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Tierney Sutton: Not a Material Girl

Carl L. Hager By

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AAJ: Which is the theme, at least part of it, in...

TS: "Then I'll Be Tired of You."

AAJ: Yeah, there's another one, it's "My Heart Belongs to Daddy." It's like this strange dichotomy of what you want, and what you need, something like that.

Tierney SuttonTS: I think of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"—there are different ways to look at it, but I think of it pretty much as a woman who is materialistic and is with a man because he's got money. And she actually is more interested in other men, but she's not going anywhere because he treats her so well. I always thought of it as kind of a tongue-in-cheek, happy little song. But then I thought, 'This isn't really funny.' If you think of the fact that every spiritual tradition seems to affirm that there's more than this, and that this is a finite thing, and the other part is bigger. But what we do here really has a big effect on what's going to happen after, whatever tradition you follow.



Maybe it's reincarnation, maybe it's Heaven and Hell, maybe it's whatever it is. There's some sense of that. So, we live in a world where the society sucks us into basically selling our souls on a daily basis, and it is just not easy to fight that. So, to me, that's what the record is about. We know, we get glimpses. We get glimpses of a higher desire, we get glimpses of something really beautiful, something that is more than just being rich or just being famous. We get little glimmers of it, and that's what "Skylark" is about: "Can you tell me where my love can be?" And then you think of the idea of a skylark as a Christ figure: "In your lonely flight/haven't you heard the music in the night/wonderful music." The people that really represent the pure in this society, suffer. It's just not the place where it's easy to do that.

AAJ: The rules are set up for the one whose heart belongs to daddy, because that's the paycheck. And speaking of that, this album has got the greatest opening I've heard in years. "It's Only A Paper Moon" has got a set of lyrics that are just mind-blowing. These were great songwriters, but...

TS: It was a long time ago.

AAJ: ...they weren't essentially philosophers, right? They were songwriters, and they made their livings writing hit tunes. And this song—there's a line that I'm going to quote, because it just knocks me out. You were talking about Baha'u'llah being "clothed in brevity," something like that?

TS: Clothed in a garment of brevity

AAJ: These little stanzas are like microcosms of the entire album. Like, "It's a Barnum & Bailey world."

TS: "Just as phony as it can be." Think about that; turn on the TV for five minutes. And if you're spending time with an art form that's not phony—that is deep, of someone that is really engaged in craft and process and taking time—and then you see what's prevalent in the world, it's alarming. I mean it's just stunning, and crazy and weird, once you're sensitized to it. But it's very easy to get desensitized to it. Really easy, because it's so prevalent. But it is, it's a Barnum & Bailey world, just as phony as it can be.

AAJ: But then the resolution is...

TS: "But it wouldn't be make-believe..."

AAJ: "if you believed in me." That's working on several levels at one time. Because it could be between two people who, if they would just gain some trust and believe in each other, then they could make all this sham and phoniness go away. And it's also that spiritual thing of "Skylark," where it's a person talking to a deity, a soul seeking God, "if you believe in me."

TS: I think ultimately it's always that. I grew up an atheist, basically, and I was an atheist until I was about 18. And even when I first became a Baha'i, I couldn't use the word "God" for the first two-and-a-half-to-three years. And even now, it's hard for me to use it because it's so badly used in the culture, and I think it's cheapened.

Tierney SuttonThe Baha'i definition of God is the unknowable essence, so that right now, right away it takes it out of that "some guy with a beard, and he makes the rules, and smites you, and is nice to you"; whatever. I think when we look at anything that is transcendent—and sometimes, the way that you feel about a person can be transcendent—when it's right, you see the God that's within them, you see the nobility within them. You see something of them that is not phony, and is not part of the Barnum & Bailey world, and you get that glimpse. And you crave it.



Often the attachments that we have, really that's what we're looking for; and we get it in different ways. I've often said that I think that the reason that a lot of the great heroes of jazz fell into drugs is that the transcendence that you get to feel when you're inspired is so intoxicating, so powerful, that you want to have it, you want to have it at all costs. And you can't always have it, night-after-night. So, they would try things, because the pain of separation from that inspiration was so great.

It's a mystical pain, and we have that. We are mystically separated from God, and trying to move toward God, and doing the best we can in this society that has no clue and is telling us the exact wrong things to do. And so we're trying to find it and we attach ourselves to a person, or to a thing, or to money, or to a career; but all of it is our soul trying to get to a better place, trying to get to a higher place, trying to desire something good.

AAJ: Miles Davis has a night off, and he's missing this transcendent experience from the night before, and there he is, and what's he going to do? What's he going to do? He wants to transcend it, he wants that again, only the culture says well, what you do is load up a syringe and stick it in your arm.

Tierney Sutton



TS: Or even if the culture doesn't say that, the pain, you want to deaden the pain of that separation, of not feeling oneness. We often say a prayer before we perform in the band, and the prayer says: "Oh God, maketh me a hollow reed from which the pith of self hath been blown, so that I may be a clear channel through which thy love may flow to others." I've never said that to a musician that didn't get the concept right off the bat, because what you feel when it's going right is lack of your self. You don't feel your self. You feel one with the other musicians, with the music, with something other than your self. You feel hollow, and free.




Selected Discography

Tierney Sutton Band, Desire (Telarc, 2009)
Lorraine Feather, Language (Jazzed Media, 2008)
Trish Oney, Dear Peg (Rhombus, 2008)
Tierney Sutton Band, On the Other Side (Telarc, 2007)
Grant Geissman, Say That! (Futurism, 2006)
Tierney Sutton Band, I'm With the Band (Telarc, 2005)
Tierney Sutton Band, Dancing in the Dark (Telarc, 2004)
Mark Isham, The Cooler (Commotion/Koch, 2003)
Tierney Sutton Band, Something Cool (Telarc, 2002)
Tierney Sutton Band, Blue in Green (Telarc, 2001)
Tierney Sutton Band, Unsung Heroes (Telarc, 2000)
Tierney Sutton Band, Introducing Tierney Sutton (Challenge, 1998)

Photo Credits

Page 1, Page 4: Courtesy of Tierney Sutton

Page 2: John Fowler

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