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“Never Normal is a testament to giving oneself the permission to grow and exceed outside expectations … go beyond, don’t settle for normal. Ten years later, that means something to thousands of people beyond myself.”

Professor Suzi Analogue
Photo credit Donn Young/College of Arts and Science.

Ten years ago, Maya Shipman, pka. Suzi Analogue, wasn’t teaching in higher education. She was founding Never Normal Records while living in the Bronx.

The label was born of Analogue’s desire to create a home for her own compositions and for similar artists looking to break conventions, push boundaries, and never settle for normal. As self-described on their website, Never Normal is a “collection of originally crafted sound + vision from every amazing corner of society, free of fear.”

Now, as faculty member in the Department of Music entering her third year of teaching, Professor Analogue looks to impart this drive to push against the convention of genres, find new sounds, and create without fear to her students. She founded the UNC Hip Hop Ensemble in the fall of 2022 and helped bring back the Carolina Hip Hop Institute this May.

We caught of up with Professor Analogue to learn more about the lessons she’s learned from being femme-identifying trailblazer in the music industry and how she applies those lessons in the classroom.

Maya Shipman
Maya Shipman, PKA Suzi Analogue

UNC Music: Never Normal Records is celebrating 10 years this year. What does that mean to you?
Professor Suzi Analogue: Yes! The record label and collective I founded 10 years ago while living in the Bronx, NY turns 10 this year. It feels like a very full circle moment for me.

When I founded Never Normal I wanted to take a moment to be brave and culminate my experiences of culture and recording with independent record labels since I was a sophomore in undergrad. When I started it, I was looking to create a home for my compositions and for like-minded artists that don’t subscribe to just one modality of sound or genre. Since then, Never Normal has brought SO MANY people together, and even has it’s own place in recording arts culture. It means a lot to me that that has happened because at the time I founded it, it was just unheard of to hear a femme-identifying person is starting a label. I had to learn so much independently, but founding the label changed the trajectory of my life. By dedicating myself to the craft of recorded arts and creative recording projects, I have been able to positively impact people’s lives.

“Never Normal” is a testament to giving oneself the permission to grow and exceed outside expectations….go beyond, don’t settle for normal. Ten years later, that means something to thousands of people beyond myself.

UNC Music: What drew you to UNC?
Professor Analogue: Many aspects drew me to UNC. First and foremost, my family’s maternal origins come from North Carolina. My family is indigenous to North Carolina and I’ve traced records of my family’s history back to the years before UNC even existed! To come here centuries later and contribute to the culture and educational landscape truly feels like an honor to the people of Carolina as well as my own family which includes my grandmother Elizabeth Shipman (née) who was a career educator in North Carolina public schools. Being as that has been my own history,  I made it a point to create community in NC with my music over time. Since I have been building out my musical career, I began to have the opportunity to cross pathways in Carolina via collaborating with the synthesizer company Moog. When Moogfest would hold their festivals in Durham, I was booked to play and that was happening around the same time as I was beginning Never Normal.

Concurrently around that time, I connected with Dr. Mark Katz who founded the Next Level program that I participated in for it’s 2nd cohort in existence. Each time I would get a booking in the area, Mark would always invite me to workshop with Carolina students – and that was back in 2016! It all continues to be serendipitous from that point until now. I’ve been sharing my musical journey with Carolina students ever since then, and it felt very right for me to come and make it a more regular part of my life and creative practice. For me, my journey is one that shows what can come out of North Carolina with focus, intention and knowledge. I am drawn to share that with students here.

UNC Music: What is your favorite part of teaching and what keeps you excited about teaching at UNC specifically?
Professor Analogue: Teaching is something that feels very natural to me. I was raised by great teachers, and education, formal and informal, was a huge aspect of the community I grew up in. My teachers helped me to realize and majorly build my own strengths and potential. One day in high school, I shared with my favorite teacher that I wanted to teach, high school and she looked at me in dismay…she responded, “not high school though Maya…you have the mind to teach college – that would be better for you.” Back then, I had no idea what made her say that and I maybe even slightly offended because I had never even had a college professor at that point haha, but I can confidently stand here today and say she was 100% accurate.

I see myself as more of a developmental educator that can best offer students real-world perspectives for the types of living that they wish to make for themselves into the future. I do truly enjoy sharing musical histories as well as musical techniques and skills with students and watching them grasp and apply them immediately into new songs! Even more so, I enjoy grappling with the big ideas of the world, being as such, academia suits me because I truly enjoy the discourse that students bring my way. UNC students are so ready to chat about the big ideas and have a great curiosity that I feel is integral to progressing music culture and beyond. Hopefully my experience within academia can compel students to become empowered, autonomous, and fearless in the face of the world’s changes.

Maya Shipman smiles as she converses with a student in the Hip Hop Ensemble.
Professor Suzi Analogue leads the Hip Hop Ensemble. Photo credit Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill.

UNC Music: Between founding the UNC Hip Hop Ensemble last year and bringing back the Carolina Hip Hop Institute this summer you have been busy helping to expand the landscape of the department! What does this mean to you and what are you most excited about looking towards the future?
Professor Analogue: I am very honored that such an amazing music department entrusts me to spearhead these special projects that impact the future of music. I consider myself a futurist and have always operated as an “early adopter” in this digital era we experience. In the past I’ve even beta tested new products for company software and hardware at music tech companies…I bring this up to say that I have always been open to jumping in and trying new ideas to expand the horizons for the greater community.

With founding the UNC Hip Hop Ensemble, I had no idea what to expect or what type of culture was to be created, but it was my thought to keep the focus of the ensemble student led – that means, all student-composed music, no covers, no standards – students design the performance and they carve out the space for what THEY want Carolina hip hop to be known for, I am there to simply guide and inform.

As the founding musical director, I sometimes think about whatever it must have felt like when Dean Smith and the players were building the culture of the iconic UNC Basketball program that went on to be the most recognized college basketball programs in the world. I think about how to build a team and bring the best parts out of what is already there. I actually think about coaches a lot with what I’m doing. Dawn Staley is another coach who inspires me a lot. She coached during my time in undergrad at Temple University. I know I am a professor but like coaches, I am working to build a successful program.

The program I work to build at UNC creates accessibility to the Recorded Arts – an area of study that has risen over the last few decades and should be understood as an artform beyond it being a music “product.”  I am looking forward to how student compositions will thrive and make it into music culture as we continue to build these programs.

UNC Music: What is the project that you’re most excited about currently?
Professor Analogue: I am excited about my new mixtape ONEZ that features an array of my productions from dance tracks, rap tracks to even an ambient work. It just released and it seems like people are really enjoying the experience I brought on it. I am also excited to tour the project this summer before we start back – I will be sharing sounds during a world tour!

I am also equally excited to get back from that tour and get back into the studio to create some of the most exciting new work that I have been able to create since coming to UNC. I have some big ideas for my next projects. The projects already have titles, but you will find more out as we go!

Suzi Analogue

UNC Music: What are some of your non-musical hobbies?
Professor Analogue: Sound is such a big part of my life, but I like to design. I’ve actually designed the UNC Beat Lab and Hip Hop Ensemble logos just for fun (and also because we needed logo marks). I often design or lead the art direction or typography of the artist projects we work on for Never Normal. I really love art actually – I often participate in the art world via music performance but I spend hours at art museums and exhibitions.

I also enjoy fashion and have been in featured by prominent fashion magazines, as well as co-designed pieces with independent designers, though I think the music industry is enough for me. Recently, I have been thinking of writing scripts again – I am an ex-theatre kid and playwright.

I also like to cook – though that is similar to beat making to me. Anything I can do with my hands incorporating elements piece by piece, you may find me doing.

UNC Music: If your students could learn one thing from you, what do you hope it will be?
Professor Analogue: Learn as much as you can about what you love, and let that lead your destiny by doing it your way!

UNC Music: What music are you currently listening to?
Professor Analogue: KHX05, Mach-Hommy,  JLIN, Nia Archives, Amaraae, Tierra Whack, Always Chopin for real; been revisiting a lot of 2000s-era r&b from Kelis and Amerie (big summer vibes). Some people say their taste is eclectic, but, for example, I am listening to Sonic Youth as I type this so, I will definitely win that battle.

UNC Music: Anything else you’d like students to know about you or your teaching?
Professor Analogue: I always tell students, I come from the real world. I’m here to bring them a real-world view; so they can feel free to share their dreams with me and let’s see how we can implement ideas to make them more of a reality by the day! If they want to pursue music to live – they can, there are so many ways. Learn them all and you will never feel the need to give up!

WATCH the ONEZ Playlist on YouTube:

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