Suboi’s visit to New York in fall of 2017 witnessed a strong relationship formed between her and three new friends — Zach Golden, Pat McCusker and Billy Scher. Their creative story and beautiful friendship started from the cosy conversations in the woods to the recording studio. The songs they’ve worked on together also appear in Suboi’s latest album - No-Nê - released in July.
Nine tracks in the album were mostly made in New York by the three American producers, except for the last song Ngày lại ngày produced by her spouse – Nodey. She also has support from NVM from Vietnam và Ole MAA from Norway.
These exceptional ‘cooks’ granted Vietcetera an interview to share their experience of preparing and making such a veritable feast of music for Suboi.
Pat McCusker & Billy Scher
Aside from their released songs such as Bet On Me, Công, N-Sao?, Pat & Billy have collaborated on new songs like Diều, Best Friend, Lava, Sickerrr in album No-Nê.
What is your first impression when you first met Suboi?
Pat: The first time we met Suboi was at a beautiful recording studio called Yonderbarn in Upstate New York. She had just gone on a meditation retreat right before we got there and was in this really special headspace. We felt really comfortable around her and welcomed right from the very beginning.
Billy: Down to earth, smart, and on a mission. When we first met, before hitting the studio, we went for a walk in the woods and just chatted. The peaceful nature around created a calm atmosphere for a better get-to-know conversation. We talked about inspirations, influences, hopes, and dreams. That afternoon, we wrote Best Friend. It was a magical day.
What impression did Suboi leave while working with you, especially on the album?
Pat: From the very first day working on the initial demos with her, we felt like we could try anything, go on any musical route, and just see what happens. There was no pressure at all. We just went for what felt right at that moment and if it didn’t, we just turned to a different direction. Each track was really guided by our feelings. What Suboi was feeling at any certain moment — excited, contemplative, ecstatic, melancholic — directed how Zach, Billy and I made the tracks.
Billy: I found her willingness to explore new sounds and try new things very inspiring. Sometimes people get stuck in their ways, but she keeps searching for something. And most of the time, the journey into the unknown could only be made outside your comfort zone. That's where the gems are. The hidden factors might be revealed in the most unlikely places. They could be unlocked by adding a crazy kazoo going through a distortion pedal or reversing the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. You’ll never know, and Su desires to explore.
Have you collaborated with any Vietnamese or Asian artists before?
Pat: Suboi was the first Asian artist I worked with. After her, I have worked with a couple of Korean artists such as Eric Nam and Katie.
How long did it take you to produce the album No-Nê?
Pat: I think we really began work on No-Nê in the fall of 2018. We probably finished recording and mixing in the summer of 2019. So I guess it took about a year or so. The pandemic did delay the release of the record, so we’re extremely excited to finally have these songs out for the world to hear!
Billy: This might sound a bit cheesy, but it took as long as it was meant to take. We had gone through all the chapters of writing, recording, producing, mixing and mastering the album with a myriad of unexpected obstacles including our own self-perception.
I first met Su in 2017, around four years ago. It's wild to think about how much has happened in just four years — how much people have changed, how much we have changed. To stay true to yourself is no easy feat. I’m honored to be a part of this project and so proud of and happy for Su to successfully execute her vision through this project.
Are there any difficulties or any exciting moments that you would like to share?
Pat: I have a really funny one. The first time Zach and I met Billy was the first night that we began working on No-Nê. He came to our studio in Brooklyn, this big beautiful loft space with tall windows allowing sunlight to come through, to meet us, say hi, and hang out for a bit.
His great deal of positive energy just radiated everywhere and we were all really psyched to start working with him. He had a show or something that night, so he headed out while we continued working in the studio to set up for the sessions.
At one point, I think it was maybe Kiwi (Suboi’s manager) who got up to go and used the bathroom. She turned to us and said, “Hey, the door isn’t opening...” It was my studio, so I was so confused.
As it turned out, when Billy left, he LOCKED THE DOOR ON US FROM THE OUTSIDE!!! It was a complete accident, of course, but needless to say we were locked in. We were a bit freaked out for a bit and just nervously laughed through the whole thing. We found the phone number of the building security and called for someone to let us out.
It was a hilarious way to meet Billy for the first time.
Billy: To be honest, hardly a day in the studio went by without excitement. While Su was in Brooklyn for a week-long writing session, we hit a hot streak where we found magic almost every day, so much that no one really wanted to leave the studio! It was such a fun, open and creative environment. A BIG reason for that is a special group of people was working together. That was the other most exciting part of the whole process — meeting everyone including Su, Kiwi, Pat, and Zach. It's a special creative group.
How did you put the Vietnamese spirits into the album, from the stage of selecting samples to researching the culture?
Pat: When we first worked with Su in Upstate NY, she and Kiwi showed us some beautiful ballad music from Vietnam, as well as some really cool Vietnamese rock music from the ’60s and early ’70s. But for the most part, we only put in the record what felt and sounded right to us. Anything that feels Vietnamese from the record all stems from Suboi’s direction.
Billy: During the writing process, we would slow down every now and then to listen to some references. A lot of the time Su would play a song or recording from Vietnam that would help everyone get in a certain headspace. At the end of the day, the goal was to help Su's vision come to life, and there was a lot of learning and experimenting during that process.
Nodey is Suboi’s companion for life and, at the same time, her excellent partner in music. After they collaborated on Đôi Khi, Nodey also helped with the production of Ngày Lại Ngày for his wife’s album.
Could you tell us more about Ngày Lại Ngày? How did the idea of the track come up?
Ngày Lại Ngày was made at the same period as Đôi Khi when I’d just met Suboi. At that time, Suboi had never used auto-tune before while I did use a lot of that for many French rappers. Thus, Đôi Khi and Ngày Lại Ngày were like an introduction and experimental field of auto-tune to Suboi.
Also, Saigon was really new to me at that time. I was really amazed by the sounds of the streets, especially the street vendors’ hawking “Banh Chung - Banh Gio” and “bánh mì Sài Gòn một ngàn một ổ” (Saigon’s banh mi, one thousand VND per loaf) and all that kind of songs from the street food sellers. That’s why we put those sounds in these songs.
Can we say that Ngày Lại Ngày is the next milestone in your journey with Suboi?
Yes, in a certain way although I didn’t actually think like that. What I’m sure of is that I really love Ngày Lại Ngày and am proud to be a part of Suboi’s album.
Were there any difficulties taking care of Nina, your daughter, while working on the album at the same time?
Not so much because these songs were created before Nina came into this world. When Nina was born, my job was more on finalizing the songs.
How do you work with your wife? Is it different from working with other artists?
It’s very different from working with a normal rapper. We have to discuss the best ways to manage this twofold relationship – work and family. But at the end of the day, our love takes the top priority.
Among the flavors Suboi mentioned in her album, which one is your favorite? And why?
I don’t have a favorite. For a good dish, you need to create a balance of flavors in your cooking, just like all the bittersweets of life: you can’t enjoy happiness without the balance of sorrow.
What is your favorite dish cooked by Suboi? How does it taste?
Recently, she has ordered a variety of vegetarian foods, the kind of plant-based meat you can eat in pagodas. She cooks a lot with these ingredients and it’s really good, especially her vegetarian ‘bun bo hue’.