Montréal ensemble Suuns are a band born of the darkest of parts; spawned of that increasingly intensely populated hinterland deep within the musical spectrum which ultimately dislocates the openly accessible from the eccentric. Aptly perhaps, we meet in the dingy labyrinthian backstage of the heavily industrialised Village Underground – a venue which occupies the oddly underdeveloped nether region to sit between East London’s Great Eastern Street and Bethnal Green Road. It is here where I encounter a disarmingly tranquil lead vocalist-slash-sometime guitarist Ben Shemie and a comparatively sedate Joe Yarmush.
The four-piece were initially alimented by “a climate of excitement, hope and frustration” and these prove primary features of their densely frequented show upstairs a little later on: there’s excitement provoked by the mere airing of material from their forthcoming sophomore Images Du Futur, great hope for this ’Futur given the unquestionable quality intrinsic to the likes of ‘Minor Work’ and album standout ‘Bambi’, and frustration both at the discombobulating restraint demonstrated as well as the show not attracting enough to be staged in the venue’s greater main room next door. Though Suuns dine also on intimacy – they’re best witnessed when the whites of Shemie’s eyes are plainly visible and as they frequently roll back in his skull, they glare piercingly like those of that now infamous wolf immortalised on the cover of Brand New’s Daisy. Shemie, or rather his semi-spoken though simultaneously quasi-sung vocal (which has “been very similar” but has “only gotten stronger with time”, Yarmush later proclaims), is their most emblematic hallmark. He, or perhaps it, is the crux of Suuns, and its every other component is a centripetal element orbiting about this core. Conversely, in conversation, he becomes unprecedentedly reticent.
It’s a symbiotic character composition – as though the beast within is only unleashed once Shemie is allowed onstage. Though to revert to the now for a moment, in person his gruff shush is just as disquieting as that almost passively aggressive hiss of his heard both live and on LP. He scares me a tad if I’m honest, though no more than Les Georges Leningrad, or Les Breastfeeders, or The Unicorns did. Maybe it’s just a Montréal thing?
“I think maybe to some extent [the band having been cultivated in such a fertile musical landscape influences their overall aesthetic] but for me, it’s hard to compare as I’ve never lived anywhere else”, Shemie proffers in a baritonal snarl. “I don’t know anything different: Chicago, London, or wherever.” Yarmush intervenes: “It’s really not, like, you know a jam-fest every weekend. It just so happens that a lot of musicians are concentrated in that same area, probably because it’s easy and cheap to live there. Otherwise, yeah, there really is no other reason for it. I don’t really feel like there’s any real community there, other than other musicians being the people I hang out with most of the time. But then we don’t really talk about music in those sorts of social situations. From the outside looking in, it perhaps seems as though there’s this crazy vibe going on, which is fuelling everyone around us but I really don’t think that happens. It is really well connected though, so if you need someone, or something then there are those resources readily available. Like there are a lot of venues to play, or places in which we can jam. There’s a lot of things that have been built up, because of the amount of active musicians out there so in that respect yeah, it’s pretty good and really easy. It’s not really a big city, and it just seems like a small town in a way ’cause a lot of people are really concentrated in a smaller area within it. But yeah, I mean whatever.”
As with Shemie’s almost schizophrenic vocal self portrayal, stark contrasts abound: there is no communal vibe, and yet the members of these miscellaneous Canuck bands hang; there are all these places to do just that, though they never natter musical nor wax lyrical over some of the world’s finer aural produce of recent times, much of which has been homegrown. Though in amongst Suuns, Shemie reckons music to be “probably the top thing we talk about. When you’re at home, and you’re with your best friends it’s different. Your best friends are not necessarily musicians, either, and they’re doing their own thing in their own lives. So when you’re at home, you know, it’s just a different space. And it might be boring! What can we say? I mean we’d definitely have to make up all these nonsensical tourist stories. Otherwise it’d just be like talking about work…”
It’s another turn of phrase upon which we get caught up. Surely the pair don’t regard Suuns as a pitch up, grind out only to eventually be ground down kinda setup? “I think it’s good to view it as work”, Yarmush sheepishly contends, “because then you approach it a little more seriously. ‘Cause there are a lot of things that are work-like when you go out on tour.” Pragmatic as per, Shemie picks up where his counterpart cuts out: “I mean you have to be smart about it from a business point of view, too, if you want the project to maintain some form of trajectory so you can’t treat it as being ‘all about the music’, as though it’s just some ideological thing. Going out on the road is a lot of work, and so as Joe says, you have to remain serious. I mean you wanna enjoy yourself obviously, but you’ve got to take it seriously if you wanna be taken seriously.”