Since forming in 2007, Suuns have proven to be an adaptive and innovative band. From record to record, the Montreal-based art-punk group has always found ways to stay fresh and keep their sound constantly-evolving. Now, on October 30, the band has made perhaps their most exciting step forward to-date with FICTION, an EP released via Joyful Noise.
Throughout FICTION’s six songs, Suuns goes on a sonic journey exploring a wide variety of sonic atmospheres. From the gothic vocal distortions on the opening track, “LOOK,” to the booming swagger of the title track “FICTION,” to the existential ramblings of “the ghost of Frank Zappa” on the closing track, “TROUBLE EVERY DAY,” the EP shows a band committed to musical exploration and expression. For their part, that’s what Suuns has always strived for.
“You have to have a strong work ethic,” frontman Ben Shemie told American Songwriter. “You have to push through the times where it’s not happening, where you get stuck in a rut. We as a band are usually pretty critical of what we record. We know when what we’re doing isn’t resonating. Sometimes I think it takes being hard on yourself, not compromising on certain things. After being hard-nosed like that for a long time, it starts to pay off. You feel validated the longer you can stay true to yourself. Maybe because this EP is kinda extreme, it gave us a sense of confidence that we might not have found without having put ourselves out there. It gives you the agency to say ‘Well, we did it that one time and it kinda worked.’ FICTION is very different from what we’ve done in the past, but hopefully that widens the spectrum of what we feel comfortable doing.”
It’s true — FICTION does challenge certain elements of standard pop music, especially when it comes to vocal processing and arrangement. Yet, despite the EP’s eclecticism, the songs flow together effortlessly. Shemie explained that the band’s approach consisted of taking all sorts of songs — old songs, new songs, old recordings, new recordings, rerecorded recordings, etc. — and compiling them together in a way that captured a unique feel.
“When you’re recording an album, the hardest thing to do is get a ‘vibe,’” Shemie said. “A cool vibe. I mean, if the vibe is really hot on a record… man, everything else can be kinda shitty and it’s still going to be a great record. So, that’s what we were chasing, even if we weren’t so conscious of it at the time.”
As with any record, the ‘vibe’ of FICTION was not only crafted by the band themselves, by the places they worked in and the folks they worked with. For this record, Suuns explored the relatively unchartered territory of collaborating with others… and when you listen to “BREATHE” with Jerusalem In My Heart and “DEATH” with Amber Webber, it’s clear that that exploration paid off.
“It was cool to do these collaborations at this point in our trajectory,” Shemie said. For the Jerusalem In My Heart collaboration, for example, the band had the idea to record the song live in one take around a single microphone. “When we recorded with Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, in order to generate energy and some creative momentum, everyone had to bring in an idea,” Shemie continued. “Then, we’d workshop them — some ideas stuck, some ideas didn’t. This particular idea really started as just a riff. All of our records are relatively polished, at least insofar as we don’t do a lot of songs live-off-the-floor in their entirety. But, with this song, it was kinda like ‘Well, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to all get in the room and play this.’ We learned it relatively quickly, we all sat around the mic with a Boss HC-2 hand-clapper, which is the coolest little thing. That’s how that tune came about.”
This kind of spontaneous creativity is the bread and butter of Suuns’ work. In fact, the band really sees themselves as a live project, informed almost entirely by the kind of magic that comes along with performing music live-on-the-spot for an audience. The loss of live music in 2020 has been a major let-down for Shemie.
“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s been hard,” he said. “We don’t have any gigs, so there isn’t a lot of joyous momentum. The way we get inspired by songs and workshop them is through playing them. So, when you don’t have that, you start to feel like you’re working in a vacuum. Sometimes I’ll catch a little bit of momentum and I’ll start writing. Then, it’ll slow down, I’ll get bummed and I’ll feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Over the past couple of months, I haven’t been inspired at all.”
It’s hard not to feel for Shemie — for hobbyists and professionals alike, the absence of live performances has taken a huge toll on the musician community. From venues to touring teams to artists themselves, the economic impacts have been brutal… but, even beyond that, the psychological impacts have been brutal.
“I miss touring a lot,” Shemie said. “I miss even the dumb stuff — I miss the soundcheck, I miss the camaraderie, I miss the festivals, I miss being around other bands and I miss playing, obviously. It’s stupid to say, but I even miss schlepping my amp in and out of a club! I hate doing that in the moment, but I find that it’s this thing that connects me with ‘real life.’ I miss the whole experience. I miss sitting in the van and getting annoyed at things. I miss playing the most, though. Playing live music is such a cathartic experience. It’s a culmination of all these years of work, it’s a magic moment that you share with an audience. I miss trying songs, having good shows, having bad shows. It’s all part of this bigger thing, you get to deepen your craft. This year, I feel stagnant.”
Yet, Shemie is not without hope — Suuns is continuing their work in anticipation of brighter days. If all goes according to plan, the band will be putting out a new full-length record in the early part of next year. While the ‘back-to-normal’ of the music industry might be a moving target, the creative ways that folks have overcome those setbacks have given us some of the most cherished art in recent history. Perhaps even FICTION itself can serve as a testament to the unwavering persistence of art. The EP displays a band knocked down by circumstance, but unwilling to give up the fight.
Listen to the title track from FICTION by Suuns below: