It is a given that is impossible to see everything at every festival. In many cases, during the earlier hours roaming the festival grounds, you have to gamble on seeing the artists you’ve heard of versus seeing the artists you know nothing about but sound cool. One of the benefits of Landmark’s set up is that the stages were close enough together so that each artists sound bled over a little to the next area. Normally a disastrous thing, it was perfect for more transient festival goers to hear the intoxicating sounds of the days’ best live acts. It was through this setting that by 3:45, only fifteen minutes after their set began, Gulf Coast Soul band the Suffers had packed the often sparsely populated BMI tent to the brim. The ten piece, Texas outfit drew in crowds through their sweet and spicy mix of the music of their native Houston. From their righteous, classic soul opener “The Giver” they launched into an hour set, barely pausing, that featured a medley of funk, Cumbia, hip-hop, ska, reggae, more classic soul, and oodles of other musical influences packed into their tight, bombastic sound. Whether through simply bopping their heads along to the beat or wildly dancing, the audience wordlessly expressed that they were witnessing one of the new, great acts in live music.
The Suffers have only performed in DC once before, packing all ten members onto the compact stage of DC9. And their only studio releases are two EPs, earning their way to Landmark through their tight, electrifying live show. Since we were so impressed with the group, On Tap wanted to give the group a proper introduction to the DMV. We sat down with bassists and co-founder Adam Castaneda to get the group’s history and say, officially, welcome to DC!
On Tap: Can you talk about your pre-show chant? It really got the crowd going before you even started playing.
Adam Castaneda: Ok, it’s two fold. Nick, our drummer, found an article that was talking about how to prepare for a job interview, or something like that, and it had this superman pose. It’s actually a yoga pose. You just put your hands up for a few seconds and I guess it moves the blood around, or the energy around, in a certain way; It gives you some strength, some confidence, some blood flow, and it gets you pumped up and going. So we started doing that, and I guess the yelling came out of a primal scream release, stress release thing. So we all started doing that. The other part is, right before we do that, we all say a number. I’m number one, our drummer’s number two, our keyboard is number three, and it goes on throughout the entire band, all the way up to ten and then we put our hands up and scream. And where that comes from is…when you have ten people on the road, you can lose someone really quickly. So we’ll go to a gas station or truck stop in the middle of nowhere and it’ll be like a sound off. So we’ll go off in our own little worlds: because when you’re with that many people in that small of a van you need to wander off and look at beef jerky or something. So when we all get back in the van, we all have the same count off. I’m still number one, drummer is number two, and it goes all the way up to ten. So if you know that if it stops at seven, we’re missing number seven. ‘Alright who’s number seven? Oh, he’s still in the bathroom.’ It’s saved us a couple of times, we’ve almost lost some people. So it’s the same thing at some of these festivals. People are running around all the time, getting pulled left and right, so sometimes you might get onstage and realize ‘Hey, where’s trumpet? We’re missing somebody!’
OT: So why the Suffers?
AD: Grammatically, it doesn’t make sense!
OT: And it has this connotation of something like pain or misery. Obviously naming the band is the hardest part so where did this name come from?
AD: It’s from a 1977 or 1978 movie from Jamaica called Rockers. In Jamaica and old reggae music, it’s roughly 30 or 40 people that are on almost all of the recordings; they would just change singers for the most part. It’s a lot of the same guys it’s like how jazz was or how Nashville was for a while. So what’s cool about this movie is that it’s about these reggae studio musicians and it actually stars these musicians. They’re not actors—not the greatest actors—but they’re in the movie and it’s really cool to see, especially if you’re a reggae head (which most of us are)! So in the movie, the main character says ‘I and I a sufferer,’ which means “all of us here hear are suffering.” He’s trying to hustle, he’s trying to sell records, and he’s trying to sell his records, basically on consignment, to a record store. The guy doesn’t want to buy them so he says “come on man, we’re all sufferers here.” We just thought that was really cool. So for a while we were “the Sufferers,” but we realized that was kind of hard to say so we changed it to just “the Suffers.”
OT: You don’t see many ten piece bands around these days. How did you guys come together and how did that number come about?
AD: It was almost immediately. We were a nine piece for about a week or two and then our conga player just started coming to rehearsals. So I started the band with Patrick Kelly, our keyboard player. We had all been in other bands together and at the time I was in three other bands. We had all been in ska bands together, reggae bands, country bands, Latino bands; all kinds of stuff. So we were all kind of used to the idea of a horns section and percussion and two guitars, so we were always in big bands. It was a natural thing and didn’t seem strange to us. Most of us had also done punk rock, so we were used smaller groups too, but a large band just has that power and that charge. And it’s a common thing [in our area]. Houston has a lot of blues and country down there, and those bands are pretty big: in excess of 6 members, usually. So we’re used to seeing that and it’s not a strange thing to us. Now while you don’t see a lot of bands that are continuously ten piece, when you look at a lot of larger name acts—big headliners and radio stars—and you look on stage, it’s usually about seven to ten people. I think Taylor Swift has twelve people in the band. They have back-up singers, a horns section, a drummer, percussionist, and everything else! It’s not that much different from most other bands; we just made everybody a member!
OT: The only other act I can think of like you guys is Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street band. Why do you think these kinds of groups are coming back now? Why are people now open to these groups again?
AD: It’s happening in multiple genres. I think things like Spotify are really opening that up; it’s so easy to look into music that was hard [to look into]. When I was in high school, I was in the suburbs of Houston and I was really into old ska and reggae. And that was a really hard thing to be into. You had to get tapes from friends and you didn’t know who was on it; but you learned songs like that. You’d go to the record store and you’d have no idea how to ask the record guy to get what you wanted. You’d play him tapes and he’s like “Oh I think I heard something like this one day,” and you’d get something that’s not it. And then things Limewire and Bearshare came around and things were horribly mislabeled. I got “Red Red Wine” that was labelled as Bob Marley and it was just wrong, it was just bad. But with Spotify you can so quickly look through genres; and people are rediscovering a lot of music. It’s happening in Latin music, it’s happening in country music; you have the resurgence of outlaw country. That came back out of nowhere after it had been gone for so long. People have been rediscovering old jazz, old blues classics, and I think the same thing is happening with soul bands. People are finding these old singers out there and people think “This is still good!” Now the challenge, and there are different ways of looking at it is…We don’t look at ourselves necessarily as historians or preservationists. There’s definitely a place for that and we love the people that do it and there’s a need for it, but we’re not doing that. We’re trying to make soul music in 2015 that is relevant in 2015 by people that live in 2015. We’re not trying to be a throwback band or be revivalist; we’re just making the music we want to make. We call ourselves Gulf Coast soul because that’s a different thing than “Soul music.” In Houston we have hip-hop, we have rock, we have country, we have blues, we have all sorts of Latino styles, we have Zydeco, Cumbia, and we even have African and Asian music because of the population new have living there. We’re blending all of that together. We’re not doing “this is what soul music was and it’s what we’re doing.” No. We’re doing modern music, today.
OT: It does sound modern. But a song like “The Giver” sounds so like righteously 70s soul music. So with something like that song, how do you make it modern while retaining a recognizable, classic sound?
AD: I think the lyrical content and our delivery on it—especially in the builds—that’s more modern technique. That’s definitely reminiscent, to me at least, of New Jack Swing and things like that. That’s in there but we’re presenting it in 6/8 time, and that’s not something you often hear on the radio. Maybe it’s a bit preservationist but it’s kind of like this: There are other times and other meters that work and it will still be good, but here’s a modern twist on a 6/8.
OT: Can you explain the sandwich bit in the giver? It’s one of the funniest bits any of the acts here have done yet I can’t tell if it’s a Houston joke, a band joke, or just something that happened by accident?
AD: We like to eat! Not joking, we like to eat! We’re not the fittest band in the world, but Houston’s a soulful town and we have a lot good food. We all communicate on a group text, it’s an app called “GroupMe,” and we have a food group where we all talk about good food we find on the road.
OT: What does the near future hold for the Suffers? Any upcoming releases we should know about
AD: February 2016: we have our debut, full-length record out. You can go to ilovethesuffers.com and pre-order it now!
For more info on the Suffers visit www.thesuffers.com