 100 and said that I’d failed pop. So, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is everything that I was scared of right in front of me.’ I kind of had to jump into all that, let it pass, and keep going with what I was doing and have trust in that.” Her hit song “Good Looking” went on to be viral on TikTok in 2022, garnering millions of views streams for the single have hit over 100 million on Spotify alone. Ultimately, Suki found comfort in finding an audience for her music to grow and converge with. “None of the other stuff really matters,” she says resolutely. “It’s just about finding people that connect to the songs."
Suki’s collected voice memo recordings, along with disparate sound inspirations of pots and pans, culminated in her 2022 sultry Sub Pop album debut I Can’t Let Go. She laid down the record in an atypical setting—a bridal suite in North Carolina, surrounded by pillows that unironically read ‘live, laugh, love.’ Inspired by the GarageBand demos from Karen O’s “Crush Songs,” Suki set out to emulate the minimalist production process. “I was never attracted to a polished recording of something and I wanted it to sound kind of unfinished and slightly messy,” she says.
Riddled with the intensity of emotion, I Can’t Let Go gives a colored and intimate impression of the musician’s life through both its commotion and tranquility. “I was in a moment where it was probably the most sad time that lasted a long time, and it was from a very formative break up of my 20s that defined my mid 20s for a long time,” she shares. “The subsequent couple of relationships I had afterward were embroiled around that central theme. I’m incredibly grateful for that length of depressive state because there’s nothing that makes you want to write music more than that. There was this kind of strong, intangible feeling that I had for a long time and I had this desperate feeling that something useful had to come of this and I had to kind of memorialize these moments.”
More moments, although diversified in theme and scope, are found on recent 2022 EP, entitled Milk Teeth, which comprises Suki’s array of non-album singles onto a tangible release for the first time. For the artist, the old and the new are in constant tension with one another. As for the next stage of her metamorphosis, as she comes upon the end of her tour, Suki does not stand to have a concrete set of desires in front of her for what lies in the waters ahead. “I’m starting to see a clearing for what might be next,” she ponders, “but life never comes at you exactly the way you think it’s going to.” For now, Suki is content in living out her rockstar dreams to the fullest extent, retro kick-snare beats and all—an almost emulation of her recent on-screen character, a cycle of self and personal blossoming.
Written by: Joshen Mantai
Styled by: Mui-Hai Chu
Style Assistants: Deanna Spencer and Renee Richards
Location: The Meredith House