S.L. Houser is the self-described “swiss army knife” in Austin’s music scene.

With her classical training and highly developed technique, she’s able to take many forms as a musician–recording and performing with different bands of all genres.

We interviewed S.L. Houser in Issue 23 to find out what makes her ULTRA SUPER PLUS.

Photo Credit: Kate Blaising

When did you start playing music?

Music has always been a part of my life. Piano is my main instrument. I went to a performing arts school in middle school and high school. I started writing songs at 14, was in and out of bands, and then started another project when moving here.

After moving here, I got a job at Gueros. I think working in the service industry was the greatest gift because I was working with a bunch of creatives. I met a lot of cool people that connected me, told me what shows to go to, knew people in the press or radio, and I was introduced into the music industry that way.

Once I started meeting other bands, I put together my first project.

How did your current solo project come about?

My current project was born out of the pandemic. I think that when the pandemic kicked off, I felt like it was a breath I needed to take. Truthfully, I should have started anew earlier. I was caught up in that hamster wheel of playing live shows 2-3 times a month and staying relevant. When everything was cancelled, all I had was myself. I forgot how much I loved that autonomy over music. I started writing the music I’m releasing currently over the past two years. This year I put out two singles.

What do you believe stands out in your music and makes it unique?

The one thing I’ve struggled with is identifying as an artist. What is my schtick? I don’t feel like I have one. I write really honestly and from this emotional place. So there’s this vulnerability in the performance. But I never considered myself a dynamic performer, I just hope that my musicianship comes across through my writing. I think that I put a lot of care into song craft and lyric writing. It’s always been a huge passion of mine. There’s the trope that this best live players are bad writers, and the best writers are bad performers, but I’ve managed to walk a fine line of being a capable, technical player. I try not to let that inform my writing. I want it to come from an organic place, not seem like I am writing music for music nerds.

It’s bold putting your art out there, you have to have a certain level of thick skin. Where does your motivation come from?

It’s a visual thing. I love the performative aspect of being in the studio. Feeling that I need to be the face feels intimidating for me. Being comfortable in my body on stage has been a nerve-racking feeling like I need to present myself in a certain way. I think I play shows because I’m a songwriter. For a long time my dream was to sell my songs, but I think playing pushes me outside of my comfort zone. I’m trying to be a lot more mindful in live shows now, and be in the moment of a performance.

“I write really honestly and from this emotional place. So there’s this vulnerability in the performance.”

You described your work ethic as ultra super plus because of your versatility. How has being versatile benefitted you as a musician?

In Austin there is a plethora of talent and capable musicians. I think that my versatility has made me a go-to for gigs. It’s helped me build a reputation for taking on any job. Over the last year I played world music, country-americana, punk and classical. I’m classically trained and read music. It’s not something I appreciated until the last few years. I didn’t value it the way that I do now. I took it for granted that I had the privilege of studying music for so much of my life.

What music can we look forward to in 2022?

There’s a short documentary of me and a producer taking a song from demo to tracked, and that’s the song that came out the end of January. I’m planning to release my EP this Spring. For every song, I worked with a different producer.

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