Suuns:
The TVD Interview

We cornered Canadian rock band Suuns at this year’s Austin Psych Fest. They were one of a handful of psychedelic bands from Montreal represented at the festival this year.

Keyboardist/ bassist Max Henry and guitarist/ bassist Joseph Yarmush talked about the work that went into the band’s new album Images du Futur, their thoughts on this year’s Psych Fest, as well their views on the vinyl format itself. 

You guys played SXSW pretty recently and have been touring a lot. What’s the big difference between a festival like SXSW and Austin Psych Fest? Any similarities or is APF a whole different animal?

Joseph Yarmush: A completely different experience. This is a curated thing, and SXSW is more of a money grab.

Max Henry: It’s financially curated.

JY: The content quality is vastly superior here, it’s just a different festival. SXSW is not only music, it’s a party. It’s about selling ad space to promote movies and whatever the fuck they’re doing. It can be fun and good but it’s not the same as this.

MH: I would say mostly not good.

So you’re having a better time here so far I take it?

MH: Sure, we’ve been here for like 20 minutes.

Your first album seemed to me to be more of a rock album with a lot of erratic guitar riffs strewn about. Your newest album Images du Futur, seems like it’s a little more calculated, it feels a bit more structured and a lot darker. Was this an intentional shift for the band or did it just kind of pan out that way?

MH: I mean the first record was really just a document. We’d been playing for 3 years at that point. There was no record label involved, it was just like we wanted to make a record in the same way a couple want to buy a house. It just seemed like the next step. This time around, we probably were made to be a little more self-aware. And because we had more time in the studio, the studio has more of a voice. We did a lot of editing and things that we didn’t do the first time.

Do you think that was a better way to make an album or just different from the first?

MH: I think it’s just different. I think it’s probably a little more challenging. A by-product of recording songs so early in their life cycle is that we’re still finding them on tour. The old songs are still changing on tour, and we’re finding new approaches to the new ones all the time.

Do you write a lot on the road? Is that where your new songs come from?

MH: No, not really. I mean sometimes. There are a few songs that came out of jams. There a few songs that started as a demo that got reworked and reborn several times. But the vast majority of them are just demos that we work and then record.

What is the song writing process like? Are there any egos in the band?

MH: Oh no, Ben is the songwriter, he brings it in, and it being a very sonically oriented band, there is a bit of a transformation process between the demo and what makes it a Suuns song. I think that makes it pretty easy. From an aesthetic perspective, it’s all coming from one place.

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How do you know when a song or an album is done?

MH: I’m so glad you asked that! I read a quote about this, and I looked it up again so that I would remember it. Paul Valery, the French poet said, “poems are never finished – just abandoned.” Which I think is very true, particularly with this record. We just kind of put it out because you only have a certain amount of time in the studio. It’s a document of that period of time, that month and a half and that’s all it will ever be on that record.

Every time we play a show, it being live and live shows being ephemeral in nature, they’re just done at the end of the night. It’s an ongoing process, even the old songs are changing so I don’t think anything is ever really “done.”

JY: Making a record these days, you have to just stop at some point and say “It’s fine, it’s good, just go with that.” We worked on the songs a lot before we recorded them, so we put in our work before we hit the studio. That’s how we shaped them, they were 90% done and we said “ok, let’s record them.”

How many more takes can you do before you just have to accept one?

JY: Exactly. Why is that one better than the last, it’s just different. Everyone in the band has an opinion, and will tell you “maybe just try this or change that up.” Everyone is listening and that also helps a lot. If you’re just editing yourself then it’s not really a band process.

You’re absolutely right, I think with any creative process you need that input from others to say “Hey maybe you should try this or that?” You guys are off to Europe after this. Is that going to be a long tour?

MH: Tomorrow actually, It’s a three-week tour. We’ve got a long stretch coming up. We just went down through the States, we’re going to Europe, then coming back, then going back, then coming back.

JY: There’s a lot of festivals in Europe this time of year.

Are you playing mostly festivals in Europe or some smaller shows as well?

MH: I think it’s mostly festivals

JY: Except for this US tour, which was all club shows. Then this summer it’s all festivals, which is great.

Which do you prefer? A festival like this or something more intimate like a club show?

MH: They’re just different.

JY: This is kind of cool because you get to see a lot of bands play, stuff you haven’t seen before, maybe meet people, usually not.

We’re also trying to meet as many people as we can!

JY: But I like that, in some ways a club show is a bit better because the people are there to see you. Where as at this kind of fest you are hoping to gain fans, so when you go back and play a club show maybe those people will come. That’s kind of the real point of a festival I think, to get a sampling of music, and also for the musicians to play to a larger audience they may not normally be exposed to.

I’ve seen some bands at festivals that you may think would never fit into a festival lineup, but they seem to make it work.

JY: Yea look at us, we don’t fit into any festival, I’m surprised we’re here.

Well, I’m happy you guys are here, I’m looking forward to catching your set.

I saw you recently sold out your New York show. What was that like?

MH: That was great, that was really good. You never know why people are going to like things, and we’re still constantly surprised that people show up.

JY: It really pushes you too, when you know people are coming and the place is packed. You really want to be ready for those moments, we take it very seriously when we go on tour.

It’s got to be a pretty good ego boost.

JY: Well there’s that, and it’s just a little bit of validation that you’re reaching out to people.

Who are you excited to see at Austin Psych Fest?

MH: Tons of bands that we won’t be able see since we’re leaving tomorrow.

JY: But tonight alone, Warpaint is going to be great, Raveonettes, OM.

JY: We’ve been on tour with The Besnard Lakes, so I’m really excited to see them play on a big stage tonight.

I’m curious. With there being such a large sampling of Canadian bands here at APF, most of them from Montreal, is there a psychedelic scene emerging out of Montreal or is it just these few bands?

MH: We all record at the same studio actually—haha. Is there really a psych scene at all?

JY: That’s why there’s only one psych fest.

It’s a damn good Psych Fest though.

JY: It’s the best one.

Actually, Milwaukee also had a psych fest this year. It was small but The Holydrug Couple and The Warlocks played, as well as some other big psych acts. 

JY: Amazing.

MH: Psych and sausage.

JY: I’ve talked about it with people to start something like that in Montreal, but it’s really hard to find the right time to do anything in Montreal. Still, It’d be really cool to have a Montreal psych fest.

I don’t want to simply lump you guys under the term “psychedelic music,” but do you see psychedelic music taking off into the mainstream again?

JY: It’s kind of a good umbrella term though, it really encompasses a lot. I don’t think it means what it did in the ’60s.

JY: If it’s still here as psych music, and people still like guitar riffs… I don’t know if it ever really died. I think it’s just changed, it was supposed to be this experimental thing as it was in the ’60s and it just kind of defined the traditional sound of psych music. If we’re going to leave it at that, then I don’t see it taking off again. I think if you apply psych music to the kind of stuff that we do or bands that don’t really do the ’60s sound then I think there’s always a place for that.

MH: With the ’60s being so young and with the development of that kind of popular music, the palette was a little different, the colors were a little brighter and now it’s much more nuanced. Even the idea that all these bands are “psych bands” is a hard thing to say. There are elements of psych, most definitely, but there are a lot of shades of grey.

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You guys have a very different, darker sound. You introduce a lot of sounds and beats that are closely related to other genres like dance and electronic music that it’s so hard to define SUUNS simply as “psych” music. 

MH: Sure, I mean it can also go kind of reflexively with the music coming out of Germany in the ’60s, which is not really psych music but sounds a lot like what we’re doing. Elements of psych and elements of electronic music, it’s all really just reiterations of the same thing.

JY: It’s really about the sonic application that you use. It’s the way you present the music. That’s basically what we’re about. Our songs are probably the same as a lot of other people’s songs, in some ways—very simple but it’s about the way we present them. I think the best part of being in a band is trying to find new ways to do that. Taking stuff that’s been done and expanding on it. If psych music can go that way, if we can call that “psych music,” that would be amazing.

JY: My girlfriend’s dad was in a psych band in the ’60s and they did quite well. Their music is really awesome, they kind of would fit in here at APF. it’s actually kind of strange that we’re called a psych band because they were the typical psych sound from the ’60s. It’s kind of weird that we call that “psych music” because it’s just lollipop and flowery kind of pop.

I feel like anything slightly out of the norm that had some reverb attached to it got labeled as psychedelic music back then. 

MH: Free jazz odyssey.

We are The Vinyl District so I should ask is there a reason behind you guys releasing on vinyl?

MH: Here’s my thing on vinyl. There are actually documented reasons to why vinyl does not sound as good as a CD or reel to reel tape. But what’s wonderful about vinyl, especially now, is the ritual. You get this thing, a tangible thing with beautiful, big artwork and when you go to listen to a record you take it out of its sleeve, and you put it down and you listen to one side, or maybe both sides, maybe just the B-side, but there’s a continuity to the record that you don’t get with other ways of listening to music.

JY: Maybe technically it doesn’t sound better, but it kind of does sound better.

If you’re playing it on the right equipment, a vinyl record will sound way better than anything else.

JY: It sounds amazing then, that would be the true way to present analog music. It’d be cool to release our album straight from tape to vinyl, that’d be the best way to do it. I think we tried to record some of our electronic songs to tape but it was such an ordeal. I mean Kraftwerk did it, but I don’t really know how they did that stuff, it’s very difficult.

We’ll ask you one last obligatory vinyl question: 3 desert island records that influenced you. Go.

JY: That influenced me personally? The first would have to be Yo La Tango’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One. I grew up in a small town and that was kind of one of the earliest records that opened me up to different music possibilities other than the rap and alternative rock that was on the radio at the time.

I’d also have to say The Stooges Fun House would be one of my favorite records of all time. I think I have two copies on vinyl. “1970” is one of the best Stooges songs ever.

The third, that’s a good question, it’s tough to narrow it. I’ll go Pavement Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, again it was just one these bands I didn’t know could exist. They were slackers, skateboarders, and they’re so good. Their songs are amazing, I didn’t understand their guitar tunings at the time. That stuff had a big impact on me.

Suuns are currently on tour across the globe. Head over to Facebook for their complete list of tour dates, and don’t hesitate to visit Secretly Canadian to pick up a record or two from these lovely folks.

Suuns Facebook | TwitterSecretly Canadian

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