Sudie's Electro-Pop Follows the Lead of Her Rich Imagination
Melinda says that every single hand is unique and that she is merely a channel who lets the hands talk to her. If there is an issue in your mind or heart, your hand and what she refers to only as her multiple "guides" will pull her toward it. Melinda is a local palmist and intuitive at vintage resale boutique Dolly Python in East Dallas. In the corner amongst the bleached cow skulls and costume jewelry, she offers her services at a dollar per minute. Whether you believe in the concept of psychic ability or not, she provides judgment-free perspective and provokes introspective thinking within all who choose to sit beside her.
Sitting beside her on this hot afternoon is 22-year-old singer, songwriter and producer Sudie Abernathy. She's been hard at work this year preparing to release her debut EP on the upstart indie label Computer Ugly. Her first official single, "Heart Attack," arrived in early April, delivering a first taste of her fragmented melodies, jazz sensibilities and chimerical ingenuousness. If the work under her belt is any indicator, a staggering talent like Sudie's could very well be mentioned one day in the same breath as some of North Texas' most notable women in music.
But Sudie didn't come to see Melinda to find out whether or not she's the next Edie Brickell, Erykah Badu, Norah Jones, Annie Clark or Sarah Jaffe. The fiercely independent young artist would never hope to follow anyone else's footsteps. She simply wants the kind of assurance that anyone does when they're taking on the simultaneously daunting and exhilarating task of forging one's own path.
"You don't have issues with the past," Melinda tells Sudie, who giggles bashfully as she's kindly asked to angle her knees directly under the table so that Melinda can see her raised palms better. "It's not important to you anymore; you have put that aside. There were some relationship issues in the past, and that was very important to you." Melinda stops and corrects herself. "Actually, just about everything is important to you. You're either 100 percent invested in something or not at all. You're all or nothing. There is no middle of the road with you."
If her solo music career is only just now starting in earnest, Sudie's story really starts at age 4, when she wrote her first song. She never named it, but she can still play and sing it, though she's quick to tell you how terrible it is. Growing up in a deeply religious family and moving all over the country for her father's work as an airline pilot led to a lot of early childhood confusion for Sudie. She recalls getting chastised often for asking too many questions in Sunday school. For her, music was an escape from all of that.
Around age 7, Sudie began taking voice lessons and performing in Arlington Music Hall's longstanding Johnnie High's Country Music Revue. The show, which started running in 1974 and is now called Arlington Music Hall Presents, boasts alumna like Leann Rimes and Miranda Lambert, among others.
"I would sing there [at Arlington Music Hall] almost every weekend," Sudie recalls. "I was also in this group called God's Country Music Kids, and we would go perform at nursing homes, children's hospitals, openings of restaurants. Things like that."
After the family left Texas, they spent a couple of years in Atlanta. Then, when Sudie was 14, just in time for her formative high school years, the Abernathys moved to Dubai when her father started flying for Emirates Airline.
"The first week of school [in Dubai] I auditioned for a musical and I got the lead. Then after that, I was the lead in every play or musical," says Sudie, who after growing up under a spotlight, feels more comfortable onstage than anywhere else. "Dubai doesn't seem like it would be a very musical place, but it was surprisingly easy to find gigs there." She smiles. "Plus, I sang the national anthem a lot."
After an audition at the International Thespian Festival, she was snatched up by SMU's music department, where she studied relentlessly in classical and opera. She worked two jobs and sold her own jewelry designs to support herself through school. It was in Dallas that she finally finished an almost 15-year journey of training and honing her craft. After college, Sudie was ready to start focusing on her own vision.
"You're very independent," Melinda says. "Fiercely. But you've also had a lot of misunderstanding of that. The thing is, you're always respecting of other people's feelings and different points of view." She adjusts her table lamp and rotates Sudie's hand beneath it, recasting the highlights and shadows on her varying focal points. "You're a very live-and-let-live person," Melinda adds. "You want to be respected, and you want to be listened to. If you're not heard, you feel lonely."
Melinda picks up almost immediately on Sudie's nervous energy. As an anxious dreamer, she's often overwhelmed by the world's beauty and her short amount of time on the planet to truly take it all in. "That is a huge part of my anxiety," Sudie says. "There's so much [music] that has been, will be and is here now that I will never ever get to hear. That really stresses me out."
Sudie's mind races day and night. The layered melodies and lush arrangements in her music well reflect the unrelenting gears that crank away in her brain.
"You're intuitive yourself, did you know that?" Melinda asks. "You've learned more and more about that in the last two to three years, haven't you?"
Sudie responds with a quick and earnest "yes."
"You have great gut instincts," Melinda continues. "Your gut's dead-on. Keep listening to your gut. You should never ever argue with it, never go against it."
Sudie's playful and deliberate lyricism speaks to a restless longing. Her sound is flustered and rosy-cheeked, especially on "Heart Attack." But there's a reason for that. A few months ago, she was jolted awake in the middle of the night from a restful slumber to a crippling panic attack. Gasping and alarmed, her first instinct was to reach for her notebook. By the time her distress had passed, she had written all of the lyrics to "Heart Attack" in about 15 or 20 minutes. The words seemed to be fighting their way out of her body.
The next morning, Sudie awoke to a phone call from her mother. Her grandfather had suffered a heart attack in the middle of the night, around the same time she had been shaken out of her own sleep. She hung up the phone and went straight to her piano. She believes that this occurrence was bigger than random coincidence.
"I believe that sometimes the universe and the planets align, and that things happen for a reason, and it can be really crazy," Sudie says.
For the most part, Melinda and her guides are right on the nose with their analysis. She sees Sudie's past in theater on her thumb, sees her fear of never getting married and the mountains of music theory books that Sudie has dug up from her college days as she works on her EP. Melinda tells Sudie that she sees her at a piano with Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, and that she knows she has been thinking of reaching out to a former music instructor.
"September is going to be a volatile month for you, but it's going to bring about some interesting changes too," Melinda says. She tells Sudie she will meet a man around this time, a man with pretty eyes. She is unsure, however, whether he will be worth Sudie's time.
Sudie finds this harder to believe, as the rest of 2014 will be too busy to worry about men with pretty eyes. This week, she attends Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, as a member of the esteemed Red Bull Music Academy, Bass Camp, for which she was selected as one of 20 musicians from the entire Southern United States. (Dallas artists Datahowler, DJ A1 and Dorian of The Outfit, TX were invited as well.)
At the end of June, her second single, "Spill," debuts. After that, she will begin rolling out her solo live show in preparation for her EP release at the end of the summer.
At the table with Melinda, Sudie finds the assurance she was looking for. She's been working toward this goal her whole life and soon the world will finally get to peek inside that complex, unconventional, lamenting brain of hers. Once they do, they won't be able to look away