Susan Calloway was a bit out of sight between the time her celebrated Detroit band Red C broke up in the early ‘90s and she released her first solo EP, “Chasin the Sun,” this year.
But she was hardly out of action.
During the interim, the Southfield-raised singer-songwriter, who now resides in West Bloomfield Township, found a niche for herself in the ad world, singing on high-profile campaigns for Lincoln-Mercury, Hallmark greeting cards and General Electric, and in video games (“Final Fantasy”). She also licensed songs to TV shows such as “Dawson’s Creek,” “Summerland” and “One Tree Hill.”
That certainly kept her on the radar, but Calloway stayed intent on establishing a musical career under her own name, too.
“One thing I’m learning is your time comes when it comes,” says the Southfield Christian High School graduate, the oldest of three children in her family, who was a member of Red C while studying communications at Oakland University. “Some people think you should continue to push and push and push, but in Red C, I was so young, and it took me awhile after I left to figure out what I wanted to do.
“It was a real growth period for me. I was on a journey to figure out what I wanted to do with my music.”
And, Calloway notes, the other projects “allowed me to make a living. Clubs get old. It’s cool, but it’s a rough road and wears you out after awhile. I’m so grateful I’ve been able to do sessions.”
Most importantly, Calloway says that “trying on a bunch of different hats” let her to get a bead on exactly what direction would work for her.
“I like so many different kinds of music, it’s hard to harness and focus on something in particular,” she explains. “As an artist, you’re trying to show as many sides as you can, without making people confused. But in the world of marketing music, everybody tells you, ‘Just give us oranges. We don’t want a whole fruit salad,’ and that was very illuminating.”
The key to taking the next step, Calloway says, was meeting producer/manager Gerard Smerek, a fellow Detroiter who’s worked with Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, R. Kelly, the Winans and the Clark Sisters as well as operating his own Blue Jude Records label and production company in New York. After meeting in the studio, Smerek took Calloway under his wing and “gave me the kick in the pants to move forward,” not only providing feedback on her singing and songwriting but teaching her how to engineer and operate studio equipment so that she was able “to flesh out my ideas on my own instead of being dependent on someone else.”
Smerek also helped to flesh out the six songs on “Chasin the Sun” with an ace band that included bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) and Goo Goo Dolls sideman Greg Suran on guitar. The result is a polished and well-crafted set of mature pop songs, many — including the title track, which she refers to as “a Susan self-discovery song” — inspired by the ventures and adventures Calloway experienced during the past decade.
With “Chasin the Sun” out, Calloway plans to focus on “just building awareness and building the Susan brand.” She’s using online social sites extensively to spread the word — there’s even a fan in German who hosts a weekly “Susan party” to play the CD — and plans to target live dates for areas where she can measure the greatest interest.
Calloway will also get an additional boost from the video game world this summer. She’s recorded the de facto theme song for the next “Final Fantasy” game, “Distant Worlds,” and she’ll be featured on an album of music from the franchise that’s slated for release this summer.
“What a funny thing to fall into,” notes Calloway, who was introduced to the “Final Fantasy” brain trust by a mutual contact. “You can’t pursue something like that. They have to happen for you.”
And, she adds, as those opportunities present themselves, she feels more charged to make the most of them.
“When I was younger, I wanted to make money doing something I loved,” Calloway explains. “Now I want actually contribute something to the world with my music and hopefully inspire people, challenge them. I have more of a mission now with my music than I ever did before, and that’s making this a really fun journey.”
Susan Calloway performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at AJ’s Music Cafe, 240 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale. Admission is $5. Call 248-399-3946 or visit www.ajsmusiccafe.com.
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