Interview Suuns: ‘It Doesn’t Feel Like The Reality’

Danny Wright finds out all about ‘Images du Futur’, the new album from Montreal’s Suuns.

I’m sat at a bar in Shoreditch with Ben Shemie, the lead singer from Suuns. We’re talking about their incendiary live shows and I mention that I saw the band’s first ever London show a mile down the road at CAMP in 2011. “You were there? What a dump,” he laughs.

The gig was anything but. It felt dark and strange, a heady cocktail of ominous dance and kraut-guitar music. It was disorientating, claustrophobic and unsettling in the best way. It took their debut album ‘Zero QCs’ and re-imagined it, pushing it in new, rougher and more jagged shapes.

“We have a different thing onstage. We started as a live band and we didn’t record our first record for three years, we just played a lot of shows. I always thought it’s more important to be a live band than anything else.

“I mean the music your record is the music that people live with in their lives but I think the experience people have at your shows is more important. So our live shows are the next notch up. We’re not as careful and we just kind of let it go.”

This was more than evident when I caught their raucous, post-midnight show at The National’s ATP last December. “It felt good and we got a good reaction from the audience. It was our first time playing at ATP and it’s totally different from playing other festivals or club shows.”

It was there they showcased tracks from their new album ‘Images du Futur’; a fantastic record, layered and enveloping, full of rich textures and freak out moments. On record though it’s a different type of animal – more introspective and headphones affair than the way it had appeared on stage at Camber Sands.

It’s something that makes complete sense to Ben. “I don’t believe bands should play the album the way the album is on record. I mean, fuck it, you have a horn section in your live band but you’re not going to play an MPC that plays horns or has samples on it. Just play it faster.”

But listening to ‘Images du Futur’ on record is just as engaging and it’s clear that it’s the album which could see Suuns really make their mark. It’s a confident growing of their sound from their debut record and builds upon its complex arrangements and shadowy intensity. Ben is eager for people to hear it. “I’m very proud of it. It’s hard to judge when it’s your own music, you don’t have the same experience that everyone else has. It’s hard to be objective about it but I’m definitely very excited.”

The record’s title comes from a science exhibition that ran in Montreal from ‘86 to ‘96. “It was in the old part of the city and it was an exhibition which was kind of like a science fair which happened every summer for that decade and it was all new media. Now it looks comical because it’s like 8-bit graphics and things like that but I went there when I was a kid and it was amazing because everything was so new. It was a mindfuck. I think that works aesthetically with what we’ve tried to do with the record as well.”

But, let’s make this clear, this isn’t a concept record. “It’s not the theme – it just kind of happened at the same time. In terms of how we designed the record the final product definitely reflected that idea but it’s not like we thought ‘we want to write the music from the future.’”

It’s a record that takes you on a journey. From the dancier moments to darkly textured soundscapes, it’s an eerily-alluring album that demands your full attention. Does he have a favourite song? “I like ‘Powers of Ten’. I think that sums up the record in a way, aesthetically. And I like ‘Edie’s Dream’ a lot.”

‘Edie’s Dream’ was the first taster of the album, a woozy, intoxicating track with a hypnotising bass line and vocals about dreams and visions. Listening to it you feel like you’re spiraling down a wormhole. Why was that put out first? “It kind of lends itself well to a music video. It’s also a lyrical song and I think what’s cool about it as a first single is that it doesn’t necessarily sound like anything we’ve done before. I think for our fans, who we think of first, it’s nice to kind of throw something at them they’re not expecting.”

Elsewhere, the atmospheric and ambient title track shows the array of sounds in Suuns’ sonic arsenal. “We planned that we’d record it ourselves super lo-fi with strings and feedback but because we were in this really nice studio it became this big giant production. I don’t even know how half the shit happened.

“But I think it really works well, because to me the album does have a kind of time and space theme and that song has a real cosmic vibe. And it’s at the end of the record and if you listen to the whole thing – which is how it’s designed to be listened to – by the time you get to it, it’s kind of a relief.”

The fact that Ben speaks of a ‘relief’ hints at how intoxicatingly dark the band’s sound is. Is that a choice or is that naturally how the music comes out? “I think it’s a bit of both. We’re not necessarily a dark band, I’m not dark – we don’t have any issues or things like that, it just comes out that way and we kind of roll with it. It’s certainly the kind of music that we like. We listen to a lot of that kind a stuff so that I guess that’s where it comes from.

“I’m really digging BEAK>, which is very krautrocky. We get labeled that a bit, which I like cos I think there’s that repetitive thing is part of what we do and I love that shit. And that in and of itself is a dark thing and lends itself to a dark atmosphere.”

‘Images du Futur’ finds Suuns deepening their approach, adding even greater richness and variety to their sound. Does the fact that the band play around with such a variety of sounds make it difficult to create a cohesive album? “A lot of people say that about the records we make. But generally speaking whether it’s more electro dancey or it’s more rock I still feel like it still kind of sounds like us. Like there is an identity, there is a sound, so I think that helps too. It’s not like we’re changing genres; we’re still fundamentally a rock band and we write in a certain kind of style.”

They’re now heading out on the road for a lengthy tour, something which he’s looking forward, with a certain trepidation. “It’s extremes. The highs are really high and the lows are really low. But I like it cos I like to perform. All the schlepping and the driving sucks but the payoff is that you play gigs. Every gig is a challenge but if you can play a really great show and it makes it all worthwhile.”

They’ll be bringing their blistering show to the UK, and it’s something you don’t want to miss. Ben can’t wait to play in front of British crowds again. “You can’t generalise about UK crowds – you have to talk about the different cities. Every city is super different. You get the quiet crowds in some cities and the crazy crowds and the sweet crowds.”

“I don’t want to pick anyone out but in Brighton they’re not crazy but they’re the most enthusiastic and they’re chilled out. They’re happy to be there and there isn’t any kind of a front. Gigs in London have always been really good too.”

The release of a fantastic new record and an increasingly growing and glowing reputation. It looks like it could be Suuns’ year. But living in Montreal means Ben doesn’t feel like the band are any more admired than they were before.

“No.” he laughs, “We’re not really that popular there so I never get the feeling that we’re doing that good. I mean it’s different when we come and we play shows. When we come to London and we play a show and it’s sold out and it’s fucking crazy – but it doesn’t feel like the reality.”

Suuns’ new album ‘Images du Futur’ will be released on 4th March via Secretly Canadian.

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