Remember what it was like being a teenager and trying to get into your first punk-rock show? Or maybe being ejected from said show and forced to walk home, car-less and alone? Singer-songwriter Suzie Ungerleider, a.k.a. Oh Susanna, transports us back to those innocent, exuberant days of youth with her latest album, A Girl in Teen City.
The album is a nostalgic trip to 1980s Vancouver, where Ungerleider grew up. The songs detail her search for identity and coming of age while navigating teenage crushes and getting her first tastes of adolescent independence.
The character on the album is “trying to find out who she is while trying to be something she isn’t,” Ungerleider described, via press release. “Falling in love, getting drunk, having her heart broken, hanging out with friends in bedrooms, basements and parking lots, sneaking into shows in burnt-out warehouses, watching the waves, walking home over bridges and railroad tracks in all that endless rain.”
A Girl in Teen City is the singer-songwriter's seventh studio album as Oh Susanna, and her second working with producer Jim Bryson. While their last collaboration, Namedropper, saw her covering songs from some of Canada’s most well-known songwriters, this time she and Bryson delved into the stories from Ungerleider's past.
Timeless and sweetly nostalgic, these songs showcase Ungerleider’s storytelling abilities at their best. A Girl in Teen City is a classic soundtrack to youth, and it will strike a chord no matter where or when you grew up.
Read her track-by-track guide to the album below.
"I wrote this song about me and my friend camping out in the backyard and sneaking out at night. A pretty familiar story. Just as the song says, we wandered around under the stars, met up with some older boys from our school, my friend made out with one of them in his basement, and we watched them climb the chainlink fence and dive into the giant public pool that was near our house. I was pretty young — only 11 at the time — so was intrigued by this other nocturnal world that these boys lived in … my friend seemed to be falling in love with a boy but I was falling in love with the feeling and freedom of the night."
"In Vancouver, there used to be many beautiful old movie theatres. As a teenager, my friends and I spent countless hours entering the magical world of cinema. The most exciting part was the anticipation: waiting for the movie to start, watching for the giant velvet curtain to be drawn up and the lights to go down. One night in the Hollywood Theatre on West Broadway, the movie ended, the lights came up, and I looked behind me and there was a boy from school all alone. Not lonely in the least. Confidently watching the movie by himself. I was so mystified and intrigued. This boy who just seemed like a regular annoying boy at school suddenly seemed mysterious and interesting. I know that was the moment I started to fall in love with him."
"This song is about a teenager falling in love but it is also an ode to the city of Vancouver and how memories of my life are written on that place. Everywhere I go in that city there is a memory set there. In the song, a girl is asking the boy she loves out on a date — but not necessarily out loud, perhaps in her imagination. She is vulnerable and shy and doesn’t want anyone to see this. It is about that feeling of being in a crowd of friends and wanting to be alone with one of them and not quite knowing if and when your heart will be shattered. It is also about all the landmarks in Vancouver where we hung out."
"Next the boy actually becomes my boyfriend! So this is a fun pop song about the time in Grade 10 when the boyfriend tried out for a band but failed miserably because he was tone-deaf. It is seen from the eyes of a teenage girl who bemusedly watches the posturing of the young men around her. Meanwhile she secretly knows she could kick their asses if she just had the guts to sing in front of them. The song makes fun but also talks about how girls can be pushed to the side or perhaps push themselves to the side because of lack of confidence."
‘The Darkroom at the School’
"I was a budding photographer in my younger days, as were many of my friends. There was a darkroom at our high school where we learned to develop photographs. Here, something else is developing as well! I am not sure if the teachers were aware that this was a magical place to make out. Aside from the truth of the story, the darkroom is just too ripe with metaphor so I couldn’t resist."
"We went to countless all-ages punk-rock shows in Vancouver but most of our time and energy was spent getting ready for the show."
‘Tickets on the Weekend’
"'Tickets on the Weekend' tells the true story of us west-side brats gearing up to see our favourite band DOA at the New York Theatre over on the Eastside of Vancouver. Our plans are foiled by some undercover cops busting us for buying liquor. They call our parents and they pick us up and all our bravado is deflated. I wanted to capture our excitement of being immersed in the punk scene but also reveal the delightful drama of us soft middle-class kids pretending to be tough and cool. The clincher is that I convinced my dad to buy me a ticket to the DOA show the following night so my eight bucks wouldn’t be wasted."
‘Walked All the Way Home’
"Underage and no driver’s licence so nothing to do but walk home. After being ejected from the legendary Town Pump and cursing your circumstances, you realize how beautiful it is to be walking home alone in the rain."
‘Waiting for the Blossoms’
"A love song to my friends who helped me through the tough times of being a teenager. I had some really faithful and strong female friends who stuck by me, made me laugh, taught me to follow my heart and to trust my head. Blossoms are the sign of hope that comes after the rainy winter. This is the fourth song I have written that mentions cherry and blossoms. Sort of like a spirit animal but flora instead of fauna."
"My friend David was the first person I knew who had his own car. He spent $900 on a 1968 Thunderbird. I admit I was a little disappointed it wasn’t a 1959 Cadillac but it was still pretty cool. We called it the 'killer shark’s penis' because of the shape and our awareness that cars are a metaphor for virility and manliness. In the song, the girl loves the car more than the boy. I wrote this with David after he told me his story and memories of the car. The song talks about moving away and going to college, which is what we wanted to do, but that means it is the end of youth."
"A song about my second home of Seattle where my cousins, aunt and uncle lived. Going there was magical as a kid and the song talks about the memories there. The U.S.A. represented warmth, abundance, fun, beef jerky, cars, Ding Dongs, sugar cereals and roller coasters — pretty much all the things you want as a kid. So when I was lonely, I could escape my Canadian life and be an American for a while."
‘My Old Vancouver’
"An epic song about the landmarks, memories and events of Old Vancouver before it grew up. I actually had about 10 more verses but decided to cut it down. Lots of references here that old Vancouverites will recognize. Raging Grannies, Vancouver Five, the disappearing women, Stalag 13, Luxury Bob’s, 14 Hastings Bus, the Peace March, Shame the Johns, Dicks on Dicks, I Braineater, Expo 86, Slow. I constructed it so that it is like I am walking through the streets and scenes of my hometown and you are walking along with me."
A Girl in Teen City will be released on May 26 via Stella Records. Pre-order the album here.