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SUUNS hot in Ottawa

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SUUNS is an electronic rock band hailing from Montreal, Quebec. The band consists of vocalist and guitarist Ben Shemie, guitarist and bassist Joe Yarmush, bassist and keyboardist Max Henry and drummer Liam O’Neill.

I caught up with Joe and talked about their upcoming European tour, potential new releases and the band’s artistic growth. 

You played a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art last week and security had to turn people away at the door. What was that like?

The museum does a series where they have bands play on the first Friday of every month. It’s like a big party. It isn’t really a rock thing, so they’re pretty strict on their cap. People definitely could not get in. The idea is that the bands maybe do something different. If you have an idea of something you’ve always wanted to do, it’s a great space to execute that in. It’s a little bit different; it’s the idea to put on a unique show if possible.

Did Suuns do anything different for it?

Yeah, we did. We did two sets. One was with this girl named Sabrina Ratté, who directed our video for 2020 and does a lot of different visuals. She has this whole thing going on and we work really well together. It’s pretty awesome. For the second set, we collaborated with Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, who has a project named Jerusalem In My Heart. We played a bunch of music from an album we made together that isn’t out yet – we haven’t quite figured that part out. But we pretty much just played a bunch of trippy, weird music for the second set that no one’s ever heard. I think a lot of people showed up expecting Suuns songs that may have been disappointed but we didn’t care. 

Do you think you’ll make that different material into a released album of it’s own?

It’s been recorded; we did that almost a year and a half ago. We just haven’t had time to finish it. There are plans this month, we have a couple of dates set aside to just work on that so hopefully soon.

You guys just announced a European tour. What’s different between the music scene in Europe and in Canada?

You’re in a different country almost every day, it’s a completely different taste so I think a lot of bands can tour there more easily because there are a lot more places to play. Touring Canada can be fun but it can also be tremendous hardship. We’ve had mixed success touring Canada. If we did a tour from Montreal to Vancouver it would take minimum a week and we’d only play about five shows because there’s nowhere really to play. Even from a logistics point of view, it’s tough. We’d probably couple it with a US tour. We’ve never made money touring in North America, so there’s more planning needed for us to do that. It is expensive so we don’t get to do it often. It’s usually West coast and East coast tours and then hopefully get to the middle, like Saskatchewan or Winnipeg at least once per album but that hasn’t happened on this record and I honestly don’t see it happening. We haven’t really had the same reaction in Canada as we do in Europe. We have in bigger cities; our last show in Ottawa was amazing. That was the best show I’ve ever had in Ottawa. I still get surprised and I still have hopes with every record that it will do well in Canada. Well enough at least that we still have people at our shows.

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Do you find that in Ottawa people are generally perceptive to your music?

Definitely. We’ve only played there a handful of times but every show has been really good and better each time so that’s a sign that things are going well in that city. I was really happy with the last show there. 

Going back to your European tour, since you’ve been so many times, is there anything you want to do significantly different this time?

There’s always stuff I want to do but rarely get the chance. We have the odd day off here and there but that consists of driving to the next place. In the summertime I’ve swam in a lot of lakes over there so that’s the goal. If I can get a swim in somewhere, it’s sort of a successful day. Otherwise we’re at a club 8-10 hours eating and playing. It’s really hectic and there’s not too much relaxation. Some of the guys usually stay over a couple extra days. I know Liam did a whole bike trip to France last year on a week off, which is great but I did not have the time to do that. I think just maximizing your time off and trying not to drink too much every day. Being able to see things. We try to do stuff as much as possible but it’s really hard. It’s cool, though. I know a lot of cities; I’m familiar with more things and how to get around now. We feel very comfortable over there.

Which cities stood out the most to you?

We play really big shows in France usually, but all over has been really good. We play in Italy a lot too. This tour we’re going to Athens and Prague for the first time. I don’t know how it’s going to go but it’ll almost be summer then so there will be lots of festivals, which means there’s usually a lot of people. It’s hard to gauge if they’re there to see you or other bands, which is probably a little bit of both so we’re just rolling with it as long as it lasts.

Even if they aren’t there to see you, isn’t that how a lot of people find new favourite bands, totally by accident?

That happens all the time. It’s a nice thing. Last year on tour we didn’t get to see a lot of other bands, other than at festivals so when that happens and you get to discover something new, that’s a real treat. You also make a lot of new friends. You see the same few people on tour every day so it’s nice to roll in and meet other people to mix it up a bit. There are no complaints. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s the dream for us. We’ve been enjoying our time at home working on stuff. I’m not necessarily dying to go on tour but I’ll be into it when it happens. It definitely feels like work to us now, but not in a bad way. 

Is it kind of like work that you love to do?

Definitely. The best part of playing music is playing live and if you get to do that then I don’t know what else there is, really. 

Your most recent record, Images du Futur, came out just over a year ago. How have things changed for Suuns since that release?

A lot more people have heard us and seen us play. We’ve played a ton of shows this year. In that way, it’s nice to show up almost anywhere and people may have heard of you or at least have checked out one song. We definitely grew in terms of exposure this year, which obviously was the goal and we’ve played in more places that we’d never been. We’re not super famous or popular or rich but we’re definitely doing well. We’re definitely out of the ‘losing money on every tour’ stage, now we’re at least breaking even or making some money. Which is incredibly hard to do these days. We’ve been allowed to continue doing what we’re doing. We haven’t had to scramble to figure out how to continue this project. We just get to keep touring and playing and recording. It’s a very simple in a way but it’s pretty awesome. 

Musically speaking, do you find that you guys are growing more and taking more risks?

After playing nine months straight on tour you definitely start stretching out a bit musically. It’s kind of a confidence thing. We have more confidence in ourselves and in our abilities to make music. I think playing shows helps in the writing process. We know that when we have a song that we feel we’ve finished, it’s definitely good to us. It’s a weird feeling. We’re never really trying to make music for anyone else. But what I’m trying to say is we have a lot more confidence in our songwriting which leads to progression which leads to experimentation. You just get better by playing. It’s a simple mathematics equation.

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I’ve found that seeing you guys play is like watching a theatrical performance, you have a hypnotizing charisma. I’ve even heard of people trying to model their own stage presence after SUUNS. How did this persona develop over time?

I have wondered that myself. I think it has to do with experience. There isn’t much of a show in terms of we’re not really jumping around or performing any typical rock clichés. We’ve always wanted to have a rhythmic pulse of a show. We treat it as if it could almost be one song and it dips in and out, goes up and down in terms of energy. I like the hypnotic thing; it’s almost like a ritual. I don’t think it’s important for us to dance or anything, some bands may feel like they need that. We just want people to trip out a bit. I think we definitely have gotten good at honing in on that sort of vibe. That’s why we don’t really talk; it’s not really about that. We just want to create a real mood. It doesn’t necessarily have to be heavy or anything but that’s usually what happens. It’s a hard thing to do and I don’t think we know how we got there. I don’t think we were like this five years ago; it just naturally morphed into that. Early on we were pretty conscious of what we didn’t want to do, we didn’t really know what we wanted to do so we just avoided doing certain things and then it molded our stage presence. We try to get really heavy, moody shows every time and it doesn’t always work but the goal is to take you out of your comfort zone.

What is the most odd thing a fan has ever said to you?

I’m sure Ben has gotten even weirder questions than I have; I try to block them out. Some of them I really can’t repeat. It’s kind of weird because there’s no real craziness behind the band. You’d be bored if you were on tour with us. We don’t have time to live the whole rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle because we’re loading our own gear and doing our own thing. There’s the odd after party, sometimes. But that’s actually really rare. We’re not twenty, which I wish we were in some ways so we could do that more. Now I’m like, “oh I need six hours of sleep a night” or something. 

Do you feel that some people think there’s some crazy, drug-riddled idea behind the whole performance?

I think so and I see why they would. That’s never really the case but I think it’s cool that they think that. I can’t say we weren’t high on anything during the studio ever, that probably happened once or twice. People may think we’re dark, scary and mean. Which is cool, I’m fine with that. It could be true, I’m not sure.

Suuns will be playing at the Blacksheep Inn on March 29. Tickets are $12 in advance at Compact Music, Ottawa Folklore Centre and The Record Centre.

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Interview by Brianna Harris

Pictures taken from Facebook

THE SCENE


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