Dallas singer Sudie Abernathy remembers writing her first song at 4 years old. She didn't have piano training yet, but she jumped up to the instrument anyway and devised a tune using only the black keys. To this day, she still remembers the words.
Now 23, with big, bright eyes and long, blue hair, Sudie, who performs under just her first name, takes a similar approach to composing music as she did decades ago. Of the songs on Sudie's debut self-titled EP, which came out April 7, more than half were written in under 15 minutes at times when she caught a burst of creative energy. Although her work fits somewhere in the electronic or avant-garde genres, no two songs sound alike.
"It's really, totally, 100 percent an experimental album," she says. "The theme is me finding myself as a person and also as an artist, and realizing the two are pretty much the same thing."
Born in Florida, Sudie spent her adolescence moving around the world, picking up bits of musical know-how along the way. As a kid, she grew up singing country and old-school bebop in North Texas suburbs, including once at the opening of a new Whataburger. During her early teenage years, she branched out into jazz and rock 'n' roll. When Sudie's family moved to Dubai, she trained in classical music and starred in musicals at her American high school there.
"I sang the national anthem actually, the American national anthem, all the time," she says with a laugh.
Sudie returned stateside to study opera at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, but she eventually changed her major.
"I didn't really even have time to do anything creative outside" school, says the 2013 graduate. "That's not what I wanted to pursue. I was really just going there for the training."
So Sudie dove into a deep, musical self-exploration, combining her skills in vocal performance, her passion for songwriting and a newfound intrigue with electronic production.
Sudie's background may not be immediately apparent through the effects and distortion she plays around with on the EP, but she attests it's certainly there in composition. Take the single "Bruise," for example, which Sudie composed similarly to a symphony, with distinct parts picked from two other original songs she had retired. Or "Moog," a dreamy tune created using a single chord she sang, then sampled and looped.
Other songs have more bizarre stories, such as "Heart Attack," which Sudie wrote in one sitting after a panic attack woke her in the middle of the night. (She later found out her grandfather had a heart attack around the same time.) The album's opener, "Spill," also forcefully made its way to paper in 10 minutes after Sudie and a friend had an intense conversation about life, love, religion and more. She seems to thrive artistically under stress despite having near-debilitating anxiety.
"It's so crazy! Sometimes I'm like, do I have to feel depressed and terrible to be able to make music?"
When inspiration strikes, Sudie sequesters herself in her bathtub with "a dinky setup" including a microphone, midi controller and computer. It works for recording, but she hopes to beef up her solo live performance soon to include drums tracks, a loop pedal, maybe a bass player and a live drummer, which she recruited for a few recent SXSW shows. But for now Sudie's just thankful for the journey.
"I'm kind of starting from scratch and building upon that," she says. "I'm still, ya know, trying to figure it out."
Sudie's debut album is now available on iTunes. $5.94. Follow Tiney Ricciardi on Twitter at @tineywristwatch.