The sound? Mesmerising. The live shows? Captivating. We are talking about the Canadian psychedelic-rock band Suuns here. For more than a decade, the band has not only created a signature sound, it has also done that with comparatively minimalistic aesthetics when it comes to taking their ideas into the studio and emerging with a new album.
Their latest work Felt is no exception, but exceptionally good for sure. While Suuns’ 2016 album Hold/Still was still echoing within us, the quartet returned with another new album Felt in spring this year. While touring through Europe with a lot of new songs in their pockets, we caught up with Max Henry and Joseph Yarmush from Suuns to talk about their latest release.
Sometimes, plans don’t work out. Sometimes, they result in something completely different. Well, and every once in a while a whole new album is made before you know it. Felt, Suuns’ fourth album to date, emerged from studio sessions that were originally booked with a different idea in mind. Demos. Keyboarder Max Henry explains: ‘We had some time booked off. A few weeks. Little chunks at a time when we went into the studio. Initially, the idea was to work on demos and then do a proper recording session afterwards. But the demos ended up sounding good so we stuck with this process. Everything was done on our own. We engineered everything.’
‘Hold/Still’ was recorded very quickly. We only had two weeks to track and mix everything and ‘Felt’ was very calm and considered over several months.’ (Max Henry)
Bassist Joseph Yarmush adds confidently: ‘I think everyone in the band would agree that the way we recorded this record is the way to go forward for the next one. It was a cool milestone to realize we could do it without someone else there.’
The sonic milestone on Felt the four band members created in the studio couldn’t be more ambitious and enthralling. Max reflects on the process: ‘What is interesting about this record is that it was very much composed in the studio. We came in with a structure of songs and some kind of idea about what we wanted to do, but we would go and play some things and then go into the control room and listen how all these things were playing together in the same space in a relatively objective way. By achieving that kind of distance, we managed to do through the recording process this time.’
Setting out to new directions
It was only towards the very end of the recording that Suuns opened the studio doors to get additional help with the mixing and they invited John Congleton to shape the songs a little further once more. It also marks an important cut for the band who can hand over their work as Max admits: ‘When John comes in and he bounces the final mix, he is sort of giving his approval to that balance and those elements in that order. So we can leave that process because it’s been approved.’
Speaking of approval, the shows Suuns put on tend to reach beyond the usual concert experience you are probably used to. Fully being immerged in the sound, the band as well as their audience step into that spacious, yet minimalistic room that seems to stretch whatever song is reverberating within those walls, Joseph elaborates: ‘From early on, we were very conscious about being quite minimal in terms of not adding too much noise and stuff. I feel like we’re coming out of that, especially with this new album. We still kind of have the same approach when it comes to making songs, but we’re not scared of just filling them out a little bit more. We’re certainly doing that live.’
When it comes to playing live, it quickly becomes obvious that Suuns embody a collective spirit. Something that Max emphasizes as well during our conversation: ‘I really feel that we play as an ensemble. When playing new songs we are starting to stretch into a certain direction and that will usually be a clue what we will be doing on the next record.’
The band’s backdrop on this tour appears to be as eclectic as the band’s ambition. It’s certainly not every day that you see the Edward Coley Burne-Jones painting The Mirror of Venus behind the concentrated faces of a psychedelic-rock band that is playing fearlessly. Random choice or a deeper connection? Joseph explains: ‘The idea was to have a painting behind us and create a mood, but more in a general sense. You could certainly examine it and tie it to us as a band, but in some ways it would make more sense if it had gone with our last record Hold/Still. On that tour we had these blow up letters to take a bit away from this seriousness.’
While typically spending months on the road with every new album, the seriousness often gets replaced with dark jokes though, Max confirms: ‘There definitely is a tour van mentality. Especially in Europe, where you’re going through so many different cultures and there is still this little bubble that feels like you’re seeing the world through a helmet. Like an astronaut suit. So you have to watch yourself when you tell something like a dark joke.’
‘Sleep is kind of a sacred thing and on tour even that is a shared experience. That being sad, we’re incredibly lucky that we as a band have hotel rooms and don’t have to crash on people’s floors. Or sleep in the van.’ (Joseph Yarmush)
Whether it is bursting out laughing because of dark jokes or bursting courageously through a sonic bubble with ‘just the right amount of subtle grooves, ever-present contrasts, and an irresistible friction’, Suuns remain a true silver lining in rock music.