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Bottlerock 2016, Interviews, Music

Interview: The Suffers talk early beginnings, collaborating, and music festival murals

By: Josh Terzino 

The Suffers at BottleRock 2016 in Napa Valley, California on May 29, 2016. (Photo: Kari Terzino/Aesthetic Magazine)

The Suffers at BottleRock 2016 in Napa Valley, California on May 29, 2016. (Photo: Kari Terzino/Aesthetic Magazine)

Here to shake up the notion that they’re another soul revival band. The Suffers are just as much influenced by classic rock & roll, country, Latin and Southern hip hop as they are the Stax/Volt or Muscle Shoals era.

The 10-piece band are bringing a fresh approach to what they have coined Gulf Coast Soul, and as late night legend David Letterman proclaimed in early 2015, “If you cant do this, get out of the business”, let it be known that The Suffers are here to stay.

With a year that included performances for NPR’s Tiny Desk, Newport Folk Fest, Austin City Limits Music Festival and The Late Show, The Suffers have delivered over 150 stirring performances of their signature third Coast Soul sound to thousands of new and old fans alike.

The large ensemble packs each position of the rhythm and horn section with a level of talent and taste that provides the perfect foundation for singer Kam Franklin’s massive voice. The band’s sincerity and emotion are laid bare in their music, which has garnered an audience so broad and varied that they may prove to be the panacea for a jaded and stratified live music scene.

During a press conference at the BottleRock Music Festival, Kam Franklin, Adam Castaneda,  and Nick Zamora discussed The Suffers’ early beginnings, what their collaborative process is like, music festival murals, and more!

Tell me a little about how you got hooked up in the band?

Kam Franklin: Well, I’ve known the majority of them since I was in high school. We all started out doing punk rock and ska together back in Houston and it was one of those things that over about ten or fifteen years we always said we’d work together and it never happened. Then one day Adam and Pat our keyboard player decided, hey let’s just try. And the original goal was for it to be a reggae/ska/jam band for weddings and stuff and eventually it began evolving into this more soulful sound and we’ve just been doing that the last five years.

Who’s writing the music? Is it a pretty collaborative process?

Adam Castaneda: It’s pretty collaborative thing. We’re pretty lucky that we have a couple people in the band that are really gifted at writing music. Someone will have an idea, maybe a chord progression or just a texture they’re thinking of and we’ll all get around and then it becomes a Suffers song. But it is a very democratic thing.

Nick Zamora: We have different roles. Some people come in with ideas and some of us are better at taking those and making them into songs. Sometimes it’s just the first thing we start playing at rehearsal just to get warmed up and it ends up sticking. We try to keep a phone or something recording even if we’re not doing something intentional. We just had a month off so the first thing we did was take a look at those old ideas and see if there’s anything there, but yeah we’ll take an idea and beat it to death and usually something good comes out.

Kam: Yeah it’s nice to have a panel of nine people there to critique any idea you might have. Most of the time it’s pretty positive, but if you do something that’s not awesome someone will quickly let you know.

How did you come up with the name of the band?

Adam: There’s a 1976 movie called Rockers. It’s a Jamaican movie that chronicles the life of Jamaican studio musicians. In Jamaica, reggae in that time period, the musicians kind of bounced around to all the different studios. So you have the same 30-40 guys on about 90 percent of the recordings of that time. There’s a point in the movie where one of the main guys says “I and I a suffer,” which basically means we’re all in this together. So for a little while we were called The Sufferers. That’s really tough to say-suffer-ers.

Kam: We always get people who say “You know it’s actually grammatically correct to say sufferers.” And we’re like yeah, but you keep saying that over and over and you’ll see why we changed our name.

Adam: We became The Suffers which is much easier to say.

You guys are playing a secret show tomorrow (May 3o) at Lagunitas Brewery (with Langhorne Slim), so I was wondering if you’re excited about that show and if you’ve ever been out there before?

Nick: They came out and visited us last fall, I think. We played at Slim’s in San Francisco and some of their guys came out and invited us to the brewery. We had a super tight schedule so we couldn’t get up there, but we actually ran into one of their guys in Detroit and by then we already had the show booked, but he was like “You’re gonna love the brewery, it’s fantastic!” So we’re really looking forward to it. They will, now when we see them they always fill up the back of the van with beer.

You recently had a mural painted of you at the Main Street Music Festival. Did you had any say in that, and did you get to pick the picture or were you just walking down the street and there was a mural of you?

Kam: That’s actually a good story I’ll try to sum it up quickly. The festival is a mix of local musicians and artists that come together to showcase art in Houston. The artists themselves were allowed to pick whatever group they wanted, and the girl who got us, Nat Ronan, she liked our music but was not familiar with the band. She picked a photo of us from Newport Folk Festival last year and unfortunately the original photo only had seven of the ten.

Our fans-out here we’re noticing we’re a newer band and people don’t really know who we are-but in Houston, seven out of ten is not a good idea. So you had friends and family and parents that were like, going off on this artist who was just trying to do a nice thing, and we all thought it was really cool. We went and spoke to her, and told her we really appreciated it, but she actually went back and put the three missing members in the mural. And it ended up looking great. Actually, the reason the photo was missing people was because the keyboard player broke his arm the morning of our show at Newport so he was in the hospital. But the final result was this really beautiful thing because she was able to put him there even though he couldn’t be there.

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