SUUNS aren’t superstars, and they’re all right with that. Since the release of their first EP back in 2010, the Montrealers have found contentment in the unique community and fan base they’ve worked hard to accrue. While celebrity at home hasn’t quite become reality, it hasn’t done much to beleaguer the band either. Between a series of successful tours in Europe and the USA, and praise from a variety of media outlets, SUUNS have become established as musicians worthy of time and attention (for those willing to pay them heed).
The distinction between being a well-respected and a well-known band, however, certainly makes a difference. As SUUNS’ singer-guitarist Ben Shemie puts it: “We have this really insular world we’ve created for ourselves that we live in, and our music reflects that. In a way it’s kind of exclusive to us and our fans.” But that mentality has changed a lot over the course of the last year, specifically with the release of the band’s newest album, Hold/Still. Through the production of the record, the “insular world” Shemie describes has been widened to include John Congleton, whose resume as a producer extends beyond imagination. Congleton’s outside pair of eyes coupled with his decision to take a live approach to the recording process has helped push SUUNS into uncharted territory.
“The way we worked with John,” Shemie explains, “Is that he [recorded us] playing and did all the dressing up of the sound as we were playing instead of in post-production… We weren’t even really aware he was doing that at the beginning, but he was just trying to capture the band playing as a band.” That essence of seizing SUUNS’ live sound in the studio is something the band has been trying to achieve since day one. Their unadulterated energy on stage is something to behold, encompassing all the dissonance, neurosis, and sweet staticky fuzz that makes SUUNS such an enjoyable listen.
“I think we’re just better at it,” Shemie says, on his preference for playing live. “We play so often, and we’ve all played in a lot of bands and have been touring for years. It’s kind of our most comfortable place. It’s where I feel, as a singer and guitar player, the most comfortable.”
Without Congleton’s expertise, Hold/Still would no doubt be missing the on-stage quality that makes it so successful. The live-off-the-floor atmosphere serves a variety of purposes, lifting album openers “Fall” and “Instrument” to new heights of raucous glory, while giving songs like “Resistance” and “Brainwash” room to let SUUNS’ paranosic sound set in. Notably, Shemie isn’t shy to sing the record’s praises: “I think it’s the best sounding record we’ve done in a lot of ways and I feel like it really reflects us right now the best,” he says. “The other records we’ve made were albums with really clear concepts, and [Hold/Still] is more us playing. It really feels more like who we are as people.”
Despite completing their best work to date, SUUNS isn’t willing to let some good press and positive reception change who they are. Shemie and his ilk are humble to a fault, gracious for the breaks they’ve been given, and dedicated to trying to find themselves a few more.
“I think the biggest reason that [SUUNS] works is that every year we see the band grow a little bit more, in really modest kinds of ways,” Shemie observes. “SUUNS has never spiked and become very popular, but we’ve never crashed either—it’s just been this gradual up, which I think suits our personalities as people.” Nevertheless, the one thing that definitely has changed is the breaking down of the band’s “insular world”. While SUUNS may still be protective of the niche they’ve carved out for themselves, they’ve also discovered a newfound willingness to let other people share in their experience.
“I think maybe we’re maturing a bit to the point where other people can come in and enjoy it too,” Shemie says with satisfaction. “I think working with John, and last year doing the collaboration record with Jerusalem in My Heart, opened the door a lot to a different ways of working, and a different way of seeing the industry, too. It’s like growing up a little bit, I suppose.”
by Elijah Teed