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Mark Ritsema Goes Glam and Gets Freaky With New Project Suzie

Mark Ritsema's new window of opportunity is Suzie.

Mark Ritsema's new window of opportunity is Suzie.

Suzie | 7th St Entry | Saturday, December 27
It says something about you as an artist when an internet fetish community embraces your music. It says something more when you're able to take it in stride.

For Suzie, the psychedelic brainchild of Night Moves and Mouthful of Bees co-founder Mark Ritsema, that fetish would be furry fandom. You know, dressing up and role-playing as anthropomorphized creatures. Apparently, the dreamy, clubby rock track "Fantasy," from Suzie's debut album, Born Single, is a big enough hit on a furry fan forum that one user made a rather elaborate illustration to pair with it.

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"That was cool, that's the market I want, weirdos. Not that they're freaks but... it is like a fantasy type of thing," says Ritsema, with a bemused grin. "I ought to hit them up. I fully support furries. I'm down to try it."

Gathered at the marble and wood-lined dining room of Kingfield's Blackbird restaurant, Ritsema and bandmate Charles McClung are cheerfully blasé about their new niche fanbase.

"It's a subversive subculture, you know, for a lot of people it's kind of silly, dressing up to have sex," McClung muses. "I think what's important to realize is that humans are animals, so we're not any different from furries really, or the animals that they represent."

The real-world music video for "Fantasy" contains no animal costumes, but it's plenty subversive -- with androgynous actors, a neon-lit party bus, and baby bottles filled with mysterious black liquid. While both men have played in outwardly wholesome indie-rock groups for most of their lives, they've been letting their freak flags fly high and proud within Suzie. A glammy, drag-inspired dress code is clearly visible in the band's live shows.

"People have asked us why we dress quasi-androgynously onstage, because none of us are trans or actually women," McClung explains. "We just like to play dress-up. I don't think it's a social message per se."

"I don't even think about it as dressing up like a female," Ritsema adds. "It's more about making yourself look different. The dressing up is part of that, having something to look at and being theatrical. It's more like Bowie or the New York Dolls."

In the lumbersexual capital of the universe, that kind of attitude is refreshing. Intentionally or not, Suzie's playful nature has pierced a hole in our scene's ego, much in the same way that those makeup-caked gods of early glam and punk did for the staid '70s jock-rockocracy. Bands like the Dolls and Japan are in the bones of Suzie's eclectic music, but Born Single is no glittering time capsule. Ziggy Stardust's fuzzed-out guitar reverberates on tracks like "Possession," but the looping grooves and present bass and drums make the end product far more contemporary.

"I did it all in my basement," Ritsema says of the album's lo-fi genesis. "And I did it all myself. That was the fist time that I've ever recorded anything. I used one mic for every single thing. I recorded everything using a loop pedal, so a lot of the songs are really repetitive because of that."

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Those structural limitations actually give Suzie's songs something of a dancefloor-ready sound, with synth and guitar textures building to a hypnotic climax. Plus, Ritsema and his bandmate don't work in a vaccum.

"I listen to KDWB a lot when I do deliveries [at work]. I love pop songs with really good production and a really hi-fi sound," says Ritsema. "At the same time, I think if you have a song like that, that's Top 40 R&B or something, but recorded shitty, I want to explore that kind of thing too."

Transforming pre-packaged, focus group-tested culture and imagery into inspiration for scuzzy, DIY weirdness is something that seems to tickle both men incredibly. McClung outlines a story from their recent tour when the Suzie frontman became transfixed by an energy drink can.

"When we were driving to Milwaukee, we saw this random gas station, and Mark comes out with this Rockstar Energy, the likes of which he and I have never seen before," he says. "It was red, white, and blue, but the blue was lighter than robin's egg. Mark couldn't open the drink for fear of ruining the aesthetics."

"It looked so good," Ritsema adds, gazing in awe into the middle distance. "It's still in my car right now. I just couldn't stop staring at it. So that's going to be the cover of my next album."

SUZIE play with Later Babes,Landmarks, and Vacation Dad on Saturday, December 27, at 7th St. Entry; 612-332-1775

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