becky_nozu_suizhen_thepin_identity_race_culture_music_melbourne

MEET.

BECKY FREEMAN: Creatively in Motion

MELBOURNE, VIC.

Who is Becky Freeman?  If you don’t know that name you may know her by another moniker, from one of her many bands and creative pursuits - Sui Zhen, NO ZU - to name a few.

For her last album Secretly Susan [2015], Freeman created the poetic blonde alter-ego, Susan, who gazes mysteriously into the ether, seemingly transfixed by her own ethereal techno beats. The Pin was intrigued and, needless to say, we wanted to know more about this amazing creative soul.  

MEET BECKY FREEMAN AKA BECKY SUI ZHEN.


THE PIN. What was your childhood like growing up in Australia?
BECKY FREEMAN. I lived in Sydney, in the north-western suburbs. I feel like I had a really well rounded childhood. I have a strong relationship with my siblings, we’re all really close friends. With them, it’s like having a support network that you go through your whole life with. Nothing better than having that.

What kind of music did you and your family listen to?
B. If I heard something that moved me or heard something that I connected with, I would kind of pursue it and seek it out. That lead me to ‘world music’ at an early age - I didn’t know what else to call it.  I guess my parents weren’t directly into music but they were supportive of it. The first CD I bought was an IMAX soundtrack to an African animal documentary, it had percussive rhythm and sounds that I would get really into.

Were race and culture ever topics you discussed with your parents?
B. Yeah, it was a constant dialogue with my mum. It was so inextricably linked to the culture she grew up with; daily little details and food based things. I can’t even separate that conversation from the dialogue I had with Mum, it’s just always coming up in. They were more cultural discussions, yet still a part of our conversation always included us being aware of diversity and difference. It’s still confronting at times.

Who are your role models?
B. Laurie Anderson. She works in music, technology and experimental performances. She plays with music, spoken word and poetry. I am really interested in bringing more of my creative writing skills into my own music.

I find role models in strange places sometimes where you wouldn’t expect - I don’t even intentionally look sometimes. I’ll just want to work with a person, then I realise it’s because they’re a strong woman, who seems to have their shit together, and they’re going after what I want in my life. It’s a good thing to think about. Everybody needs a role model. I am always looking for women role models.

You created the alter ego - Susan - for your album Secretly Susan. How would Susan identify herself?
B. It was really an experiment. I had never done something like this before in my music practice. I was watching a lot of documentaries and images of people obsessed with changing their identities. I became interested in how you could achieve that without doing anything invasive to your body. Susan was meant to be very vacuous and devoid of depth. A combination of the really benign traits of someone who got lost on Instagram.

It's connection to the song is that it's contradictory. The songs are heartfelt and I really mean what I'm saying. Over time the meaning of Susan has changed for me as well. I have learnt from the experience and, for the next album, I want to create an identity that's closer to myself. 

What is the process of creating an alter ego?
B. I first find inspiration through images, films or film characters who have had an impact on me. With Susan, one of the characters was Julianne Moore in the movie Safe, it was really unnerving in how little she was able to express. I wrote down traits of that person and made mood boards from films and other things - it wasn't always necessarily a person.

How do you feel about terms like mixed race, bicultural or biracial?
B. It always makes me cringe a bit. I don’t know why.

When people highlight a interracial marriage or something like that I question why it is even still a talking point. Isn’t everything inter-something? We’re so far beyond this. I just don’t know how relevant it is to talk about anymore. It’s purely based on a surface impression...if you talk to a lot of people you'll find they have diverse cultural backgrounds, it's just you can't see it on the surface.

Do you find that you’re often asked where you’re from? How do you respond?
B. Taxi drivers and Uber drivers are the people who tend to ask me most, it’s almost the first thing they will ask. It’s an interesting question. I think in that scenario, their intentions are to have conversations with people they may genuinely want to connect with, because they’ve immigrated. So maybe the question is more about if you’ve also immigrated, what your experience has been and how you got to where you are.

Generally, I prefer it if people just hang out for a bit and it comes up naturally. It will always come out when you get to know somebody but when it’s asked too early it feels like the intention isn’t to get to know you. Mostly, I don't think people should really take offence to that question, but sometimes people are just being gross. 

THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
BECKY FREEMAN. Never shave your legs. It’s not necessary. It was part of me trying to fit in. So, I guess to be comfortable and trust your intuition, creativity, and all the things I felt in my gut. Just trust it more and be comfortable. I was trying to make myself fit within a western image. You don’t need to do something because everyone else is doing it so - DON’T DO IT!

- This interview has been edited and condensed