Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Suuns Nick Helderman

Suuns: Loss Is Fine, Lost Is Better

14 April 2016, 12:00

Suuns' third studio album, Hold/Still, is due out tomorrow via Secretly Canadian. Ahead of its release drummer Liam O'Neill gets philosophical about art, amibuguity and the importance of being lost and unknowing.

A musician in the public eye is charged not only with the task of producing quality music, but also with the task of being a spokesperson for the intention and meaning behind that music. It is incumbent on the musician to give interviews that validate his/her music, creating a narrative of self-endorsement and self-promotion. For me the process of having to account for every aspect of my work is a dubious one, and I’m curious: Why do musicians feel the need to give such comprehensive explanations about intention and process? Can we leave our audiences with mystery, or are authority and confidence what fans want from musicians, as Kim Gordon has attested: “People pay to see others believe in themselves”?

Often, the inclination to publish authoritative statements about the creative process is at odds with the generally banal statements musicians tend to make on the subject. I believe that this dynamic is responsible for the many sensationalist headlines one reads in music magazines. The infamous Noel Gallagher, for example, maybe not the most eloquent speaker about his creative process, will live on in brash, pithy one-liners - those being the only remotely interesting utterances worthy of a headline (this current and riveting Google nugget notwithstanding: “Noel Gallagher cancels Auckland gig after transport of gear is delayed on flight from Chile”. ZING).

For the fact is, making music is largely a wandering process, and talking about it is typically not very interesting. It’s a process of endless repetition, dead-ends, anchorless exploration, conflicting ideas, head-vs-wall banging, with only glimmers of hope and success here and there. What’s amazing about music, to me anyway, is how musicians arrive at places of beauty and cultural relevance in spite of all this drudgery. It’s the sublime alchemy of idealism and conflict. Direction and resistance. And to speak about intentionality or authority in the creative process is often a kind of reverse-engineered variety of storytelling informed by hindsight, inspired by trying to sound like you know what the fuck you’re doing.

One of the more interesting interviews I read this year was The Line of Best Fit’s interview with Dan Bejar, who, in the arena where knowing reigns supreme, was frank and honest enough to say:

“I'm conscious of the fact that I'm never supposed to say anything negative about the record in exactly this situation. But fuck it, I'm going to say what I feel. I like dark records, I like grandiose failures, I like records where the person singing sounds lost in it. It doesn't always have to be Born In The U.S.A. or Purple Rain or some shit. I mean, those are great, but it doesn't have to be a crystallized vision where it shows up intact, from beginning to end. That's not how art gets made, not in my experience anyway. There's struggle, you fuck up. But you're reaching for something, and the moments when you get it are good moments.”

Reading Bejar’s quote was one of the rare instances where I felt like the musician wasn’t either speaking from a place of “invincibility”, or reciting a rote endorsement of the record currently for sale. It was something more accessible, more human. Maybe some people enjoy being spoken to with infallible authority, but personally that kind of rhetoric makes me feel like all the work has been done - there’s no place for me as a listener. Having the musician admit that he/she has less than total control over the musical/conceptual content of their work implies that there is an ongoing sense of discovery, of growth, and as a listener it allows me to feel like there is space for my own ideas about the work to germinate. In this way the record is never finished - finding my own way through the work opens it up to endless (re)interpretations.

The current climate of music journalism, though, tends to favour succinct statements of definitive theme: a record about death, a record about drugs, a record about God… I don’t know about you, but for me more richness lies in the feeling of being lost than in someone else’s feelings about “loss”.

Though I understand. Music is a heartening, communal practice, and we look for identification with others through it. Thus, we tell our stories with music, wrap it in feelings, use it to achieve full expression and to explain ourselves through concise aphorisms, naming things that cannot be named. That’s the goal anyway, but getting there seems to be another thing entirely, which may well be the most fecund part of the journey.

There’s a lot of pressure to appear authoritative - to admit less than total control is indeed a sign of vulnerability. If Kim Gordon is right, and I’m worth any of my salt as a musician, I’d like to go on record and believe in myself enough to admit unknowing, leave meaning inexplicit, leave it to you.

Suuns' new album Hold/Still is out 15 April via Secretly Canadian. Buy it now via iTunes, Amazon or Rough Trade.

Suuns are on tour now, a full list of dates can be found via Songkick.

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next