June 1, 2017

Featuring: Susie Derkins

Getting to the bottom of Susie Derkins.

It’s All Downhill From Here Kid is the latest release from Philadelphia-based artist Susie Derkins. With a running time of under seven minutes, you’re going to want to listen to these three songs over and over. Listen to them three times and it’s the equivalent of one episode of Lizzie McGuire, which played on the TV in the background as Samantha Stoakes and I spoke. Stoakes, the musician behind the Susie Derkins moniker, laid down on her couch with a cat on her chest and an acoustic guitar at her feet, as if she’s in a therapy session from a homebody musician’s fantasy. As their bandcamp artist bio so aptly states, “Susie Derkins is P.S. Eliot’s little sister who doesn’t read enough.” Take away the Crutchfields’ frequent use of polysyllabic lyrical vocabulary and keep the beautifully haunting open chord progressions, while adding the echo of a quiet basement behind her vocals, and there you have it. But WHO is Susie Derkins?

“Susie Derkins is a character from the Calvin and Hobbes comics. She’s the little girl Calvin always torments because he has a crush on her," Stoakes enlightens. "She’s very smart and well behaved and very assertive and confident for a little girl...when I was little I was definitely a Susie Derkins: very smart and confident, almost to a fault. I feel like I lost a lot of that as an adult. I don't feel as confident as I used to at age 6 or 7.” Stoakes has used childhood photos for all her album art and promotional artist material for this very reason. “My parents’ house is in New Hampshire and every time I go home, I go through a lot of baby pictures or pictures from when I was five, six, and seven," she says. "It’s wild going through all those pictures because I was so happy in all of them and I miss that so much - being so happy and not knowing what’s ahead of you. Before all the terrible things that happen in the world, like misogyny and racism and losing people that you love. Even the title, It’s All Downhill From Here Kid: that’s me talking to the little girl in the picture. I think that might be happiest I’ve been in my entire life. When I am trying to express myself I often go to the saddest place I can go to-, my deepest fears, one of which being that I'll never be that happy again.”

Another overarching theme on this release is that it was written in the midst of Stoakes moving to a new city. "Gutless" (which stands out as a potential heart-wrenching hit) was written while Stoakes was still living in Boston, and is sandwiched between two newer songs that she wrote after moving to Philadelphia. This distinction doesn’t change the fact that these songs are brand new to listeners, but it does make the listening experience a little more intimate. ”I attribute a lot of sentimental value to certain songs,” she says. “I like to look at a song and be able to remember when I wrote it and where I wrote it, remembering where I was at that point in my life.” Stoakes says that the biggest difference between Boston life and Philly life is that she is more actively writing music now. Susie Derkins didn’t truly make a name for herself until after the move: “I wrote ["Gutless"] when I was finishing up my last semester of college and I didn't even finish it, only the beginning… When I moved to Philly I was working at home and had a lot more time to myself and that allowed me to write more and be able to think about things and process things through the songs that I write. In 2016 I wrote half of one song and now we’re halfway through 2017 and I’m sitting on 20 songs, half songs, and loose ideas.”

Her attitude is as simultaneously tear-jerking and inspiring as her songs: “When you make your life work for you, it ends up making you feel really free, allowing you to do a lot more than you thought you could. Compared to last year, when life was working me instead of working for me!” Stoakes uses the term “tweemo” (a combination of twee and emo, originally coined by friend Dylan from the Boston act Bedbug) to label her music. “I like using the [bandcamp] tag as an opportunity to have an inside joke with myself and my friends rather than using it as a music business-y thing,” she says. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m taking this too seriously. It’s just me.” Whatever label you want to give it, the sound that Susie Derkins has cultivated is comparable to bands with twee legacies such as the Softies and Tiger Trap, as well as current acts like Katie Ellen and Camp Cope.

As far as next moves go, Stoakes is focusing on finishing new songs and playing solo shows. Over the summer she plans to get a full band together and record a formal EP by the fall. In the meantime, a solo tour is in the works with Jac Walsh of DUMP HIM. “I don’t have fans, I only have my friends,” Stoakes says. That will surely be changing soon enough.

Listen to Susie Derkins on bandcamp.

Alyssa Rorke is a Philly-based writer/artist/musician/barista. Find her daily musings on Twitter @poetrygirl420.