The Gazette Newspaper
Wishing on a star called Suzanne Brindamour
By Chris Slattery
Friday, January 26, 2000
This is what it’s like having coffee with Suzanne Brindamour: walk in wondering if you’ll recognize her, leave wondering if you’ll ever forget her. Laugh a little, cry a little, hug at the end. And then — and this is the important part — go listen to her eponymous album for the 50th time.
Because once you get beyond the comparisons — is she Alanis Morissette without the anger, or Lisa Loeb without the quirks, or Dolores O’Riordan without the brogue? — then you can get to what Brindamour is. Her sound is velvet harmony, plaintive and lilting — as close as a whisper, and just as compelling. She is a poet without paper, wrapping her sweetly confessional lyrics in this gorgeous voice that slides through the speakers and invites the listener in.
“I’ve always wanted to reach out to people,” she explains. “This is my way to do it.”
When she plays at Borders Books and Music in Gaithersburg at 7:30 on Friday evening, she’ll be reaching out to a hometown crowd. Brindamour is a local lady, a self-confessed “artistic type” back at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, where, incredibly, she didn’t sing a note.
“Oh I never sang,” she says. “I didn’t think I could sing. I was shy, but I’m not shy anymore!”
Growing up there was always music in Brindamour’s life. The daughter of John and Frances Tolford — Brindamour uses her late mother’s maiden name professionally — taught herself piano and learned classical guitar, with three chord-picking big brothers providing encouragement.
“I bugged my brothers about the guitar,” she laughs. “I was a lonely kid in my room making stuff up. I wanted to invent music, not just read it. I’d just play. And insecure as I was, I thought, ‘maybe someday …’ ”
Someday first dawned in Phoenix, where Brindamour briefly attended Arizona State. She responded to a rocker-without-a-band known as Kid Trouser, who put an ad in the local paper looking for “wholesome” musicians.
“That was me,” says Brindamour. She fit the bill as far as wholesome was concerned, but balked when Kid Trouser insisted she sing.
“He said ‘You’re a singer,’ ” she recalls.
“I said ‘yes,’ but I had never performed. Then I tried to cover my tracks, to say ‘look, I can’t sing.’ But I had a tape I’d recorded in my basement as a teenager, something I’d never shared it with anyone. I played it and he said ‘You have a beautiful voice!’ and I was in the band: Kid Trouser and Wisdom Bricks.”
She chuckles at the memory.
“It just goes to show,” Brindamour says, referring to her surprising vocal talent, “you might have a muscle you never use!
“I dropped the guitar and got myself a keyboard — it was the ’80s — and that led me to composing.”
As a band, Kid Trouser and Wisdom Bricks had their fans, but in the end they didn’t really knock too many people’s socks off. Brindamour hung onto her keyboard, composing scores for television and radio, working in production; and nursing a dream.
“It’s almost inevitable,” she says, struggling to explain her feelings about her gift and her grasp at success.
“This is the passion of my life — to be a singer/songwriter. But first I had to overcome the fear — what if I’m not good enough?
“If I put myself out there for my dream and it falls flat, then what is there to live for?”
Brindamour would soon find out. She headed home to Montgomery County when her mother became ill and found that music could help her transcend tragedy.
“The death of my mother was a catalyst,” she says slowly, referring to the life-changing event that somehow refocused her ambitions — and inspired the haunting song “Waiting in the Wings.”
“While it was horrid, it set me upon a path of self-discovery. I started learning more about myself, looking at what had been holding me back. I became determined to overcome the obstacles.”
The real McBeal
It’s an Ally McBeal moment. Here’s this tiny person, all chocolate-brown eyes and disarmingly crooked smile and self-deprecating sense of humor, revealing her doubts and dreams and delusions. Unlike Ally, though, Brindamour has no need of backup singers. And she never seems to be without a friend. She talks about the CD, a full-length production on Splash Records that’s available right now at Best Buy.
“When I decided to do this, people rallied around me. Family and friends were so wonderful, they came forward to support me.
“It’s such a far-fetched dream to be a rock star,” she says, laughing for a moment at the absurdity of it all. “But people believe in me, and that’s half the battle.
“They believe I’m going all the way.”
Sharing in the belief seems to be a state of mind that’s easy to attain: see Brindamour perform live this Friday at Borders Books.
Or, get a copy of the album. It’s like finding a lost diary page from the days of your first love, or spending a weekend with your best pals from school, or meeting an old friend by chance in a train station far from home. There’s love and death, war and remembrance; friendship, loyalty and piercing questions about the odd expectations society imposes. And it’s all sealed up in that silken voice, and delivered heart-to-heart with the vocal equivalent of a warm conspiratorial smile.
It’s a work that’s deeply personal, but “Suzanne Brindamour” enfolds the entire Tolford family and myriad friends in its sturdy heart and gossamer soul.
“My sister Sarah designed the cover and my sister-in-law did the color,” Brindamour says.
Her dad, her brothers, even John Perrin, her former boss from those lean waitressing days, they all helped out, believed in her, and Brindamour doesn’t stint passing credit around. There are fifth-graders with a glee club solo who have more self-importance and ego than this woman.
It looks like staying grounded is about to get more difficult, though.
Brindamour’s been getting airplay, and she’s been getting post-show e-mails from excited fans. More importantly, she’s starting to get attention from the people who sell CDs nationwide. Kip Puiia is the regional media marketing manager for Best Buy who, as a buyer of “local artist” CDs gets a lot of calls from hopeful musicians.
“Generally speaking, they’re OK,” he says. “In Suzanne’s case, she called and I said ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, send me a CD.’
“I thought it was just stunning. Everything was sensational — the musicianship, her performance, even the artwork. First class, what a talent level!”
Puiia’s convinced that a great career lies ahead of Brindamour, and he says it couldn’t happen to a nicer person.
“Suzanne is a thoroughly charming individual,” he adds.
She charms through the speakers and she charms in person, with her voice and her smile and her simple philosophy of goodness and happiness.
“Everyone should pursue what’s in their heart,” she insists.
“That’s what it’s all about. Truly happy, fulfilled people are good people — and good people make the world a better place.”
© Copyright 2000 The Washington Gazette
Photo by Charles Steck