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Behind The Song: Susan by Act Happy

today2 December 2023 46 8

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Behind The Song: Susan by Act Happy

Rhiannon and Jax are Act Happy, an acoustic duo from Newport. I asked them about Susan, a song they wrote together.

Rhiannon said, “Jax wrote the opening riff for Susan during lockdown as part of a solo project before we knew each other. We decided to use the riff as the starting point for our next song. Jax wanted it to be a folk song about a witch. The name Susan just seemed to fit well with the rhythm of the song.

The main idea that Jax had for the story was Susan being burned at the stake and her lover seeking revenge. Once we started doing some research for the song, we found out that a woman called Susannah Martin was killed during the Salem Witch Trials which was an interesting and spooky coincidence that brought the song to life.”

The Salem Witch Trials took place in Massachusetts, USA in the 1690s, a series of over 200 prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft, many of whom were found guilty and hanged.

After Jax had the initial idea for the song’s story, Rhiannon took the outline and worked on the lyrics but it was very much a collaborative process. As the story developed, the theme of the black raven materialised and became a key feature of the song. They wanted to portray how Susan was viewed by the people around her and paint a picture of her barbaric death. The descriptive lyrics build the song’s emotion, reaching a peak at the end when the mourning lover takes his revenge on the townspeople who killed Susan.

Susan’s lover in the song is a carpenter. This is so that he is able to craft his own weapon to avenge Susan. It’s also a nod to Jax’s father who is a carpenter. Before Jax became a tattoo artist, he and his father worked together.

Susan is the duo’s follow-up single to Drunk.

As with so many songs, it has evolved and blossomed as they continue to include it in their shows. Rhiannon told me, “It has naturally evolved to become the song that we recorded and released. There are subtle changes to the guitar parts from the original version we wrote last year. The guitar is deliberately simple so that the lyrics of the story really stand out. This decision was inspired by folk-style murder ballads which feel very much like the telling of a story rather than just performing a song. When the song was recorded we decided to add some of Jax’s vocals on the last part of each chorus. It is very subtle – a sort of haunting echo from the carpenter himself.”

Written by: Kym Frederick

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