electric violinist Susan Aquila Storms Rock World with a new self-titled album
The electric violin is no longer an oddity in rock. Pioneers such as Mark Wood captured his energy and spirit for years. New York-based electric violinist/singer Susan Aquila, however, has amped it up to Mach 5 with her self-titled new album. She is taking the rock world by storm, stepping out of her sideman role and into the spotlight.
Aquila has performed and recorded with rock icons such as Paul McCartney, Elton John and Billy Joel. On her new album, she’s backed by hard rock luminaries like Billy Sheehan and Rod Morgenstein, with many songs co-written by Aquila and her guitarist, Joey Jem.
The songs feature a wide range of styles, from the hard-rock stomper “Things You Make Me Do” to the girl group sound “No, I’m Not That Kinda Girl”. Another notable cut from the album is a version of Nuno Bettencourt’s “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” in classic hues.
Aquila’s violin playing is like a violent wind. She plays with abandon and passion, moving from rock to classical with ease and panache. Swirling everywhere, he is a whirling dervish of energy with an irrepressible personality.
These elements are evident in his music videos, as well as his high-octane stage performances, filled with dazzling violin pyrotechnics.
Her outfits, including hot pants and a leather ensemble, add to her flamboyant stage presence. Her voice has considerable texture and grain, sometimes reminiscent of Joan Jett and Pat Benatar.
Aquila plays The Viper 6-string electric violin from Wood Violins.
Get to know her better with a new Q&A below.
Rock Cellar: What new opportunities does the electric violin open up for rock, and what are the main advantages of the electric violin in rock?
Susan Aquila: Many more opportunities are opening up for electric violinists in rock, and the electric violin has become a more common rock instrument. The electric violin allows you to use more effects, such as guitar effects. It adds more color and dimension to rock music and delivers a cutting edge sound.
Rock Cellar: The new album seems to take you in new directions. Do you think the album showcases your talents better?
Susan Aquila: Absoutely. It’s stronger in terms of material, lyrics and vocals. As a rule, it is difficult to work the violins in this kind of songs. But I was able to do violin solos on a few tracks. I think the album gave me a good opportunity to express myself vocally and on the violin.
Rock Cellar: The song “No, I’m Not that Kinda Girl” sounds quite different in style from your other songs with its girl group vibe. What triggered this song?
Susan Aquila: Joey (Jem) actually wrote the song for another project. Then he played it for me, and I really wanted to do it. He said “you can sing it”. We recorded it and worked on the lyrics together.
Joey Jemm: We wanted to try to do a Beatleque song when we found the song. Susan nailed it.
Rock Cellar: Your version of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” is very different and intriguing. Why did you decide to cover the song on your new album?
Susan Aquila: I wanted to do a real girlie version of the song with a 60s sound. We wanted to freshen up the song and make it fun.
Joey Jemm: Actually, the Scorpions did a cover of the song, which caught my attention, because I’m a huge Scorpions fan. We added a verse at the end of the song. It was a great collaboration and a great thing to cover.
Rock Cellar: You seem to have a real passion for hard rock. How did this develop?
Susan Aquila: I grew up in Smithtown, Long Island, with hard rock all around me. After studying the violin, I would come home, and all I heard was rock. I love them both equally, even though my heart was really into rock.
Rock Cellar: What were your main musical influences?
Susan Aquila: Jimi Hendrix was a major influence, that’s for sure. He had a strong work ethic and delivered strong performances. He was able to think outside the box and had new ways to express himself. I really liked Janis Joplin. His voice conveyed raw emotion. It wasn’t pretty, but you knew how she felt when she sang.
Rock Cellar: How do you handle the challenge of bridging the worlds of rock and classical music?
Susan Aquila: When I started playing rock and I came from the classical world, it was not easy for me to improvise, because I was not used to it. But I persevered in improvisation, and it became natural. Now I’d rather improvise than feel limited playing in an orchestra.
In order to get ready to play now, I do a lot of “upkeep” play. For example, I usually start with a classical routine, then a blues routine and finally a rock routine. This way I keep them all in sync.
Rock Cellar: How has your experience in the theater shaped your concerts?
Susan Aquila: When you play in the pit of theaters, you have the opportunity to watch many shows and better understand the values of the production. You learn a lot about directing. You find out what works and what doesn’t. You learn what excites the crowds.
Rock Cellar: I understand you’ve been playing guitar recently. How does your experience with the electric violin influence your guitar playing?
Susan Aquila: The guitar is a new thing for me. I’m still learning how to play and hope to incorporate it into future shows. It’s difficult to accompany yourself on the violin, so it will be easier to accompany me on the guitar once I’m more comfortable.
I also play keyboards and plan to add that in new shows as well.
Susan Aquila has appeared in concert and on recordings with artists such as Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Steven Tyler, Robert Plant, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Tony Bennett, Andrea Bocelli, KD Lang, Josh Groban, Barry Manilow, Michael Buble, Deep Purple, The Left Banke, Johnny Mathis, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Lita Ford.
Click here to visit Susan Aquila’s official website for more information and for a few of her list of upcoming live appearances.