Susan Surftone, who’s real name is Susan Yasinski, was one of the few female surf rock guitarists in the music industry during what many considered the “third wave” of surf-revivalist bands in the 90’s. She led a band called Susan and the Surftones that toured all over the world and received airplay on radio in the U.S. and abroad before going solo as a singer-songwriter and guitarist. However, this was all after she graduated from law school, passed the Bar, and worked as an FBI agent who monitored KGB agents assigned to UN headquarters in New York.
Susan Surftone has always been interested in music. She recalls begging her mother for a guitar when she was nine after the Beatles came over and had their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. She has carried her love for the guitar throughout her life ever since, but because of her gender and how society was at the time that she was growing up, she wasn’t able to fully pursue her musical interests.
“When I was in high school girls couldn’t play lead guitar in a band. That was a long time ago. That was ancient history. You don’t see that very many lead female guitarists now even, but girls could not play guitars in bands. I didn’t get that experience in high school of being in bands, which I really wanted to do.”
Surftone ended up joining the FBI after college. However, the FBI’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude and not being able to pursue her interests in music made life as a lesbian difficult and ultimately led to her decision to leave the bureau.
“I went to Smith College and went to Boston University Law School and still wanted to play,” Susan said about wanting to play guitar in a band. “Then I joined the FBI as a special agent after I got out of law school. It was a good job, although at the time gay people weren’t supposed to be in the bureau because we were considered security risks. That’s changed now, but at the time that I was in that was the case. I was not the only LGBT person, but we had to be quiet about it, and had we been found out we would have been fired.”
It was after hearing bands, such as the Ramones, playing in the New York clubs after being transferred to Soviet Counter Intelligence that the thoughts of putting a band together came up again.
“I wanted to put a band together, so I talked to my supervisors, and they said no,” said Surftone. “They didn’t want me playing in the rock clubs. I was kind of in crossroads. I was about 28, and I decided to leave the bureau and start a musical career.”
The former FBI agent shifted her focus to music and later formed the surf rock band, Susan, and the Surftones, in the mid 90’s. Susan went on to create music as a solo musician in the genre and doesn’t have any regrets about the choices that she has made along the way which led her to where she is today.
“Certain doors would open, and certain doors would close and taking the calculated risk to go through the ones that looked worth going through,” Susan said about the choices she had made in her life and career. “Everything was a little risky. I had to have a little bit of a brave heart to quit the bureau and fight with parents about going into the uncertainty of a musical career.”
Susan Surftone continues to not only create music today but has also found another avenue for sharing her voice through writing. Susan, who had worked as a lawyer while she was building her music career, now uses her knowledge of the law and the relevant insight that she has gained from working for the FBI as a writer for political columns. Her biggest piece of advice as a political writer and a person of the LGBTQ community is that everyone, who is able to, should register and remember to go out and vote.
“Go vote in November because it’s really important. You don’t want to go backward,” Susan said. “I knew women who are older than me back in the eighties who lived through the 50’s and early 60’s, and it was really bad. The things that they would tell you they would get arrested for, like wearing three pieces of men’s clothing.
That was a really oppressive world. Then it was a little better for my generation, and then it got even better. You don’t want to step backwards because we are really in danger of going backwards right now with the Supreme Court nominee and all. He’s going to tip the court away from us, and that’s going to last for decades.”
When asked what advice she would give to anyone, specifically young people, thinking about entering a new career or grappling with a big life-changing decision Susan responded by noting that they should not forego getting a good education. Susan went on to say that if they are able to, they should because it can open up so many doors for them. She also spoke about the importance of remaining true to yourself and take the right risks when needed.
“It almost feels as though you’re on a trajectory. The opportunities open up and if they look right to go for them but go for them with a logical decision and some thought,” said Susan. “You have to be a little careful about the decisions you make, but everything’s a risk. Just take the right ones.
If you really feel that it’s true, then look for a way to do it. Just know that it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be scary. You’re going to make decisions that are not going to be popular with your parents or your family, but you have to be true to yourself.”
Susan Surftone currently has an Elvis EP out now called, 2nd To One, and is working on a new project called, Dicey After Dark, that will feature more original songs with and without vocals, surf rock instrumental pieces, and some amazing covers. You can also follow her political column and hear more of her insight on The Advocate.