When we caught up with Spencer Sutherland, he was preparing for his current tour supporting Emblem3. The self-taught pop-meets-R&B singer from Ohio blends modern pop and classic doo-wop in a series of covers that have gained over 200,000 views on YouTube. Despite his busy schedule, the 22-year-old singer chatted with Music Existence about his musical influences, his debut single, and hitting the road.
ME: So when did you realize you wanted to be a musician?
SS: You know, I’ve always wanted to be a singer for as long as I can remember. I think everyone did this in second grade where you had to draw what it is you wanted to be when you grew up and mine was a singer. For as long as I can remember I’ve just always wanted to be a performer.
ME: That’s not something you hear most kids say they want to be.
SS: Yeah, you usually see pilot or fire fighter. I think I was the only kid in the class who said I wanted to be a singer. It’s good, you know, it’s starting to happen.
ME: You have one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard. It’s very distinct because usually singers are more on the pop or the R&B side, but you voice is the absolute perfect blend of both genres, so I’m curious…who are some of your major musical influences?
SS: My biggest influences for my style of music are Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake. They’re pop singers but Bruno has some soul, Justin has R&B, and I think I’m something like a hybrid of them. Those are the two people who influence my music today but growing up, Elvis was the biggest inspiration to me, which sounds kind of weird but he was the first total package –he could sing, dance, he had charisma, just the way he entertained. I still watch videos of him and these girls are literally getting arrested for jumping on stage, so he must be doing something right. He’s one of the biggest influences for me as an artist.
ME: So I hear you’re a self-taught musician?
SS: Yeah, I took lessons but they were kind of slow to me. I guess I just don’t take that kind of direction very well, so I kind of just taught myself by ear. Now I play guitar by ear, voice, piano. I’m actually starting to get into the home- recording-producing stuff, which is really, really fun.
ME: You’re producing your own beats now?
SS: All the music I’ve recorded or will be recording isn’t music I’ve recorded at my house but let say with the software I have, I can lay down a pretty cool beat and can record guitar over it, and can record vocals and the quality isn’t that good to put out on iTunes and YouTube, in my opinion, but I can shoot it over to one of my producers and he can listen to it and be like, “ooh, that’s what you want,” and then we write something to it, and I go in [the studio] and record it. So it’s a lot like demos, just stuff to show my management and producers and it’s so fun. I’m definitely lucky with the management team I have. I’m blessed they let me have so much creative control.
ME: And speaking of management, I heard you were discovered while singing in restaurants. Tell me about that!
SS: In high school I didn’t have a normal job, so I made a living by singing at restaurants. I wouldn’t get paid much or sometimes not at all, but it was a way to make a little bit of gas money, and I would do about three hour sets. It was definitely good practice.
ME: So this is how you were discovered?
SS: Kind of. I had a chance to meet the right person and a couple of days later, she called me and she had me open for Big Time Rush. It was one of the best days of my life. I walked on stage and people started screaming. I turned around to see if people were coming on stage and I was like, “oh wow, you’re screaming for me?!”
ME: Opening for Big Time Rush is a pretty big deal. They had a show on Nickelodeon and the single they had with Snoop Dogg, “Boyfriend,” was a pretty big hit. Where you on tour with them during this time?
SS: This was after that. I performed with them once, and it was insane, the biggest thing ever for me. I toured this spring with Before You Exit for 13 days and that was my first time touring. This summer was my second, and this fall will be my third. I love touring. I love it so much
ME: The Run Around Tour was your second time touring, how did it compare to your spring tour? Did you feel more comfortable this time around or was it about the same?
SS: The second time is definitely more comfortable since I had already established a fan base from the first tour. This third tour is with Emblem3 who are two of my best friends in the world, and not only are we going to be on tour we’ll be hanging out and working out together.
ME: It seems like you’re always on the road now. How do you get used to something like that? Do you miss the comforts of home?
SS: I miss my family of course. I miss being able to get a really bomb workout everyday. When you’re on the road you can just kind of run. It’s not totally what you need. But other than that, I don’t think I really miss anything else. I’m at the point of my life where I just want to experience everything and I really enjoy it. It’s my favorite thing to do.
ME: Last December, you released your debut single, “Heartstrings.” I describe the song as nostalgic bittersweetness, and not necessarily the song itself, but the feel of the song, so I’m curious as to what inspired you to make a song like that? What is the story behind the song?
SS: I would say it’s mostly from real life experience. The song is about being with someone who is super hot and cold and it drives you nuts! It’s something that honestly everyone has gone through, guy or girl regardless of age, and about how frustrating it is to be with someone who doesn’t know what they want. I think it’s really important to be able to relate to the fans.
ME: It makes the artist seem more real, and not necessarily just an image or a fantasy.
SS: Well I’m a robot, but as long as I can sound like I’m real then that’s great.
ME: (Laughs) Well, if you’re a robot, you’re a good one because people always say you remember your first love, but I think it’s that first unrequited love that tends to hurt the most, right?
SS: Yeah, you know, I still remember mine. I think everybody does
ME: So do you think there will be a music video for “Heartstrings”?
SS: Yeah, we’ve shot a music video, and it’s really cool, it has a lot of my hometown in it. Unfortunately it’s not up to us. There are just some negotiations being made. All pretty positive, we just want it to be massive. We’re just waiting on the company and seeing what they just say.
ME: Then lets talk about something that has been released – your covers. You’ve released a few videos of you singing popular songs such as Ariana Grande’s “Bang Bang,” Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” which I’ve probably listed to more than the actual song. They’re all pretty diverse in their sound but you cover them in a way that makes them almost seem as if they were written for you.
SS: I try to cover to sing in a way where I think, ‘if this was my song, how would it sound?’ So it sounds like something that’s different from the actual track.
ME: So what’s next? A cover of Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love”?
SS: (laughs) That’s so funny because a lot of people have actually said that.
ME: (Laughs) You’ve done so many of them and seem to enjoy them, why did you begin covering tracks? Which cover so far has been you favorite?
SS: Well, I’ve done so many covers recently because we’ve been doing this as a way to interact with fans. It’s call Female Feature Friday because the ladies are really tearing up the charts right now. I decided to put out one video every week for a month and people loved it so that’s why I’ve done so many lately. I would say my favorite is probably Fancy also because I perform [it] with a full band on stage. I have a really good band who also helps come up with those arrangements so I’m definitely lucky with those guys; they’re my best friends, too.
ME: And I must ask, while your covers are pretty fantastic, do you think we’ll get any YouTube videos of songs you’ve been working on?
SS: You mean like new music? I haven’t put out any yet and the reason being when I come out with a new song, I want it to be new and fresh, and I want them [the fans] to be really, really excited. I haven’t performed many new things so I think it’s just going to be a really, really big surprise. I’ve been in the studios for the last several months. I have tracks of so many songs and I just cannot wait for people to hear them. I think people are going to be able to hear some stuff next month. Which is really exciting for me.
ME: And for the fans too because, at this point they’ve been anticipating new music, so as soon as you release it they’re going to rush to buy it.
ME: If you could collaborate with any musician dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
SS: There’re so many answers! I would love to collab with Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars. Producers… Pharrell Williams.
ME: What do you like to do when you’re not on tour or in the studio?
SS: I like to write music. If I’m not doing music related stuff, I like to work out and watch movies and hang out with my family as much as I can.
ME: What artist or song are you really into at the moment?
SS: Lately I’ve been going back to listening to older albums like Shaggy’s album which is a blast from the past. It’s so classic. I heard a song today that’s really good: “Never Been In Love” by Cobra Starship and Icona Pop. My favorite right now is “Waves” by Mr. Probz. It’s so good it’s all over the radio.
ME: What is your most memorable fan experience?
SS: Every show has a crowd that’s been amazing. But there was a show in Jersey with some of the best fans I’ve ever seen. There was a meet-and-greet and they [the fans] wanted to take pictures, so I stayed until 3 a.m., until I took all the pictures and it was amazing to see a line that was half a mile long. I enjoy taking picks with them just as much as they enjoy taking with me.
ME: If you could describe yourself in one word, what word would it be and why?
SS: Passion. I think I have so much passion for my music, life, fans, family. Everything I do everyday is based off passion. Even when I work out. I won’t do something half way because if I find myself doing it half way, then it’s not worth it because I’m not passionate about it. If I start writing a song and I don’t love it, I put it away and start a new one. I think passion is a good word because it’s important to live life with passion. If you’re not, it’s almost like you’re just sitting in life’s waiting room waiting for something, so I think you should make the most out of your time that you do have here and live it up.
Spencer Sutherland is currently on tour with Emblem3.
Nov. 13 – Clifton Park NY
Nov. 14 – Sayreville NJ
Nov. 15 – Huntington NY
Nov. 16 – Lancaster PA
His new acoustic EP- Unveiled – is currently available for pre-order