‘Gulf Coast soul’
Houston’s biggest, hottest band brings the heat
The Suffers are a 10-piece juggernaut of contemporary soul from Houston, Texas, that are starting to make a splash beyond the Gulf Coast with their vibrant live shows and just-released debut EP, Make Some Room. A recent performance on The Late Show with David Letterman inspired the host to exclaim, “If you can’t do this, get out of the business!” The band will bring the party to Chico’s Lost on Main on Monday, July 13, and Suffers bassist Adam Castaneda took some time during the band’s current U.S. tour to answer some questions about this band on the rise.
CN&R: Kam Franklin’s amazing voice is the obvious focal point of the group, but there is a lot of craftsmanship and interplay in the arrangements. What’s the band’s compositional process?
Castaneda: The arrangements, much like the writing, are an oddly democratic thing shared by all 10 of us. Most bands this size have a musical director—we have 10, and for us that’s a good thing. When arranging our music we have to put egos aside and think more about the overall song and not so much how flashy our individual parts are. If parts start getting too busy it can quickly become noisy and detract from the song. We write in parts of songs where solos and improvisation can occur in controlled ways, but for the most part the arrangements are solid.
How would you describe the blend of influences that defines your style?
Houston—and the Gulf in general—is a unique place, musically. We have rock, country and blues music like many areas of the South, but we also pull in some other influences. Mexican and Latino music, Cajun and Zydeco, Caribbean music and hip-hop are all strongly present in Houston, blending together in really cool ways. We use all of those influences to create our sound: Gulf Coast soul.
What was the inspiration for your name?
The name comes from a late-’70s movie called Rockers. It’s about Jamaican session musicians and stars actual reggae musicians. It’s one of our favorites. In the movie the main character is hustling to sell records and says at one point, “We’re all sufferers.” We thought that was pretty cool, so we originally called ourselves The Sufferers. After a few days we noticed that it was too tricky to pronounce, so we dropped the last “er” and became The Suffers. There’s a subtle grammatical dissonance to it that was not intended, but we like it.
You’re touring through Halloween, with few days off. What’s it like being on the road that much with 10 people?
This is what we love. This is everything we’ve ever wanted to do. Sometimes space in the van is a bit limited and sometimes the smells get a little too real, but there’s literally nothing else we want to do. We all had day jobs before the band took off, and we were stressed-out nervous wrecks. I think remembering those days keeps us happy and motivated on long tours away from home; that and Netflix, and Spotify, and Angry Birds, and Snapchat, and cat videos.
You’re doing a lot of festival shows alternating with club dates. How do the two differ in preparation and performance?
Festivals can be tricky. Your audience can walk away and see another band if they get bored. You have to come out big, grab their attention and inspire them to stay. The audience is also farther away and the stage is bigger, so your actions and movements have to be bigger or you’ll come across stiff. At the same time, club gigs have their sticky points, too. In a club, people are confined and focused on you. They’ve paid their cover, so you’d better give them their money’s worth. Honestly, we love every show. At the end of the day, no matter the venue, we’re there to play our hearts out and do our best to make sure everyone has a good time.