From High-Security to High Tide: Susan Surftone Takes on Politics One Note at a Time

What’s it like to leave the high security world of being an FBI agent and turning into Susan Surftone the musician?

It was a little jarring at first. I had gotten used to having a badge and having a gun, and all of the sudden, you hand it over and that’s it. It’s a moment I will never forget, to tell you the truth. I wonder, “Did I do the right thing?” I made the decision I wanted to make. In a split second, I went from being special agent Susan Yasinski to Susan the Musician — Susan Surftone.

In an interview recently you mentioned you were apolitical at that time. Now that you have a chance to have an opinion, do you enjoy being able to speak about your views and have a political stance that’s open?

It’s something I’ve wanted to do all my life. I was always interested in politics — even as a small child. My mother was very interested. It was discussed a lot in our household. She was a Republican, but she later on in life became Democrat. In the FBI, of course, you had a political stance, but you couldn’t say anything about it at all. You kind of knew that most of them were Republican. Not always, and politics were set aside. I got an opportunity last year — the Advocate asked me to write an article about Hillary Clinton when she got nominated. That was the first chance I actually had to write about politics. I’ve been doing it ever since. I enjoy having a voice. I’ve spent a long time keeping myself informed with the issues. I was a political science and economics major; I have practiced law. I come at it from an informed point of view. Plus, I have the FBI experience. I have heard from a lot of people that I explain things very well. I like having that role.

I saw an article you wrote in Huffington Post about Global Warming. I can tell you know what you’re talking about; you have a good grasp of the situation. That was very impressive.

I’m lucky enough to be friends with Ricky Kej, the man that the article is about. Ricky is a Grammy-winning musician who is devoting his life to saving the planet. He is the global citizen we need today. He has done a lot. He provided the music for the Paris Conference that gave us the Paris Accord. He has done a lot of work with the U.N. He just met with Secretary of State Kerry. He is doing a lot of good. That article was a joy to write. Being able to tell the world about the great work he is doing is awesome.

I read somewhere else that during your time with the FBI, being gay or lesbian was a security risk. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience and how things have changed? Are things different now?

The problem was that the fact that you were homosexual deemed you no security clearance. That’s it: If you’re gay, no clearance. All of us agents that were homosexual, we could be fired at any time once the bureau found out. I think it was 1995 that Bill Clinton signed an executive order to remove that; the fact that you were gay could not deny you security clearance. That made it OK. You’ve heard his name a lot in the news; Director Mueller was very strong for gay rights. Agents now are allowed to be open. There isn’t a problem, and I hope we don’t go backward on that. Trump doesn’t have to sign an executive order to reverse that. If it’s coming from the top down — like from Attorney General Sessions — that gay agents are not allowed to be cleared, it could be bad.

Your new EP “Making Waves Again” came out in April. Tell me about doing this music thing.

I just started singing last year. After decades of never opening my mouth, 2016 was a big year for me to open my mouth. It was well received; it was another leap of faith. I thought, “I’m getting older and if I don’t do it know, I’m never going to do it.” People seem to like it. They haven’t told me to stop, and they don’t throw things at me when I sing. I’ll keep doing it. “Making Waves Again” was recorded two songs at a time. Before you know it, I had another EP. The styles on this one vary a lot. I’ve got blues; I’ve got a Bing Crosby original “Temptation” — that’s my favorite on the record. I wrote some material; I always mix covers and originals. I did a new surf instrumental called “Mint471” inspired by Hunter S. Thompson who wrote the book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” which is about the car race in Vegas called Mint400. I looked up if Mint400 was copyrighted, and it was. I decided to change the number a little bit. He wrote “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in 1971 — thus, I came up with 471 in honor of my writing career. He was great; I loved his books.

Do you have any musical inspirations?

Elvis. The Beatles. I am a child of my generation: the ’60s. A lot of one-hit wonder garage bands influenced me. One in particular, from New Jersey, called the Myddle Class I thought they were great. It’s hard to find their recordings. I’d say they were a big influence on me. They were a regional hit. I grew up in Hudson, New York, near Albany. The top 40 stations in Albany played them a lot. Janis Joplin — not that she influenced me musically, but she was the first woman I ever saw that fronted a band. You know, being up on stage actually fronting that band, she wasn’t in a chiffon dress with a beehive hairdo. I would have to say, she stands out.

Do you have a tour coming up?

I’ll be going east. The Grammy’s are going to be in New York City this year, and I always go to them. I am a voting member of the Academy. I don’t get a statue, but I make good friends and that’s important. Maybe then I’ll kick off something [and] perform that weekend. There are always a lot of parties on Grammy weekend. I’m hoping that I’ll get my old band from the East Coast and do a gig. Then, I might make a short tour through the east.

What is something about you people might not know about?

I’m allergic to bananas. If you want to kill me, just give me a banana.

To learn more about Susan Surftone, visit susansurftone.com, and look for her new EP “Making Waves Again.”V

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Caleb Mansfield

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