Step Right Up: Suuns
Interview with Suuns.
“This time around we were more self-conscious and well-rounded as a band, so our best bet was not to record another Wire-style genre receptacle, but rather a more focused, less eclectic record.”
—Liam O’Neill, Suuns
Words: Mark Carry, Design: Craig Carry
Suuns is Ben Shemie, Max Henry, Liam O’ Neill and Joseph Yarmusch. The Montreal quartet are capable of capturing an intensity through sound, few come close to attaining, and it is this cathartic release of energy that flows deep within the music trajectory of Suuns. The band’s latest album, ‘Images Du Futur’, released last year on the ever-dependable Secretly Canadian label, sees the quartet branching into further expanses of possibilities through a wider sonic palette and in turn, a colossal depth of emotion and power is unleashed.
The title of their sophomore release is a name inspired by the technological expositions in Montreal between 1986 and 1996. Undoubtedly, the unique blend of Wire-esque post-punk rhythms (most notable on the band’s debut record) is fused with an endless haze of psychedelia, brooding guitars, and dense techno rhythms, conjuring up the sound of a future age — a space in time we have yet to arrive upon. Welcome to the world of Suuns. The band’s incendiary live performance — having toured Europe and the U.S. extensively on the ‘Images Du Future’ tour — further encapsulates the sheer intensity and shape-shifting explorations emitted by the layered compositions of the band’s two records. It is their ability to morph the sonic mood within a song, which causes a Suuns record to endlessly reveal new meaning upon every visit.
A year of touring North America and three trips overseas filtered into the headspace of ‘Images Du Futur’s sprawling sonic canvas. Many of the songs started as some jams written during that time. In 2011, they returned to the jam space. As the band have stated: “We were trying to look at our music from further and further away, seeing more details in the picture as we expanded the landscape”. With subsequent recording sessions taking place in May, and again in September with producer Jace Lasek from The Besnard Lakes, the Canadians created a glorious follow-up to the critically acclaimed debut, ‘Zeroes QC’.
The album’s centerpiece is the hypnotic ‘Sunspot’, complete with a slow-burning groove that gradually seeps into your consciousness. Each layer of instrumentation is pristine: the entrancing electric guitar riffs, infectious bass-line, swirling synthesizer, brooding vocals and pulsating drums bares an utterly captivating wall of sound. Worlds of drone, techno, psych rock and shoegaze are inter-woven across the album’s ten dazzling creations. The album’s opening notes of frenzied guitars unleashes a frustration and anger of the world that surrounds them. ‘2020’ — which would later feature in Nicolas Winding Refn’s hyper-stylized Bangkok-based thriller ‘Only God Forgives’ — contains intoxicating rise and fall of guitar notes and pulsating synths. A restraint and delicacy is an equally potent force, shown on the irresistible ‘Minor Work’ as clean tones and sliding guitar notes comes to the forefront of the mix. The song evolves into an anthemic rock gem as Shemie sings: “It’s good being here / It’s good feeling real” on the bridge. Moments later, a gorgeous arpeggio of guitar notes rise to the surface. The listener is left to “keep from floating away”.
Interview with Liam O’Neill, Suuns.
Congratulations on the incredible album ‘Images Du Futur’ record. The seamless layers of immaculate instrumentation — affecting vocals, atmospheric guitars, hypnotic bassline, drums/percussion — embedded beneath each song creates a beguiling energy; resulting in music that indeed saves you. Please discuss the recording of this second studio album and your aims from the outset. There is a wonderful fluidity to the album’s ten songs.
LON: Thank you. Fluidity was definitely something we aimed for from the outset. Our first album, ‘Zeroes QC’, was recorded and sequenced more-or-less indiscriminately and ended up feeling like paint thrown at canvas, which was actually probably one of its better qualities. This time around we were more self-conscious and well-rounded as a band, so our best bet was not to record another Wire-style genre receptacle, but rather a more focused, less eclectic record. We were aware that this time we had something of a listenership and so there was more consideration taken with regard to the flow of the record, which is an idea that even still evolving in the band as we play more and more together. Bringing an immersive presence is our forte as a live act and we can only go further with that approach.
Please discuss the choice of album-title ‘Image Du Futur’. It’s a very appropriate title for the record where the music indeed possesses this ethereal dimension recalling the likes of Lower Dens & Jana Hunter, Clinic and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I also adore the vinyl artwork. The cover photograph and design serves the music so well (and vice versa), a portrait similar in ways to debut album ‘Zeroes QC’. I would love to gain an insight into the album artwork and who was behind it?
LON: I like all of the bands you’ve mentioned there; it’s nice to be held in regard with such company. “Images Du Futur” was the name of a technology expo that ran in Montreal during the late 80’s and early 90’s (there’s a photo of the expo on the inside of the record) which both showcased cutting edge technological innovations, and, as these innovations became obsolete, served as a museum in which they were preserved for posterity. It was the first idea for a title that hit the table and we all agreed that it spoke to the vibe we were going for, a kind of retro-futurist dystopian sound. Joe, our guitarist, took the cover photo, and then the venerable Scott Hazard, a Raleigh, NC-based photographer treated it with his signature analog photo ripping technique. Taylor Tower, the girl on the cover, has a beautifully weird and striking face. She’s someone we’ve wanted to work with for a while, and it couldn’t have gone better.
What records out there would you say are defining records for you as musicians? What have you been listening to most these past few months? I can imagine it’s an eclectic mix!
LON: When you talk about defining records, I tend to think about bands that I listened to as a young musician. We are all different people and have different taste, but artists that we agree on are The Pixies, Sonic Youth, and lots of techno. These days, we’ve been spinning a lot of hip hop in the van, as well as more ethnic psych and dub jams.
‘Sunspot’ is my current favourite. I love the cathartic feel to it. The shape-shifting rhythm, jazz drums/percussion, pristine guitar lines and infectious bassline – the song has it all – that serves the perfect opener to Part B. Can you talk through the construction of ‘Sunspot’ please?
LON: “Sunspot” along with “Edie’s Dream” are the two songs we had been playing for a few years before the record was recorded. “Sunspot” existed mostly as a kind of trance jam, though, and it wasn’t until shortly before recording it that we gave it form and sections. It was good for it, though, that long gestation process. We ended up constructing it in a logical, strategic way. As many compositional processes are, it was a result of much retooling, addition, and (most importantly) subtraction. When dealing with minimal elements and repetition like “Sunspot” does, it’s important to have just the right trajectory.
Finally, the song ‘2020’ featured prominently in “Only God Forgives”. I saw the film (and loved it) and particularly felt just how incredible the song complemented the film: in many ways I feel the song becomes a central character to the film itself, as the tension and range of raw emotions drawn from the sonic canvas seeps effortlessly into the neon-illuminated streets of Bangkok.
LON: Thank you. I haven’t seen the film yet, actually, so I can neither agree nor disagree with you. I thought the trailer was effective though; one of the only times our music has been synched in a way I felt was appropriate for the both the music and the video.
‘Images Du Futur’ is available now on Secretly Canadian.