Lead single “Go Forth” maps out the central struggle at the heart of the Suzanna Choffel’s new album, “Hello Goodbye.” Her fingers cascade over graceful, arpeggiated guitar patterns while her voice rises and falls, riding a heart-twisting wave of loss. Like many tracks on the album, it’s a song about feeling torn. It has the air of a breakup track, but more generally, it addresses the painful process of moving from one phase of life to another — becoming tangled up in your feelings and getting stuck, then mustering the strength within to move on.
“You can’t be sure of what you don’t know/ Insecure of where you’re heart goes/ Lead it blindly, boldly, kindly/ Find your way,” she sings on the track.
“One thing I’ve found is that it almost doesn’t matter the decision you make, but just the act of making the decision and picking it, it kind of sets forth a new energy,” she says.
It’s a breezy spring day roughly two weeks before the album, her first since 2014, is scheduled to drop. Choffel is relaxed, quick to laugh. Long hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun with errant blonde wisps that flutter around her face, she sits on the shady patio of the South Austin cafe, Opa, and dips a plain croissant into a cup of espresso.
Bold change has defined her life over the last few years. She and her fiance, Paul Oveisi, moved home from New York City in 2014. She recorded the album, gave birth to their daughter, Lulu, and bought a house in Buda, a community the Austin native once snubbed as suburbia, but now sees as a short hop from the city’s south side.
Lulu turned 2 in March and Choffel is still figuring out the rhythm of life as a working musical mom, but the emotional turmoil that fuels much of the album is in the rear-view mirror.
“A lot of the songs on this album are about going through a really intense time with my current partner, Paul,” she says. “It’s almost like I was addressing a lot of things that we were going through, where it almost felt like we were veering toward a breakup.”
Choffel and Oveisi decamped from Austin to New York City in 2011. At first it was a grand adventure. Shortly after she moved, she landed a spot on season three of the reality TV singing competition, “The Voice,” and for a good part of her first year she was a bi-coastal cosmopolitan type, jetting between NYC and L.A.
For her artistic growth, the move was essential. She needed to leave her comfort zone. “It was about me exploring the world. I was on a train every day instead of a car and I was seeing so many different things around me,” she says.
But the city that never sleeps is crowded and expensive. The same vortex of human energy that makes NYC one of the most exhilarating places on the planet can also feel like a pressure cooker. After three years, it began to wear on Oveisi and Choffel’s relationship. “We hit this dark time … we were both in our own worlds and we weren’t really giving each other attention,” she says.
“We kind of woke up one day in our third winter there and were like, ‘Screw this, we’re moving back to Austin,’” she says.
They returned in April 2014. The city, awash in wildflowers, was gloriously gorgeous and she says, “it rejuvenated everything.”
“Coming back to Austin was our rebirth, our restart. And then we had a baby. It was really beautiful,” she says.
Choffel always knew she wanted to be a mother, but she describes her daughter’s conception as “a happy little accident.”
“We were not planning to have a baby. I was an aunt. I was feeling very fulfilled with that. … I was planning on just recording my album that fall and then boom, got pregnant. So then that obviously has changed the course of things over these last two years,” she says.
She still recorded the album as scheduled, but with the baby on board, the theme of drifting between worlds and moving toward a new phase in life took on a different meaning.
“None of (the songs) were really written for her or about her or for her or with her in mind … but they all ended up feeling like they were about her. It all starts to feel like it’s about your kids. Everything just gets so emotional and meaningful and it’s like everything you’ve done up to this point is about them,” she says.
Choffel knew having a child would delay the album release, but she never planned to quit playing music, so it came as a shock when her manager dropped her. “I took forever to tell her because I knew, I just had this sense that she was gonna be really weird about it and sure enough, she basically hightailed it,” she says.
“It felt like a huge blow, like there goes your career … I went through some severe depression and insecurity about that.”
Thankfully, Choffel had a strong community of “amazing singer-songwriter mamas,” women like Elizabeth McQueen, Raina Rose and Jazz Mills, that she tapped for support.
“They were just like, ‘Don’t worry, this is totally gonna be fine. First of all, this is the most amazing thing you’re ever gonna do so there’s that,’” she says.“We get so in our heads about how it’s all gonna work out in our life that they were like, ‘Just take a second to acknowledge that this is going to blow your mind in so many ways.’”
In retrospect, Choffel can almost understand her former manager’s point of view. The first year with an infant goes by in a sleep-deprived blur of semi-coherence. She couldn’t gig as much. Her focus had to be on the tiny little person at the center of the world. “She had seen other women go through it and you do lose momentum,” she says. “It wasn’t going to create as much work for her.”
But now that Lulu is a little older, she’s starting to understand how to make it work. “It’s funny, it’s not that the creative energy stopped at all. If anything it feels like it’s flowing even more so, it’s just finding the time to do it all.”
In addition to the new album, she has an EP worth of songs she’s waiting to record. She’s ready to tour again, to see all of her old fans and reach out to new ones. Having a little one in tow makes the logistics more complicated, but her young daughter is also a source of inspiration.
“At the end of the day, it’s what I love to do and know how to do and I also feel like it’s really important to show her (how) to be passionate about what you do and go for it. Go for your dreams and try to live as big of a life as you can.”
Suzanna Choffel album release
When: Doors at 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: 3Ten at ACL Live, 310 Willie Nelson Blvd.