Interview: Siskin

Nina Ristivojevic

September 13th, 2023

It all started in 2019 when Sue McLaren and Suzanne Chesterton created their first track together called “Real Love”. Soon after these two took a step forward and decided to join forces as a duo, today known as Siskin. Despite their different starting points, Suzanne and Sue connected through their shared passion and vision for a music career. It's been just five years, and if you ask them, they've already achieved some of their long-term goals. As Siskin, they've graced the stages of iconic venues like Ministry of Sound, Luminosity Festival, and A State of Trance, and they have no plans to slow down. The fact that they've garnered support from artists like Paul van Dyk, Rich Solarstone, Giuseppe Ottaviani, and many others proves they have that essential spark ready to set the world on fire.

This past summer, we had the privilege of listening to these talented women while performing at the Luminosity Festival. I must say, their ability to inject fresh sound and energy into the music scene is truly infectious. This is precisely why I felt compelled to sit down with Siskin and chat about their incredible connection, the vocal challenges Suzanne faces, and Sue's evolution in her production skills. If you're curious to learn what inspires and drives them to be different, as well as getting a sneak peek into their debut album, we invite you to continue reading this interview.

Their debut album, "We Are Siskin," is set to be released on September 15th, so be sure to be one of the first to witness the rise of these stars here.

Nina: Suzanne, as an educated journalist and lecturer, you have had significant involvement in the music industry since 2014. Initially starting with an interview with Armin, you eventually became a radio producer for PvD's VONYC Sessions.

Suzanne: I used to work at a UK station called Hallam FM, and we had an event in Sheffield called Gatecrasher, which unfortunately burned down. During that time, I interviewed Armin and held onto his contact information, thinking it might come in handy. As my interest in The State of Trance grew, I had a moment of inspiration and decided to see if I could interview Armin again. Since I was now working at Capital FM, I approached my boss, who agreed to air the interview if I could arrange it. Feeling nervous, I sent Armin a long text message, not expecting a response. To my surprise, he replied within an hour, suggesting I contact his assistant, Carmen. She helped set up the interview, and I had the opportunity to interview Armin during A State of Trance 650.

I've been writing music since I was nine, and I've accumulated numerous songs over the years. It had always been my dream to transform them into trance music, but I lacked the know-how. I decided to seek advice and asked Armin, "How can an artist get on the lineup?" The response I received was simple yet profound: "Be different. We already have artists like Hardwell and Ferry Corsten. Build a unique style, cultivate a following, and work tirelessly. Even in the face of failure, persevere. If the front door is closed, find a back door or a window. There's always a way in." These words of wisdom ignited my passion.

In 2014, while juggling multiple jobs as a university lecturer and journalist, I crossed paths with Andi Durant and Nick Riley, who had recently left Capital FM to start Distorted. They offered me an opportunity: "Would you like to join us? We have Paul Van Dyk on board. What about being the producer of VANDIT Records?" Without hesitation, I accepted the offer that very afternoon. I invested in a Mac, quit my job, and willingly accepted a substantial pay cut to pursue my passion. I took over Paul Van Dyk's radio show, working with him weekly until 2020 when the pandemic hit. Networking and playing the long game were key aspects of my journey.

Nina: This story carries a powerful message: never give up.

Suzanne: Keep pushing forward, continue networking, and remain dedicated! I've had opportunities to be around influential figures like Paul Van Dyk but always focused on my long-term goals. My aim is for Siskin to excel and headline on the main stages. That's my story.

Nina: On the other hand, there's Sue, known for having one of the most beautiful voices that has shaped some of the most influential trance tracks. With this background, I'm curious to know what was the key factor that brought you two together and inspired you to form a powerful alliance, known as Siskin.

Sue: I was always aware of the scarcity of women in the music scene when I performed live. One day, while backstage at Gatecrasher, I spotted Suzanne and was excited to see another woman in the green room. I introduced myself, and we struck up a conversation. Suzanne mentioned her own music and played me a couple of tracks on her phone. When I heard one with vocals, I couldn't resist singing along and immediately suggested that we collaborate.

Suzanne: I had known about Sue for a while, as Paul frequently featured her tracks on his radio show. I played her music every week, so having her sing on top of my track was incredibly exciting. We stayed in touch, discussing the idea of collaborating. A few weeks later, during a two-hour phone call – our first conversation ever – Sue proposed the idea of forming a duo. I had been contemplating having more control over my music, so I eagerly accepted the opportunity.

Sue: A while back, I took some production courses, but I hadn't used those skills in a long time. However, I was brimming with fresh ideas and a desire to collaborate with another woman. So, I approached Sue with the idea and simply asked her if she'd be interested. That was the beginning of our journey, and we never set strict definitions for our work. We decided to let creativity flow without confining it to a specific genre or style. If we felt it, got goosebumps, and loved it, we went with it.
Suzanne: Our benchmark for any track in our set or for release is if both of us feel it and connect with it.

Sue: It took us quite a while to get the hang of production, but now that we've got the basics down, it's much quicker.

Suzanne: At the beginning, we set clear goals, both short-term and long-term. We wanted a manager, and amazingly, we achieved that, along with playing at Luminosity and the Main stage of A State of Trance, all within five years.

Sue: It's a natural journey, and we often share a unique connection where we both get goosebumps on the same tracks, almost like twins.

Suzanne: Yes, I have another job with Sky News in the UK, working as a producer. At Distorted, I handle all the incoming music for our artists, which gives us a fresh perspective and allows us to discover hidden gems that others might miss.

Sue: We recently played a track that we believe no one else has ever played, but it's phenomenal, and that's what matters to us.

Nina: In 2019 you connected and started working together as Sue McLaren and Suzanne Chesterton, producing pure trance sounds. A year later you decided to form an official duo and name it Siskin. I suppose the name derives from the term “sisters”?

Sue: Oh, can I share this story? We wanted a name for our project when we had a track called "Real Love" set for release on VANDIT Records. We brainstormed "Goldie and Finch" because it's related to the goldfinch bird. We pitched this name full of enthusiasm to Alexa, who was Paul's manager and also with IT Records, and she wrote back: “What the heck? It sounds like a goldfish.” (Laughs) So we had to rethink our name.

Suzanne: That's right. Sue then suggested a name inspired by an Asian songbird. But we ultimately settled on Siskin, which we thought was intriguing. It's a bit of a tongue-twister sometimes, but it's accessible in all languages.

Nina: Soon after doors for collaborations with other artists began to open, starting with the track "All for Love" that you created with Craig Conelly. I'm intrigued to hear more about how you decided to collaborate with Craig as your first partner in this endeavour.

Suzanne: Indeed, our first collaboration came about in 2020. I met Craig at Creamfields, and we had a chat. He had already shared some chord ideas with Sue while working on his album. So, I casually proposed the idea of collaborating on a Siskin track, and he enthusiastically agreed, asking me to send something his way.

Sue: It wasn't a premeditated plan; it just spontaneously happened. We wanted to make it a bit different.

Suzanne: So, using those chords as a starting point, I crafted a piano melody, and we began building the track. It was a continuous exchange between us and Craig.

Sue: Yeah, we never met in person during this process; it was all done remotely.

Nina: Today, things have become much easier, right? 

Sue: True, however, there's nothing quite like being in the same room with someone; it's a fantastic feeling. Unfortunately, it's not always feasible.

Nina: Great track for sure.I have to say. However, approximately a year and a half later, you made a transition towards a slightly more progressive sound, which led to the creation of "Electric Love" and you have primarily remained within this genre ever since. I want to understand the motivations behind this change and whether we can anticipate additional similar transformations in the years ahead.

Sue: Our journey with Siskin is about staying true to ourselves. As we continue working together, our creativity naturally evolves.

Suzanne: Initially, we were creating 138 trance, but when we delved deeper into the music we loved, we realized it was slower and more emotive. That's where our hearts truly were.

Sue: We decided to take a risk, shifted our focus, and started with "Villaneve" and "Electric Love." Arny heard them and signed us for an album and three EPs, which was a great validation.

Suzanne: Our manager, Tara, played a pivotal role in supporting us during this transition, and her contribution to our journey has been significant.

Sue: It's interesting how things come together. Tara came into our lives when we were creating a mix for the Transmission Festival, and our connection with her has been instrumental.

Nina: We often talk about genres and labels. There's this tendency to categorize music, but it's essential to recognize that there's so much crossover and diversity in music.

Suzanne: Absolutely, music doesn't fit neatly into boxes. There are elements of trance in many genres, and it's crucial to appreciate the fluidity and diversity of music.

Sue: Sometimes, labels can be limiting. I've experienced situations where I've written a top line for a label, and they've hesitated because I'm known as a trance vocalist. It's essential to keep an open mind and embrace different styles.

Suzanne: Rich Solarstone's experience sending out a track without labels or artists, just a love heart on the cover, showed how music can transcend labels and gain attention solely based on its quality and emotion.

Sue: So, it's about embracing the diversity in music and being open to trying new things.

Nina: You refer to your music as "euphoric house," which is a blend of progressive, trance, and house elements. PvD has labeled it as "powerhouse." But what these names truly represent and signify in terms of your unique musical style?

Sue It's a new genre, actually a blend of progressive house and trance. Our music doesn't conform to a specific genre. We produce whatever feels right, whether it's techno, trance, or something else. We aim for our music to be accessible to everyone, but we don't force it into predefined categories.

Suzanne: Exactly, we don't set out to make a particular genre. We follow our feelings and create what we love. If you love it and want to share it, someone else will love it too. It's about staying true to yourself and not trying to please everyone.

Nina: But If you had to use one word to describe your collaboration, what would it be?

Sue: It's like a spiritual connection, a sense of alignment and actualization. It's a euphoric and content feeling.

Suzanne: It's surreal, like a shared moment of amazement. It feels like a spiritual experience.

Nina: Your energy is incredible, and it resonates on stage, on social media, everywhere. It's something that everyone can feel. I'm sure there are many artists you'd like to collaborate with, but who are your top 3 artists that you'd instantly accept the opportunity to work with?

Suzanne: Ruben is definitely one. We've talked about collaborating with him before.

Sue: He suggested it when we were at A State of Trance, and we're eager to make it happen.

Suzanne: We've always been fans of Tinlicker.

Nina: Who doesn't like Tinlicker, right? (Laughs)

Suzanne: Exactly! What do we need to do to collaborate with them? (Laughs)

Sue: It's not something many people can resist.

Suzanne: I also love Laura Van Dam; I'd love to collaborate with her. Do you have any suggestions?

Nina: Well plenty, I guess. But Marsh comes first to my mind for some reason. 

Sue and Suzanne (at the same time): Oh, Marsh, definitely! We love Marsh!

Sue: We regret missing his set at Luminosity; we were trying to make it yesterday but couldn't.

Nina: Conflicts can arise in duo projects, as differing opinions and creative approaches are common.

Suzanne: We had an argument over football! (Laughs) I'm a Manchester United supporter, and Sue is a Newcastle fan. They recently played in a Cup Final, and we had a friendly disagreement during the final.

Nina: But in the studio or on stage?

Suzanne: Oh, no, not at all. We don't argue in those settings. (Laughs)

Sue: Maybe we should have some disagreements. (Laughs)

Suzanne: I talk to Sue for about two hours every day, so I think we're doing just fine. (Laughs)

Nina: It is often the case that each member of the duo has their own specific area of focus within the music-making process. Could you please shed some light on how you divide your responsibilities?

Suzanne: Sue is fantastic. She constantly generates vocal ideas and sends them to me. Sometimes, I'll request, "Send me that vocal!" Then I add some chord ideas and send them back to Sue. She often suggests melody lines that fit perfectly, and we continue refining the track this way. It can take anywhere from a week to a month, depending on our schedules.

Sue: We've made it easier to share projects. We can now hear each other's work seamlessly.

Sue: Suzanne is going to sing on some tracks; we're working on two extra songs for the album.

Suzanne: You need to give me vocal lessons first. (Laughs)

Sue: You don't need vocal lessons; you're amazing!

Suzanne: I did have singing lessons in the past, but Sue's talent is intimidating. Every time I hear her sing, I think, "I can't do that."

Nina: Sometimes you just need to go for it and gain experience along the way.

Suzanne: Well, yes, I'm just going to go with the flow and do it.

Nina: Being a woman in the music industry presents its own set of challenges, as it is widely recognized as a male-dominated field. Could you share the most significant challenge you have encountered so far? Your journey through overcoming these obstacles is likely to be supported by some individuals. Correct me if I am wrong.

Suzanne: We have great friends like Giuseppe Ottaviani and Solarstone who've been immensely helpful, especially with visa applications for the U.S. They've also acted as guides and mentors.

Sue: Giuseppe is fantastic; he gives honest feedback, even if it means pointing out what's wrong with our tracks. He's amazing.

Suzanne: Raz and Arny have been super supportive as well.

Sue: We all support each other, especially in addressing issues like equal recognition for vocalists in the industry. The industry is changing, and there are more avenues for support, particularly for women. We want to be role models for women in the scene, regardless of age.

Suzanne: We've even inspired artists like Sonia Scott, who won a competition to spend a day in the studio with us. She's now producing her own music and has an incredible voice. It's fulfilling to know we've inspired others to pursue their passion successfully.

Nina: I heard that there is an upcoming album scheduled for release in September. Would you like to provide a sneak peek or a brief preview of what we can experience within this album? I know music lovers would love to hear more about it.

Suzanne: We're planning to surprise our listeners with a few unexpected tracks.

Sue: The album showcases various facets of our music, from pure progressive sounds to deeper and more energetic progressive trance. We have diverse musical interests, and it's not just about trance.

Sue: We want to represent our journey so far and leave room for interesting remixes. Plus, we're already working on new material for the next album.

Nina: It sounds like an exciting journey ahead! Having already performed at renowned venues like the Ministry of Sound and the State Of Trance, you now have the privilege of being part of one of the most significant trance festivals of the year. What qualities do you believe labels and esteemed artists see in you that lead them to choose you as a performer for their events?

Suzanne: I don't know. That's a really good question. I question that makes me struggle with imposter syndrome often.

Sue: We had a similar conversation with Ruben when we received the invitation. We thought it was a mistake, but he assured us that we deserved it.

Suzanne: I'm not sure what triggers these invitations. Maybe it's our energy or the fact that we're not overly serious and like to have fun. We're not the typical serious "men in black" types. (Laughs)

Nina: Regarding your upcoming performances, do you have any plans for gigs in 2023 that you can share with us?

We can't disclose much at the moment. We have several projects in progress. For instance, we're anticipating our US visa to be approved in the next month. Once that's settled, we'll be focusing on the US market and exploring opportunities there. So, there are exciting things on the horizon, but unfortunately, we can't provide all the details just yet.

Nina: Ok I understand. However, it sounds great. And I can't wait to hear what you have prepared next for us. And I can't wait for this album.