Suki Waterhouse on Her Debut Album, Touring With Father John Misty and Starring in ‘Daisy Jones and the Six’

Suki Waterhouse
Dana Trippe

With the release of her debut, Suki Waterhouse is throwing caution to the wind.

Despite titling the album “I Can’t Let Go” — out today via Sub Pop — Waterhouse hopes that by releasing the 10-track project, she’s setting free not only haunting memories, but her own inhibitions about fully pursuing a music career.

Since 2016, Waterhouse has released one single per year — with the exception of 2019, which brought both “Coolest Place in the World” and “Johanna” — each more fully-formed and sonically interesting than the last. Slowly building up a passionate fanbase on the internet, devotees of Waterhouse — who is also a model, actor and entrepreneur and was a bonafide “it girl” during the golden age of Tumblr — have been begging for a full-length project for years. So what took so long?

“It was something that I desperately wanted to do,” Waterhouse tells Variety over Zoom. “For probably the last four years as I was putting out these singles, I guess I was testing my own courage and whether or not people would like it. I was definitely slow, just putting out one a year is not the best way to run your music business… I’ve been writing it for a long time, but it’s like the reality of it happening, I was unsure about. And then I just decided to do it.”

Each song on “I Can’t Let Go” tells a distinct story, from confidently seducing a lover on album opener “Moves” to lamenting about the modern-day struggles of being perpetually online on “Bullshit on the Internet.” Of writing “Moves,” Waterhouse says she was at a point in her life where she “was so over being in love.”

“Like it’s so tiring, it’s so exhausting,” she says. “I’d been alone for a few years and I was quite walled off. I think that song was sort of building myself back into like, I’m going to go for it this time and I’m going to really have to put myself out on a limb. I think I’ve actually got something to give this time, rather than try and fill a void and go into something that you know is going to be a disaster. At the time, I was thinking about how I wanted to do a song that Thelma and Louise would be listening to, that would be on the tape track as they drive off the mountain.”

Waterhouse says all of the songs on the album are “about a something or a somebody,” though she added in fictional elements to have “that blend of the personal and the fantasy.”

“Most of the time, it was a feeling or an event that I knew was going to stay in me forever,” Waterhouse says of the songwriting process. “I was really wondering if I was going to always be haunted by these memories or unable to feel like I could move on from certain things that just stick around. It was really that thought of: these things that I’ve hoarded in my mind and these things I can’t touch anymore but I think about all the time, am I ever going to be able to be free of them?”

Another album highlight is the aptly-titled “Melrose Meltdown,” an atmospheric ode to a relationship that never was, backed by a swinging drum beat. Though Waterhouse says the song “could just be about trying to find parking on Melrose,” there’s a much more complicated and adventurous story behind the ballad. After both Waterhouse and a friend experienced heartbreak, they decided to travel to Buton, an island in Indonesia, to hike through the mountains with monks.

“We’d be like thousands of feet up in the mountains talking to monks about our boy troubles and the monks would laugh at us a lot,” Waterhouse recalls.

But soon they both became violently ill and were unable to continue, spending the last five days of the trip recovering and debriefing about their failed relationships. The phrase “Melrose Meltdown” comes from her friend’s break-up texts that the two pored over.

“I was just obsessed with that phrase,” Waterhouse says. “I like to think that song has a part of her break-up — there’s some other lines from their messages in there — which was based in rural Montreal, and then mine based in Los Angeles. I love that about the song, that it’s kind of a little statue of both of us and those relationships.”

Ranging sonically from folk-pop to ’70s-flavored rock, “I Can’t Let Go” was produced by Brad Cook, highly regarded in the indie space for his work with Bon Iver and Snail Mail. Waterhouse connected with Cook through her friend Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio, and she recorded the album in his North Carolina studio during the pandemic, without even meeting him first.

“His approach is, he’s so relaxed and always laughing, he’s such a confident orchestrator of musicians and building on sound,” she says. “So I lucked out to the max, because we just got to play around and we had great musicians who [are his] friends.”

That included Bon Iver drummer Matt McCaughan, who contributed percussion and all of his “nerdy synths,” as Waterhouse puts it. “It’s a bit beyond comprehension, but it looked like an electricity vault,” she laughs.

It wasn’t until after the album was finished that Waterhouse brought it to Sub Pop, which she “grew up idolizing,” citing bands on their roster including Nirvana, the Postal Service and Beach House.

“What really stuck out about Sub Pop compared to other labels is that everybody’s been there for a long time, and that is so incredibly rare to have. One of the founders is still there. Nobody feels like they’re going anywhere,” Waterhouse says. “When they take you on, it’s like they are investing in you personally and artistically, and they’re just incredibly encouraging. It’s cool to be with a label who wants your music to stay weird. If anything, they’re like, ‘No, weirder.'”

And it’s Sub Pop that led Waterhouse to her next gig — opening for label-mate Father John Misty on his North American tour this summer and fall. Waterhouse had just found out about the opportunity when speaking with Variety, and could barely contain her excitement.

“I’m still in shock. I’m absolutely like, ‘What?!'” Waterhouse says. “I can’t really think of someone I’d rather go on tour with. I’m obsessed with him. His song ‘Real Love Baby’ is one of the best songs of all time, and is incredibly special to me. I played it 100 times when I was first falling for somebody… so on all of the 33 stops that we’re doing, I’ll be listening to him play that.”

Although Waterhouse is full steam ahead with her music career, she also has plenty of acting work on the horizon, including Jane Austen film “Persuasion” and Salvador Dalí pic “Dalíland.” But most anticipated is her role in the upcoming Amazon series “Daisy Jones and the Six,” adapted from the beloved book by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which follows a Fleetwood Mac-inspired band in the ’70s.

Waterhouse plays Karen, the group’s fiery keyboardist who finds herself in a fling with fellow bandmate Graham. Waterhouse says she and the band — made up of Riley Keough (Daisy Jones), Sam Claflin (Billy Dunne), Will Harrison (Graham Dunne) and Sebastian Chacon (Warren Rhodes) — rehearsed every day for six months straight and recorded original music for the series.

“I’m so excited for what we’ve done musically. We’re actually a band,” Waterhouse says. “I think we’re going to be distraught [when production is over]. We keep talking about ways to extend our band together beyond the show… It feels like we’ve been in a band for 10 years.”