- 19 May 22
On location in New Orleans to shoot Amazon Prime’s eagerly anticipated Daisy Jones And The Six, uber-talented model and actress Suki Waterhouse fills us in on the creation of her debut album, indie opus I Can’t Let Go.
When I manage to secure half-an-hour with Hammersmith native Suki Waterhouse, she’s prepping for her last scene of the day in New Orleans, filming the highly-anticipated Amazon Prime adaptation of Daisy Jones And The Six by Taylor Jenkins-Reid. Despite simultaneously promoting both the upcoming series and her debut album, I Can’t Let Go, the actor, musician and former model is in a breezily content mood.
“It’s nice to be in a different city, and interviews honestly help me understand more about your own psyche. I’m a bit of a rambler,” she laughs, good-naturedly. “I wouldn’t say I’m a complete expert on anything, but it’s actually really fun to speak to people about my job.”
The 30-year-old was cast to portray keyboardist Karen Sirko in the show three years ago, but the pesky pandemic caused production halts and postponements. She later spent every day of band camp rehearsal at Sound City, the iconic studio where Fleetwood Mac recorded.
“Daisy Jones And The Six is such a fabulous book,” Waterhouse gushes. “It’s been an incredible project. It was going to be a six-month job, but nearly three years later, we’re still shooting because of how crazy the world is. It’s going to be really shocking when it’s finished because it’s so deeply embedded in our lives now, the drama of this television show.
“We ended up having so much time to rehearse. We genuinely are a full band that can play songs, which is amazing for a group of actors that didn’t have these skills. I was absolutely drawn to the role because of the music.”
At the time, the actor had to scramble to find a keyboard for an audition tape. With the lead role offered to Riley Keough, Suki decided to perform the Doors track ‘Light My Fire’, which she downplays, modestly. In three weeks, she crammed in the basics of piano-playing, and landed the part in the 10-episode series. The story is presented in a documentary style, with background interviews with the band capturing the essence of creativity.
“Blake Mills wrote all the songs for us, and I’m a huge fan of his,” Waterhouse enthuses. “If an opportunity comes up where you’re going to be playing in a band, it’s set in the ‘70s and one of the greatest living guitarists is writing the music – you have to say yes. We did six months of training for our instruments, so it was also an opportunity to spend three hours a day learning the piano.
“It’s just so amazing when you know you’re going to come away with something lifelong. It ended up in a strange way, coinciding with me being ready to make my album. As I was preparing for the show, there was this weird synergy where suddenly I wanted to record a bunch of my songs. Life is very odd in that way.”
Over the past six years, Waterhouse secured a cameo in the Absolutely Fabulous movie; worked alongside Hari Nef, Abra and Odessa Young in Assassination Nation; featured in Starz historical drama The White Princess alongside Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer; and bagged the lead role in a handful of projects, including 2021 horror flick Seance.
We’re sure none of those roles compare to her acting debut as the comically obnoxious, annoyingly stunning Bethany in Dublin-filmed 2014 flick Love, Rosie…
“Of course I remember that!” Suki exclaims. “It would be quite funny if I didn’t. No, that was a massive deal for me because I was 20 or 21, and I had actually never acted before. I was modelling at the time, but I ended up going to this audition and getting the role. Suddenly I was on set in Ireland with Lily Collins and Sam Claflin and having the best time of my life running around Dublin. We went to see Robbie Williams in concert. I remember that time very fondly. I went back to Ireland about two years ago to a famous distillery.”
Prior to this, the Londoner rose up the ranks in British modelling, featuring in campaigns and runway shows for JW Anderson, Simone Rocha, Topshop and Burberry with the likes of Cara Delevingne. Waterhouse was barely out of her teens before she made the cover of magazine royalty like Vogue, Elle and Tatler.
“I remember my life changing a lot when I was 21 because I started to work with Burberry,” she reflects. “That was definitely a big deal because at that point it was Christopher Bailey, who was such an incredible force. You were sent all around the world to represent them and do campaigns. I went to China, Korea, Brazil; places I’d never been to before but had all of these amazing, formative experiences.
“I started modelling when I was about 16, and I’m really glad I had a few years of traipsing around in really massive high heels going to 15 castings a day. Starting to act was a really nice change for me, actually.”
Music was another side-step for Suki, having first released ‘Brutal’ independently as a debut single back in 2016. Entirely self-made, the track has since racked up over eight million streams on Spotify. This was followed by 2017’s ‘Good Looking’, 2018’s ‘Valentine’ and 2019’s ‘Coolest Place In The World’ before she started to preview tracks from I Can’t Let Go. ‘Devil I Know’, ‘Melrose Meltdown’, ‘Moves’ and ‘My Mind’ saw Waterhouse curate an old Hollywood-style of soulful, smoky pop.
Before this, Suki’s work had drawn comparisons to the Paisley Underground sound of Mazzy Star, Stockholm’s The Concretes and Glasgow’s Camera Obscura. Her influences include Lucinda Williams, Julie London, Fiona Apple and Sharon Van Etten as well as the poetry of Ariana Reines. Growing up in the creative world is all well and good until social media spoils it, as the album track ‘Bullshit On The Internet’ alludes to.
“That song was about the time when you’re forming a sense of self in your late teens and twenties,” says Suki. “To put it bluntly, the internet majorly traumatised me in many, many ways. It’s already difficult, but when my identity was in constant question, there were a lot of outside forces telling me it’s wrong or it needed to be changed.
“The internet is part of that. The phase started when I was incredibly young and vulnerable to people’s opinions. Then you start reading about yourself all the time, seeing everything bad that you could think about yourself or your lowest ebbs being reflected back at you.
“Over the years, it becomes this weird entity that lives inside of you, but it’s also like an outside ID. A dark force of ID, but I’ve managed to find beauty in it. It’s interesting because they’re often opinions that people presume you’ll never see.”
Suki elaborates on the theme.
“It’s this chorus of being at a dinner party where everybody says something weird about you after you get there,” she continues, “which is like a nightmare in many ways. But it strangely causes you to do a lot of deep self-work. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to achieve a nirvana where nothing hurts me, but I’m definitely in a very different place to how I was. There’ve been times in my life where it’s been so intense that I’ve felt very suffocated and injured by the internet.”
That chipping away of a young person’s self-esteem is part of the reason Waterhouse didn’t share music for many years. Feeling secure enough to release a debut album without worrying about what others think is something most artists must grapple with.
“When you make the body of work, a lot of it is about having the confidence to be as ready as you’ll ever be to share it,” nods Suki. “It really is like an offering in a lot of ways. I’ve always been motivated by a drive to prove something. I’ve always used anxiety to my benefit. Fear can both completely hinder you but also drive you.
“I definitely worried about people’s reactions for a long time, like those questioning why an actor is suddenly putting out an album. I’ve spent years quietly writing and working on that. It’s not like I started out being able to write a song that I was proud of. To have that time and breathing space, and have it not be something that’s required of you by anyone else is hugely important. I have to know when the project is ready, because there’s a piece of me in that.”
Back in the day, Suki wrote her first song at 13 about a now-famous (classily unnamed) musician, who she recently bumped into at Mel’s Diner in Los Angeles.
“I think the lyrics to that song were like, ‘I sat as I cried / Empty bottle of wine / But still you ain’t mine’ or something like that,” she laughs, self-deprecatingly. “I definitely wasn’t drinking wine when I was 13. Probably at 14, but not quite 13. It was about a boy I had a crush on at school. We would sometimes sing Stereophonics tracks like ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ together at assembly in the early 2000s. He left school, but he’s actually an amazing musician now. I went to his concert. I get quite shy about telling a boy that a song is about him, so I probably wouldn’t send that first one on. Maybe the album, but I doubt it!”
Having entered a depressive stage in her life at the age of 23 following a toxic public break-up, the actor and musician was biding her time until her first, hugely cathartic single release.
“When I first put out ‘Brutally’ in 2016, I was in a bad place,” Suki admits. “That was the first time I’d put any music out, but it was really out of necessity. I needed to share something that would improve the situation I was in. Making that song was like a lifeline for me. It made everything that had happened worth it. I hope people put it on when they’re feeling sad in the back of the car, which is exactly the visual I had when I was writing it.
“It can still evoke so much feeling for me, as the only song that still touches me really deeply. The public’s reaction to it had a massive impact on me. It made me feel like I was worthy of sharing more music and that it would be received in a positive way in the future.”
The singer admits to struggling with relationship setbacks.
“I’m quite bad at pulling myself out of heartbreak,” she adds, after a pause. “Sitting with the feelings and making something out of whatever has happened is my method. That’s the only antidote I can really recommend. There’s something about being heartbroken that can be really energising.”
“Whenever it happens to me, even though it sucks, I know that it will push me forward into something else that is so unexpected and brilliant. You’re so raw and alive in so many ways. Being in love is so wonderful, but if it breaks or falls apart, there’s a different energy that comes in. I think that creating art from that feeling is the best outcome.”
When it comes to collaborators, she only had one man in mind for the album: Grammy-nominated producer Brad Cook, who has worked with indie giants Bon Iver, The War On Drugs, Waxahatchee and Snail Mail. Cultivating her sound, the pair clicked.
“Brad is this wonderful man who I’d actually never met before I went to North Carolina to make the album and a bunch of demos,” says Suki. “I hadn’t that much experience in a studio setting. I had a real connection to some of the music that he’d made, especially Hiss Golden Messenger and a song called ‘Cat’s Eye Blue’. I listened to it over and over again. I was like, ‘Whoever this is, I have to work with him’.
“I was pretty nervous when I got on the plane. I felt like if it didn’t work out I would have been completely screwed! I’d made the album by myself, and that was before Sub Pop came on board. Getting that flight was a leap of faith. Brad’s very protective of his creative essence and the environment he cultivates to work in.”
Cook may be her top collaborator, but what if she could only choose one other artist to work with, until the end of time?”
“Just one person at the end of the whole thing?” she replies. “My boyfriend.”
Can’t blame her for wanting the current Batman by her side.
• I Can’t Let Go is out now Sub Pop.