Oh Susanna’s coming of age on display on the wistful, wonderful A Girl In Teen City

Suzie Ungerleider remembers it fondly.

It was two decades ago when she was performing at the Calgary Folk Music Festival under her more familiar moniker Oh Susanna, and local musician and all-around-everything Chantal Vitalis, who was volunteering at the fest, picked her up and shuttled her to the Prince’s Island site.

“And then we became friends,” Ungerleider says.

Fond ones.

In fact, Vitalis will accompany Ungerleider Sunday, Oct. 15, when she performs a 2 p.m. matinee show at the Ironwood Stage and Grill in support of Oh Susanna’s latest release A Girl In Teen City.

It’s her first collection of self-penned material since 2011’s Soon the Birds, and first album since 2014’s magnificent Namedropper, which featured Ungerleider performing songs written specifically for her by such Cantune luminaries as Jim Cuddy, Ron Sexsmith and Melissa McClelland.

Teen City actually grew out of that project, in a sense, as the Toronto-based singer admits that at the time she was making the album with longtime collaborator Jim Bryson she was “sick of my own voice and stories, so to speak.”

“Then when I finished the album, he was like, ‘OK, Suzie, stop effing around, write about your punk rock youth,’ ” she says with a laugh.

So she did. She got out of “certain modes I was in so I could write different kinds of songs” and got to work a-rememberin’.

The result is a warm, wonderful helping of comfort-food nostalgia, a dreamy pop recollection of growing up in Vancouver in the mid-’80s a suburban punk — the sounds and places and people brought to life in the magical, wistful way that only 30 years of wide-eyed hindsight can deliver.

Ungerleider admits that despite the fact that this is probably her most autobiographical album to date, she had no difficulty laying it all out there.

“It wasn’t necessarily tough because I had a pretty specific idea of what I wanted to express. So it wasn’t all that revealing necessarily or making me super vulnerable about what I’m doing today and who I am now. I’m still kind of a character in the songs,” she says.

“And even though in the stories most of the information is true, with some embellishment, I felt liberated and full of joy when I was writing some of the stuff, because I think at the time that the stuff was happening if I were to reflect on it, I would have written very different songs if I were writing at that time. But as a grownup looking back I could sort of temper it and realize that there were some great things instead of all of the angst and problems — I could look at it with humour and fondness.”

It really is a charming, Stand By Me slice of someone coming of age, with all of the details as clear as if they’d walked right out of a Kodak — all-ages shows at the Odd Fellows hall with D.O.A. on stage, a rock star wannabe boyfriend, her “Vaseline flat-top (and) ripped skinny black jeans,” the Commodore Ballroom and bowling alley, getting stoned, getting busted for underage drinking, the hookers on Davie Street, the famed Richard’s on Richards (a.k.a. Dicks on Dicks), wanting to say goodbye to her Canadian life from the other side of the Puget Sound.

“I really wanted it to be an expression of me recognizing that it was a pretty interesting time to be in Vancouver. It was a time of transition, we were all transitioning from being kids to adults and so was the city,” says the Massachusetts-born Ungerleider.

“When you meet someone from the era, you go, ‘Oh, yeah.’ You kind of wink at each other … That’s kind of why I wrote it, too, for the people who were there, who lived through that time with me. It was a way to appreciate them and what we did.”

But as specific as it is, it’s still incredibly relatable for someone who grew up in that era but in another Canadian city. Hell, it’s likely just as easy to appreciate for anyone who grew up in any era, in any city across this country. That, Ungerleider says, was part of the whole exercise — to make it specific to her own experience but make it something that would strike that right note of nostalgia in anyone who heard it.

“It’s just about the universal themes of growing up,” she says. “I learned that from listening to other Canadian songwriters that I admire — people like Joel Plaskett or Sarah Harmer or John K. Samson or Jim Bryson or Veda Hille — that they were writing specifically about where they were and what they were seeing and that was somehow, through specificity, it was like, ‘Oh, I can relate to that even if I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to.’ There’s just a feeling and a reference and you can put yourself into the song.”

And like those artists, Ungerleider wasn’t afraid to let her Maple Leaf Flag fly high. It wasn’t so long in the past that Canadian songwriters, save a notable few, were reticent to make things specific to their homeland in order to possibly appeal to the nation south of the border — a nation, it should be noted, that has always been almost defiantly the opposite.

“I romanticized that place and when I was living in Vancouver I wanted to be elsewhere,” she says, alluding to those Puget Sound opinings on A Girl In Teen City.

“Through moving away and just growing older I’ve come to just appreciate what we lived through. I’ve also come to appreciate Canada so much more and have come to realize that I’m a nice mixture of both countries,” she says with a laugh, “that I’m a citizen of both countries now and that I’m really happy that my parents decided to bring us here …

“I think it’s from actually being in the music scene in Canada (that) has really made me understand what Canada is and all of the beauty that it has and the interesting quirks, and travelling across it has made me really love it and feel much more Canadian as I grow older.”

And now, more than two decades after starting the journey, she’ll once again stop in a city, see people she’s known for that entire time, play with one, even speak with writers who’ve chronicled her career since its very beginning.

Twenty years.

“We should celebrate,” she says.



(Photo courtesy Heather Pollock)

Oh Susanna performs Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Ironwood Stage and Grill. For tickets and reservations call 403-269-5581.

Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at